Monday, March 31, 2008

3/23: Peace Protesters Stage Dramatic Die-in to Oppose Iraq War at City's Most Prominent Catholic Parish

I have very mixed feelings about this protest, because of how it does not actively invite its audience, but rather shocks and shames them.

However, it hearkens back to the dramatic protests in the late Sixties and early Seventies by Philip Berrigan, Daniel Berrigan, and many others of the Catholic Left (the Baltimore Four, Catonsville Nine, the Camden 28, etc.). Such protests could be read alongside the prankish, but no less serious, symbolic actions of the Situationists and others (see Lipstick Traces, for one source).

3/23: Peace Protesters Stage Dramatic Die-in to Oppose Iraq War at City's Most Prominent Catholic Parish

CHICAGO, March 23 – Six members of the anti-war group “Catholic Schoolgirls Against The War” staged a dramatic die-in during the 11AM Easter mass at Holy Name Cathedral, Chicago’s most prominent Catholic parish – and the home of one of the nation’s most conservative church leaders, Cardinal George. The action included a denunciation of Cardinal George’s January 7 meeting with Mayor Daley and President Bush, the ‘chief architect’ of the ongoing carnage in Iraq. Four people were arrested at Bush's January 7 visit, one of whom was slapped with bogus felony charges.

The three men and three women activists timed the action to reach both Holy Name’s large easter audience -- including some of Chicago’s most prominent citizens, who commonly attend Easter mass at the church -- and the many more viewers and readers of the local press, which usually extensively covers the services.

The action was staged in the Gold Coast cathedral’s parish center, an auditorium where mass is being said while the main cathedral undergoes renovation. Easter services at Holy Name are traditionally one of the most heavily attended masses of the year, and this mass was no exception, with people packed wall to wall for today’s Easter morning holiday service.

The group of young men and women, dressed in their Easter best, sat through the 11AM mass until George reached the homily. George had just uttered the words, "Often, we hear people say 'love is blind," when the protesters rose from their seats to address George and the hundreds of parishioners in the auditorium. "The sixth commandment says 'Thou shall not kill'" said one protester. "Yet more than a million Iraqis have been killed since the invasion of Iraq," said a second. Many members of the audience audibly gasped and murmered at these words. "On January 7, Cardinal George met for lunch with George W. Bush," said a third protester, saying that Bush was responsible for the ongoing carnage in Iraq. That statement referred to a January 7 meetng Cardinal George and Chicago mayor Richard Daley had with George W. Bush during a presidential visit to Chicago that was capped by the arrest of four peace protesters.

In the wake of the Bush visit in January, peace activists vigorously criticized the Cardinal and mayor Daley for failing to publicly raise the issue of the war -- and the need to end it -- with Bush, and the Holy Name action was staged in part to remind George of his resonsibility to press for the issue of an end to the war with public officials, particularly leading war boosters like Bush.

At this point during the church service, ushers had rushed around the protesters, who then squirted themselves with stage blood and collapsed to the floor in the aisle. Some stage blood spattered on non-protesters in the vicinity.

The protesters voluntarily got to their feet at the ushers' urging and walked out of the auditorium, chanting "Even the Pope calls for peace!" "And so should we all call for peace," said George from the alter as the last protester was led out.

The protesters were arrested outside by Chicago police, and conducted a series of media interviews with local television outlets, which had packed the auditorium to film George's service, while cops waited for a police wagon to take them to lockup.

The six peace activists -- Angela Haban, 20 years old, female; Regan Maher, 25 years old, female; Mercedes Phinaih, 18 years old, female; Ephran Ramirez, Jr., 22 years old, male; Donte D. Smith, 21 years old, male; and Ryane J. Ziemba, 25 years old, male -- chose Holy Name as a way to ratchet up a sense of urgency about the war with the cardinal and many of the city's elite who attend services there.

The protesters' sense of urgency seems to be well placed -- four more U.S. soldiers were killed today in Iraq, bringing the total number of soldiers killed there to over 4,000 since the war began just over five years ago. Estimates of Iraqi dead total in the hundreds of thousands, and perhaps as high as a million or more. The U.S. government has chosen not to keep track of the number of civilian casualties in this conflict.

"On a day when we're celebrating the resurrection of the Prince of Peace -- a man whose ministry was deeply tied to comfort and relief for the most oppressed among us -- it's critical that we remind ourselves and others everywhere of the need to reject business as usual and demand peace in Iraq from our own government and its supporter," said Kevin Clark, a supporter of today's protesters. "The fact is that many in attendance today at Holy Name Cathedral are among the city's most powerful people, and it's incumbent on them to endure a little discomfort to be reminded that unless they're working tirelessly to end this war immediately, then their presence in this church on Easter Sunday is an act of hypocrisy."

This afternoon, the Chicago police announced that the six young people arrested at the Holy Name Cathedral die-in have been charged with one count of felony criminal damage to property and two counts of simple battery. They are currently being held at Cook County jail at 26th and California, and are expected to be arraigned on the felony charge some time Monday morning, possibly as early as 9AM. Police denied one arrestee who is hypoglycemic access to his medication. Police have also repoortedly been telling concerned callers that supporters of the peace protesters could be investigated for terrorism by Homeland Security -- a tactic supporters says underscores the repressive political nature of the police response to the protest.

Supporters are working to arrange jail solidarity and legal support. For more info, call Kevin Clark at 312-259-4380 or email him at solitaryleftist (at) Supporters have also set up a paypal account to raise bail funds. The contact email for that effort is holyname6 (at) Paypal donations can also be sent via the following url:

Obama and Israel: Abunimah's Analysis

The senator, his pastor and the Israel lobby

By Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada
31 March 2008

US senator Barack Obama was widely hailed for his 18 March speech calming the media furor about the sermons of his pastor for twenty years Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Wright's remarks, Obama said, "expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country -- a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam."

It might seem odd for Obama to mention Israel and "radical Islam" in a speech focused on US race relations, especially since Wright's most widely reported comments were about America's historic and ongoing oppression of its black citizens.

But for months, even before most Americans had heard of Wright, prominent pro-Israel activists were hounding Obama over Wright's views on Israel and ties to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. In January, Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), demanded that Obama denounce Farrakhan as an anti-Semite.

The senator duly did so, but that was not enough. "[Obama has] distanced himself from his pastor's decision to honor Farrakhan," Foxman said, but "He has not distanced himself from his pastor. I think that's the next step." Foxman labeled Wright "a black racist," adding in the same breath, "Certainly he has very strong anti-Israel views" (Larry Cohler-Esses, "ADL Chief To Obama: 'Confront Your Pastor' On Minister Farrakhan," The Jewish Week, 16 January 2008). Criticism of Israel, one suspects, is Wright's truly unforgivable crime and Foxman's vitriol has echoed through dozens of pro-Israel blogs.

Since his early political life in Chicago, Barack Obama was well-informed about the Middle East and had expressed nuanced views conveying an understanding that justice and fairness, not blinkered support for Israel, are the keys to peace and the right way to combat extremism. Yet for months he has been fighting the charge that he is less rabidly pro-Israel than other candidates -- which means now adhering to the same simplistic formulas and unconditional support for Israeli policies that have
helped to escalate conflict and worsen America's standing in the Middle East. Hence Obama's assertion at his 26 February debate with Senator Hillary Clinton that he is "a stalwart friend of Israel."

But Obama stressed that his appeal to Jewish voters also stems from his desire "to rebuild what I consider to be a historic relationship between the African American community and the Jewish community."

Obama has not addressed to a national audience why that relationship might have frayed. He was much more candid when speaking to Jewish leaders in Cleveland just one day before the debate. In a little-noticed comment, reported on 25 February by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Obama tried to contextualize Wright's critical views of Israel.

Wright, Obama explained, "was very active in the South Africa divestment movement and you will recall that there was a tension that arose between the African American and the Jewish communities during that period when we were dealing with apartheid in South Africa, because Israel and South Africa had a relationship at that time. And that cause -- that was a source of tension."

Obama implicitly admitted that Wright's views were rooted in opposition to Israel's deep ties to apartheid South Africa, and thus entirely reasonable even if Obama himself did "not necessarily," as he put it, share them. Israel supplied South Africa with hundreds of millions of dollars of weaponry despite an international embargo. Even the water cannons that South African forces used to attack anti-apartheid demonstrators in the townships were manufactured at Kibbutz Beit Alfa, a "socialist" settlement in northern Israel. Until the late 1980s, South Africa often relied on Israel to lobby Western governments not to impose sanctions.

And the relationship was durable. As The Washington Post reported in 1987, "When it comes to Israel and South Africa, breaking up is hard to do." Israeli officials, the newspaper said, "face conflicting imperatives: their desire to get in line with the West, which has adopted a policy of mild but symbolic sanctions, versus Israel's longstanding friendship with the Pretoria government, a relationship that has been important for strategic, economic and, at times, sentimental reasons" ("An Israeli Dilemma: S. African Ties; Moves to Cut Links Are Slowed by Economic Pressures, Sentiment," The Washington Post, 20 September 1987).

In 1987, Jesse Jackson, then the world's most prominent African American politician, angered some Jewish American leaders for insisting that "Whoever is doing business with South Africa is wrong, but Israel is ... subsidized by America, which includes black Americans' tax money, and then it subsidizes South Africa" ("Jackson Draws New
Criticism From Jewish Leaders Over Interview," Associated Press, 16 October 1987).

As a presidential candidate, Jackson raised the same concerns in a high profile meeting with the Israeli ambassador, as did a delegation of black civil rights and religious leaders, including the nephew of Martin Luther King Jr, on a visit to Israel. For many African Americans, it was intolerable hypocrisy that so many Jewish leaders who staunchly supported Civil Rights and the anti-apartheid movement would be tolerant of Israel's complicity.

Thus, Reverend Wright, who has sought a broader understanding of the Middle East than one that blames Islam and Arabs for all the region's problems or endorses
unconditional support for Israel, stood in the mainstream of African American opinion, not on some extremist fringe.

That is not to say that Jewish concerns about anti-Semitic sentiments among some African Americans should simply be dismissed. Racism in any community should be confronted. But as they have done with other communities, hard-line pro-Israel activists like Foxman have too often tried to tar any African American critic of Israel with the brush of anti-Semitism. Why must every black candidate to a major office go through the ritual of denouncing Farrakhan, a marginal figure in national politics who likely gets most of his notoriety from the ADL? Surely if anti-Semitism were such an endemic problem among African Americans, there would be someone other than Farrakhan for the ADL to have focused its ire on all these decades.

By contrast, neither Senator Joe Lieberman (Al Gore's running mate in 2000 and the first Jewish candidate on a major party presidential ticket), nor Senator John McCain
have been required so publicly and so repeatedly to repudiate extremist and racist comments by Israeli leaders or some well-known radical Christian leaders supporting the Republican party. Foxman, whose organization devotes enormous resources to burnishing Israel's image, has rarely spoken out about the escalating anti-Arab racism and incitement to violence by prominent Israeli politicians and rabbis.

That is no surprise. African Americans, Arab Americans and Muslims all share some things in common: individuals are held collectively responsible for the words and actions of others in their community whether they had anything to do with them or not. And the price of admission to the political mainstream is to abandon any foreign policy goals that diverge from those of the pro-Israel, anti-Palestinian lobby.

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse (Metropolitan Books,2006).

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Mark Doty Reading Walt Whitman's "Over the Carnage Rose Prophetic a Voice"

This is Mark Doty's reading of Whitman at Split This Rock...

"Over the Carnage Rose Prophetic a Voice" by Walt Whitman

OVER the carnage rose prophetic a voice,
Be not dishearten'd, affection shall solve the problems of freedom yet,
Those who love each other shall become invincible,
They shall yet make Columbia victorious.

Sons of the Mother of All, you shall yet be victorious,
You shall yet laugh to scorn the attacks of all the remainder of the earth.

No danger shall balk Columbia's lovers,
If need be a thousand shall sternly immolate themselves for one.

One from Massachusetts shall be a Missourian's comrade,
From Maine and from hot Carolina, and another an Oregonese, shall be friends triune,
More precious to each other than all the riches of the earth.

To Michigan, Florida perfumes shall tenderly come,
Not the perfumes of flowers, but sweeter, and waited beyond death.

It shall be customary in the houses and streets to see manly affection,
The most dauntless and rude shall touch face to face lightly,
The dependence of Liberty shall be lovers,
The continuance of Equality shall be comrades.

These shall tie you and band you stronger than hoops of iron,
I, ecstatic, O partners! O lands! with the love of lovers tie you.

(Were you looking to be held together by lawyers?
Or by an agreement on a paper? or by arms?
Nay, nor the world, nor any living thing, will so cohere.)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

To See the Earth review in Jacket

Check out the first official review of To See the Earth, appearing in Jacket (35), Spring 2008.

A blurb from it:
Implicit in this “seeing” is the conscious act of witnessing that informs much of the book, be it witness to the hardships of poverty in Russia during the post-Soviet period, the Israeli occupation of Palestine, or the often-overlooked American protests against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than simply “political poetry,” however, Metres explores the extent to which language itself is bound up in the struggle to articulate an adequate response to the world around us. The problems of language are two-fold, he seems to suggest, arising not only from its inherent incommensurability but also from its reliance on and origins in the very authoritarian systems his poetry testifies against

Jay Hopler and Cate Marvin reading, a review

Jay Hopler and Cate Marvin came into town to give a reading at Cleveland State last night, and I was struck by their collective "comic macabre," a legacy, perhaps of the masterful confessionals like Berryman and Plath.

Hopler was a hell of a lot funnier than his poems sounded on the page on my first readings of his book Green Squall, and much of that humor is directed at himself, a la Berryman, when he even talks to himself in the third person in "The Frustrated Angel."

Marvin hews closer to Plath than Hopler to Berryman in terms of technique and style, though she also ranges into the fabular and postmodern manques more fully. I was particularly struck by this poem, "Landscape with Hungry Girls," from her latest book, Fragment of the Head of a Queen, for its directness and anger about patriarchy and what happens to young women who succumb to its vampirisms. It made me think of my short list of poems on anorexia, which would include Frank Bidart's "Ellen West," and Ted Leo's "Me and Mia."

"Landscape with Hungry Girls"

There’s blood here. The skyline teethes the clouds
raw, and rain’s course streams a million umbilical
cords down windows and walls. Every things gnaws,
and the pink polish on their girl-nails chips, flakes
off as they continue to dig through towering heaps
of refuse. It's a story, as usual. As usual, a phone
and dead silence. Or the phone: a lobster to the ear.
Girls resigned to being girls. The softer faces they
find in the mirrors. The limp shake, a hand placed,
a flower wilting moist on the man's palm. Or hard
handshakes deemed "aggressive": snakes. O, girls.
All of them carefully watching carefully the faces
of their sleeping men, even when their own faces are
more beautiful in their watching, and if only they'd
watch their own faces beneath the revolving lights
sliding between the blinds: they are blinded from
watching their men sleep so dumbly. The headaches,
the insistent grip of a gnawing stomach, eating itself.
Thinking hunger is strength, how hurt they are, girls
picking at food on their plates. I like a girl who eats.
Careful, what you say you want. The moon is distant,
yet cousin to her face: our genders worse than alien.
Bleeding is something everyone does. You don't call.
Girls snack on skyscrapers, girls gut their teddy bears,
and girls saw their own faces off. What is it to lack
compassion? When you walk through a zoo do you
not thinkg the animals it houses could have been you?
Who would you be, how hungry, if you were a girl
feeding only on the meek sleep of male countenance?
Would you stand vigil, would you starve if they do?

The Sidewalk Blogger in Hawai'i Marks the 4,000th U.S. Death in Iraq

Thanks to the Sidewalk Blogger for marking this latest tragic milestone in the Iraq debacle.

Meanwhile, let's also remember that the Iraq Body Count nears 90,000...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Charlie Don't Surf"/From Apocalypse Now to Sandinista Back Then, and Now to Iraq

In the process of uncovering anti-war or dissenting songs that get co-opted (and yes, I have yet to post on Credence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son" or Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A.", though at least the former is mentioned in the book, Behind the Lines), I found an instance where a vaguely pro-war statement & representation comes to be made into a song against war: The Clash's "Charlie Don't Surf," from the endless three-album Sandinista (1981). In Apocalypse Now, one of those movies that first looks pro-war, then looks anti-war, then looks pro-war again, the following interchange occurs:

Kilgore: You either surf or you fight.
Willard: Are you crazy God damnit? Don't you think its a little risky for some R&R?
Kilgore: If I say its safe to surf this beach Captain, then its safe to surf this beach. I mean I'm not afraid to surf this place, I'll surf this whole fucking place!
Kilgore: Charlie don't surf!

You can watch The Ride of the Valkyries scene in case you missed the movie.

The Clash then recorded their song, a version of which they play here:

Charlie don't surf and we think he should
Charlie don't surf and you know that it ain't no good
Charlie don't surf for his hamburger Momma
Charlie's gonna be a napalm star

Everybody wants to rule the world
Must be something we get from birth
One truth is we never learn
Satellites will make space burn

We've been told to keep the strangers out
We don't like them starting to hang around
We don't like them all over town
Across the world we are going to blow them down


The reign of the super powers must be over
So many armies can't free the earth
Soon the rock will roll over
Africa is choking on their Coca Cola

It's a one a way street in a one horse town
One way people starting to brag around
You can laugh, put them down
These one way people gonna blow us down


Charlie don't surf he'll never learn
Charlie don't surf though he's got a gun
Charlie don't surf think that he should
Charlie don't surf we really think he should
Charlie don't surf

Charlie don't surf and we think he should
Charlie don't surf and you know that it ain't no good
Charlie don't surf for his hamburger Momma
Charlie don't surf

But, as is the rule, "Charlie Don't Surf" also has become something of a gaming title as well. In the following youtubed clip, you too can become a soldier, defined by the weapons that you hold in front of you, like a pair of ideological goggles into which you squint, trying to make out who to kill and who not to.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Outkast's "B.O.B." (Bombs Over Baghdad)/Another Case of Musical Cooptation

Jim Doppke got me to (nearly) the 21st Century by relaying that Outkast's "B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)," from 1999, a quasi-political song which seems to be about the political state of the union, life in the ghetto, and bombing Baghdad, had also been coopted by the military for its own ends. Here's a link to the video of Outkast's "B.O.B.".

It's intriguing to think that this song came out in 1999, on the heels of President Clinton's bombing of Iraq in 1998's Operation Desert Fox (the ill-named campaign that echoes the Nazi Rommel's nickname), as a result of Iraq's alleged failure to allow weapons inspectors into its facilities. (Never mind that no weapons of note were ever found.) Meanwhile, other smaller wars, over the souls of men and women in the ghettos of this country, continued to rage.

Here are the lyrics:
"B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)"

1, 2.. 1, 2, 3; yeah!
In-slum-national, underground
Thunder pounds when I stomp the ground (Woo!)
Like a million elephants and silverback orangutans
You can't stop a train
Who want some? Don't come un-pre-pared
I'll be there, but when I leave there
Better be a household name
Weather man tellin' us it ain't gon' rain
So now we sittin' in a drop-top, soaking wet
In a silk suit, tryin' not to sweat
Hits somersaults without the net
But this'll be the year that we won't forget
One-Nine-Nine-Nine, Anno Domini anything goes, be whatchu wanna be
Long as you know consequences, to give and for livin'
The fence is too high to jump in jail
Too low to dig, I might just touch hell
HOT! Get a life, now they on sale
Then I might cast you a spell, look at what came in the mail
A scale and some Arm and Hammer, soul gold grill and some baby mama
Black Cadillac and a pack of pampers
Stack of question with no answers
Cure for cancer, cure for AIDS
Make a nigga wanna stay on tour for days
Get back home, things are wrong
Well not really it was bad all along
before he left adds up, to a ball of power
Thoughts at a thousands miles per hour
Hello, ghetto, let your brain breathe,
believe there's always more, ahhhhh!

[Chorus: 2X]
[Dre] Don't pull the thang out, unless you plan to bang
[Choir] Bombs over Baghdad!
[Dre] Yeah! Ha ha yeah!
Don't even bang unless you plan to hit something
[Choir] Bombs over Baghdad!
[Dre] Yeah! Uhh-huh

[Big Boi]
Uno, dos, tres, it's on
Did you ever think a pimp rock a microphone?
Like that there boy and we still stay street
Big things happen every time we meet
Like a track team, crack fiend, dying to geek
Outkast bumpin' up and down the street
Slant back, Cadillac, 'bout five nigga deep
Seventy-five MC's freestylin' to the beat
Cause we get crunk, stay crunk, at the club
Should have bought an ounce, but you copped a dub
Should have held back, but you throwed the punch
'Spose to meet your girl but you packed a lunch
No D to-the U to-the G for you
Got a son on the way by the name of Bamboo
Got a little baby girl four year, Jordan
Never turn my back on my kids for them
Should have hit it (hit it) quit it (quit it) rag (rag) top (top)
Before you RE up, get a laptop
Make a business for yourself, boy, set some goals
Make a fat diamond out of dusty coals
Record number four, but we on the road
Hold up, slow up, stop, control
Like Janet, Planets, Stankonia is on ya
A movin' like Floyd commin' straight to Florida
Lock all your windows then block the corridors
Pullin' off on bell 'cause a whippings in order
I like a three piece fish before I cut your daughter
Yo quiero Taco Bell, then I hit the border
Pity PAT rappers tryin' to get the five
I'm a microphone fiend tryin' to stay alive
When you come to ATL boi you better not hide
cause the Dungeon Family gon' ride, hah!

[Chorus: 2X]
[Dre] Don't pull the thang out, unless you plan to bang
[Choir] Bombs over Baghdad!
[Dre] Yeah! Ha ha yeah!
Don't even bang unless you plan to hit something
[Choir] Bombs over Baghdad!
[Dre] Yeah! Uhh-huh

Bombs over Baghdad! Yeah
Bombs over Baghdad! Yeah
Bombs over Baghdad! Yeah
Bombs over Baghdad! Yeah

B-I-G, B-O-I
To the T-O-P

[Dre and Big Boi: 15X]
Bob your head. Rag top.

(1, 2.. 1, 2, 3, 4) (Gimme some)

From Softpedia News:
OutKast member Andre 3000 was shocked to know that one of his songs became the morning wake-up call for the troops in Iraq.

Andre, 30, the one half of the successful and avant-garde hip-hop duo OutKast, revealed that he found out from a neighbor, who has a son in Iraq, that the solders are using his song, Bombs Over Baghdad, as their morning wake-up call and it is considered to be helpful for the troops morale.

He says: "My dad's next-door-neighbor’s son sent a letter home saying how Bombs Over Baghdad was the song that they wake up to. It gets them hyped. I don't know if I want it to be a rally song for troops, but if it helps morale and keeps them going, I guess it's a good thing."

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Clash's "Rock the Casbah"/This Music Converts Fundamentalists

The Clash's "Rock the Casbah" has the sort of history that suggests how difficult it is to make an art that is truly socially transformative, and how easy any art can be manipulated to other ends.

My first memories of music videos, watched as a pre-teen in the early 1980s, were largely of lingerie-clad hussies, but these scrawny, unwashed, snaggle-toothed clan also drew my attention. Who can forget the enigmatic armadillo hustling across the ground, throughout the video, like some vague reference to Elizabeth Bishop's "The Armadillo" (also an anti-war poem), some self-armored image of our creaturely survivalism?

According to some accounts, "Rock the Casbah" may have been inspired by Iran's banning of secular music during the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The video, however, with its kitschy and even mildly offensive caricatures of an Arab sheikh and an Hasidic Jew, places the song in an Arab/Israeli context (which replicates the lyrical references to minarets and temples). Its most basic argument is that fundamentalists don't like this music because it moves people, it makes them forget the singularity of their creeds, it makes them disobedy, it makes them forget their war-making.

Yet, according to Wikipedia, the song was then employed for martial ends (in a blatant misreading of the lyrics):
The song became an unofficial anthem for U.S. forces during the first Gulf War, largely on the basis of the line about dropping "bombs between the minarets".[2] It was the first song played by Armed Forces Radio at the start of the war. This is ironic given the band's well established left-wing stance. The song can also be understood as a message that western rock and roll will help defeat radical Islamist regimes by winning over the people of the Middle East, especially the young.[citation needed]

In 2006, the conservative National Review released their list of the top 50 "Conservative Rock Songs", with "Rock the Casbah" at #20, noting its frequent requests during the Iraq War.[8] Despite, or perhaps because of, its popularity with soldiers during the Gulf War, "Rock the Casbah" was one of the songs deemed inappropriate by Clear Channel following the September 11, 2001 attacks.[9]

The lyrics to "Rock the Casbah":
Now the king told the boogie men
You have to let that raga drop
The oil down the desert way
Has been shakin to the top
The sheik he drove his cadillac
He went a cruisin down the ville
The muezzin was a standing
On the radiator grille

The shareef dont like it
Rockin the casbah
Rock the casbah
The shareef dont like it
Rockin the casbah
Rock the casbah

By order of the prophet
We ban that boogie sound
Degenerate the faithful
With that crazy casbah sound
But the bedouin they brought out
The electric camel drum
The local guitar picker
Got his guitar picking thumb
As soon as the shareef
Had cleared the square
They began to wail


Now over at the temple
Oh! they really pack em in
The in crowd say its cool
To dig this chanting thing
But as the wind changed direction
The temple band took five
The crowd caught a wiff
Of that crazy casbah jive


The king called up his jet fighters
He said you better earn your pay
Drop your bombs between the minarets
Down the casbah way

As soon as the shareef was
Chauffeured outta there
The jet pilots tuned to
The cockpit radio blare

As soon as the shareef was
Outta their hair
The jet pilots wailed


He thinks it's not kosher
Fundamentally he can't take it.
You know he really hates it.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Poems on/about the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial

My father just returned from a trip to Vietnam, some forty years after his initial service to our country, as a Naval Advisor on a South Vietnamese patrol gunboat. The day after his return, he was rushed to the hospital because of edema in his legs, which had swelled frighteningly during the trip. Unknown causes. Almost no one in contemporary Vietnam wanted to talk about the war, and he was both relieved and saddened by this. Where did it go? What wounds were--and are--just below the surface of languages, of faces, of skin?

Who knows how we will remember and memorialize this current war? It's difficult to imagine a memorial as moving and provocative as Maya Lin's Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington, D.C.--that black scar of mirroring granite half-sunk in the earth. If there's a limit to its representativity, it's that there are no Vietnamese names, names of the 2.5 million dead. Yet, despite this framing, it's still a testament to how art can act both as elegy and as outcry.

Here is a video rendering of Yusef Komunyakaa's famous "Facing It":

And here's George Bilgere's "At the Vietnam Memorial":
At the Vietnam Memorial

The last time I saw Paul Castle
it was printed in gold on the wall
above the showers in the boys’
locker room, next to the school
record for the mile. I don’t recall
his time, but the year was 1968
and I can look across the infield
of memory to see him on the track,
legs flashing, body bending slightly
beyond the pack of runners at his back.

He couldn’t spare a word for me,
two years younger, junior varsity,
and hardly worth the waste of breath.
He owned the hallways, a cool blonde
at his side, and aimed his interests
further down the line than we could guess.

Now, reading the name again,
I see us standing in the showers,
naked kids beneath his larger,
comprehensive force—-the ones who trail
obscurely, in the wake of the swift,
like my shadow on this gleaming wall.

I want to add "My Letter to the Wall--November 1989," by Vietnamese poet Nguyen Ngoc Xuan, when I find it in my files.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Status of Narrative and the Avant-Garde/Arab on Radar by Angele Ellis

In an oft-quoted paragraph from his essay, "Poetry and the Politics of the Subject," published in the Socialist Review (1988), Silliman made visible what occasionally had fallen from view of the recent avant-garde--the cultural work of narrating subjectivities, whose collective stories had not yet been fully or complexly articulated in poetry (or for that matter, in any media arena):
Progressive poets who identify as members of groups that have been the subject of history – many white male heterosexuals, for example – are apt to challenge all that is supposedly "natural" about the formation of their own subjectivity. That their writing today is apt to call into question, if not actually explode, such conventions as narrative, persona and even reference can hardly be surprising. At the other end of the spectrum are poets who do not identity as members of groups that have been the subject of history, for they instead have been its objects. The narrative of history has led not to their self-actualization, but to their exclusion and domination. These writers and readers – women, people of color, sexual minorities, the entire spectrum of the "marginal" – have a manifest political need to have their stories told. That their writing should often appear much more conventional, with the notable difference as to who is the subject of these conventions, illuminates the relationship between form and audience.

It goes without saying that Silliman himself has revised the framing of this tentative space for identity poetry, and has concerned himself more with how poets have continued to work the interstitial spaces between identity and socius, between experiment and tradition, between avant and post-avant, between innovation and homage, etc. Yet, even today, I want to reassert that claim for this asserted space, however minor or residual it might be in our national poetics. How else, but to begin with a story?

Once, climbing the back staircase of the Seelbach Hilton in Louisville with my friend, the poet Michael Magee, I caught a distinct pungent aroma almost hovering in the walls that reminded me of my grandmother's kitchen; that kind of smell that makes the whole space a large deliciously uncleaned pot. I said to Mike: "This is why I can never be avant-garde: because I smell my grandmother's kitchen in the back stairwells of the Seelbach."

What I think I meant was that there is something fundamental and inescapable about my longing to reach back into and through my language toward my ancestors, and that this pull seems incommensurate with the whole orientation of the avant-garde, the advance guard of the revolution, heralding the future in the new.

I may yet change my mind, but that pull of the ancestors, that sense of myself as the ligature between the ancestors and the future, a kind of knot I have refused to cut, is what I share with other writers of recent immigrant or strongly ethnic connections.

Reading Arab on Radar (2007), by Angele Ellis, feels like talking with a recently discovered sibling I never knew I had; a common elegy for (Arabic) language and the world that it created (the Lebanon of the mind), a piquant thirst for peace and justice, living in a society that demonizes and actively wars against the peoples and lands from which our ancestors come, and a hope that language might function not only as ligature between us and where we come from, but as resource for those who work for a better world.

There are plenty of narrative poems, poems that function in just the way that Silliman posed. Having worked as an educator, community organizer and political activist in Pittsburgh since the 1980s, Ellis adds to the tradition of dissenting activist and prison narratives with poems like "The Blue State Ghazals," "Federal Building" and "Allegheny County Jail."

In "Federal Building," Ellis notes the narrowing spaces allowed for dissenting voices, and how the heaven of our democracy is increasingly difficult to pass through, in our security-obsessed State:

I enter through security as a taxpayer,
the needle's eye of citizenship. Bag on the table,
keys in a plastic container that could hold mail
and explosives. The only way in and out.
I remember with strained nostalgia
the protests of the eighties--
South Africa, Nicaragua, El Salvador,
the sit-ins at congressional offices,
the time we rode up and down the elevators
with our leaflets until the guards nabbed us
and threw us out. And that last time,
the sit-in during Desert Storm,
suspended between freedom and arrest,
swimming in ether like exotic fish
while our freinds pressed against the aquarium glass
with hopeful signs
as if we could change history, levitate the building
like Abbie Hoffman tried with the Pentagon.
Now we are lucky to stand unmolested
on the public sidewalk,
the thin edge of the wedge of democracy.

It's "April Ghazals," however, that is suggestive of Ellis' attempts to move into a fragmented form that both tells a story and resists that story at the same time. Here are the second and third sections of "The April Ghazals":
II. I have shored

She sold the ring for a wilderness.
Removed, it made a hole in the universe.

Diorama behind suffocating glass.
A small mammal among predators.

Nostrils filled with the fetor of formaldehyde.
The specimen revolted at dissection.

Human ashes scattered like seed.
Not even hope left in the box.

Hell an absence without flames.
All fire within--lye of lies, of liars.

III. against my ruins

They said she refused to follow instructions.
Words were muffled from behind their masks.

They often spoke of her duty to God.
This is why Whitman preferred to sit with animals.

They mapped her brain with colored Rohrschachs.
Mourning became electric, red and blue.

The slain can speak under enchantment.
Why were they surprised when she contradicted them?

The magician's powers are all in distraction.
Sometimes the object never reappears.

We never quite know the identity of this woman, or the catalogue of her losses. Yet it becomes emblematic of the total losses that the book explores--of languages, of stories, of the older generation, of belief in a future because of a narrated past. Ellis' debut is suffused with the right kinds of questions, engaging and often scintillating language, and in poems like "The April Ghazals," shows how the old stories might be the humus to new ones.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Rachel Loden's Hotel Imperium/One Upon Whom Nothing Is Lost

I recently came across a quotation from James Baldwin: "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed unless it is faced." The importance of "facing"--of paying attention to something, of witnessing, suggests the way in which art can play a fundamental role in social change. If the principal duty of every writer is, in Henry James' words, to be one upon whom nothing is lost, then Rachel Loden's poetic dialogue with our times in Hotel Imperium and The Richard Nixon Snow Globe offers us a vital poetic model. Her work engages the cultural/political/historical moment in ways that move beyond both the antinomianism of 1960s oppositionality and the uncritical, quietistic, or unwitting embrace of it by so many of our contemporary poetries.

A panoramic subjective history of the Cold War, Hotel Imperium (1999) oscillates between the American scene (rife with Nixons, Gulf Wars, pop cultural oddities, and the products of capitalism--Clairol, corporate memos, Cruella De Villes, Elvises, lingerie ads, etc.), and the Soviet one, with its own insanities (Lenin's corpse, Beria, the Chechen leader Dudayev and his marvelous fleet of cars, etc.).

Loden's poetry is wisecracking in two senses of that term--it demonstrates a tough, youthful, whipsmart talking-back to authority, as well as a hardbitten wisdom of someone who's been around the block, and out of the Hotel and Snow Globes of our United States.

Written in a taut, musical language that bridges formalist and experimental modes, Loden's poetry is alternately funny and terrifying, as in "Reconstructed Face":

Surely this face—generic, blank—
betrays no terror. But her other face
is lost and floating on the river,
upturned like a lily in the air.

The police artist has slapped the flesh
back on her, wants us to know her,
makes her smile in that special way
a reconstructed woman smiles

after she's found without her face on
in a river, as though she tried
but failed to save us from the trouble
of her being there, our having to admit

that yes, we know her, smiling in the clay
the way we know the face of our own mother,
the reconstructed face that never
fooled us, built as crudely as it was

upon the scaffold of the other.

Such a poem, though not explicitly political as many others in the collection, could be read merely as a kind of exploration of the mysterious and frightening opacity of one's mother. And yet, in light of the feminist discourse around masks that emerged in the late 1960s (typified in the line by Muriel Rukeyser that became the title to an early feminist poetry anthology, "No More Masks!"), this poem bears an uncanny critique of the ways in which generations of women, particularly under Cold War containment culture, found themselves masking themselves. Such masking, for the speaker, suddenly seems as disturbing as a corpse's remade face (herself, perhaps, a victim of a more explicit violence).

In "Clueless in Paradise," Loden moves to the explicit, beginning with the snow globe image that she has returned to--that canned space of televisual reality--and then breaks it, metaphorically. Outside the snow globe, outside the quaint and seemingly honorable language employed by the Head of State--we are fighting for freedom, to save an invaded country, to topple a dictator, etc.--is a seething violence.

"Clueless in Paradise"

"Kenneth, what is the frequency?"
--query to Dan Rather from
unidentified assailants

Sometimes, when you shake your head,
it is like snow settling
on the little village in the paperweight.

Other times, it's not--and that's why
God made the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
He can't always put a plaque up

on the spot. Sometimes even He
is forced to settle for a souvenir. Perhaps
Flopsy the Bunny isn't what you want,

and yet you won her at the fair. Like we won
a great victory against Iraq (applause).
Tie a yellow ribbon 'round my eyes,

whirl me in circles, send me careering
toward the map. I love humanity. I'll stick
a pushpin into any random dot, and smile

endearingly. I'm a consultant. And nude
--I mean, naked--aggression, is what this thing
is all about, plus Bernie Shaw

quavering beneath a table when the smart
bombs start coming in, and Dan Rather
looking itchy in his sweater. Kenneth,

what -is- the frequency? Men on CNN
are weeping and surrendering, kneeling
while they kiss their captors' hands.

I wish there were more poets as secretly angry as Loden at the state of things, whose rage is shaped in kewpie doll phrases, kewpies that are voodoo dolls full of pins.

Her chapbook, The Richard Nixon Snow Globe (2005) continues the work of Hotel Imperium, and moves us into the post-Soviet, post-Cold War moment, with the characteristic black humor that occasionally terrifies:

Kuyunjik, palace mound

Nineveh fallen. My
Ghostly battalion
Silver-bell ankle rings

Babylon Cadillac. Black
Candle guttering
Nettle-leav'd bellflowers
Sweet-faced American

Elvis in Cuneiform
Black-winged deity
Fifteen-gate city of
Mooncalf & talisman

Nineveh fallen. My
Ghostly battalion
Daughters of Sargon
Be carried away

In light of the decline of women's rights in the post-Saddam, post-Iraq "liberation" era of U.S. occupation, these last lines of this vigorously formal poem have a kind of keening that will keep me up late at night, wondering whether I could have done anything more to have stopped this war.

Four Poets at Visible Voice, March 19, 2008

Last night, despite yet another Cleveland snowstorm, four horsemen of the word apocalypse, Philip Metres, George Bilgere, Roger Craik, and Michael Dumanis read poems at Visible Voice Books in Tremont. Thanks to Virginia Konchan for organizing the event and Dave at Visible Voice for providing the intimate space. And for the crazy people who came out on such a hibernatory evening, to complete the circle of our words. On the way over, while listening to the Grifters and sliding through the abandoned snowy streets of midtown, a parody of Basho came to me:

Even in Cleveland
driving under another snowstorm
I long for Cleveland.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

On the 5th Year Anniversary of This Unnecessary War

"Five Years Later"
by Rebecca Solnit
Read on March 19, 2008 at Montgomery and Market Streets in San Francisco as part of the Words Against War, a City Lights Books and Direct Action to Stop the War sponsored read-out of poets and writers on the fifth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq (

Five years ago and more, many of us vehemently, passionately opposed the war in Iraq. We opposed it by marching in the streets on February 16, 2003, in one of the biggest marches in this city’s history, part of the biggest demonstration in world history with people standing up on February 15, 2003, against war on every continent-including the scientists in Antarctica, small towns in Inuit Canada, South Africa, New Mexico, Turkey, Bolivia…. We were right, and now sheepishly, fudging their change of heart, everyone from Hillary Clinton on is busy erasing the memory of being for the war, of buying lies, of dismissing deaths, terrible deaths, the deaths of so many children, so many mothers, so many brothers, the deaths long ago of far more Americans than died on September 11, 2001, the unrelated event used to justify these five long years of slaughter and destruction, the destruction of the fragile psyches of the young, the ancient landscape of Iraq, the bodies that survived this war mutilated and disabled and shaken to need our care for decades to come. Five years ago we opposed this war, and we were right that it would be ugly, a quagmire, an international disaster, that it would make nothing safer, that it was about oil and geopolitics and never ever about justice and utterly unrelated to September 11, 2001. Five years ago here in San Francisco we shut down this business district to show how passionately against the war we were as it began. The war has been terrible, begetting the atrocities of Abu Ghraib, the deaths of hundreds of thousands and a new generation of veterans saved by modern medicine from death–but for what life with their shattered bodies and minds?

We the international movement against this perfiditous war were right. And our actions reshaped the war-delayed its start, created dialogue, dissuaded potential allies from joining up or convinced them-like Spain, like Australia after progressives won power-to quit the coalition of the coerced, gave comfort to Iraqis and others in the middle east that we were not all clamoring for blood and indifferent to their deaths. The United States has begun in part to awaken from the long bad dream of its romance with conservatism and belligerence, was woken up by the savage catastrophe that was Hurricane Katrina, by the endless grinding sorrow of casualty lists of US soldiers and estimates of Iraqi dead, by the increasingly obvious inadequacy of the far right to do anything but destroy. We stand at a moment of rich uncertainty. Ten years ago, the ideology called neoliberalism promised to privatize the planet. Since the Seattle WTO in 1999, the countering ideologies-of what could be called democracy, localism, populism, anticorporate activism-have remade the world, so much so that nearly all Latin America has undergone an amazing liberation not only from political tyranny but from neoliberal domination by institutions like the World Bank and the IMF. This year the sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein wondered in print whether neoliberalism was dead.

We are at the end of a long hard road, the road out of the era of Ronald Reagan, of the post-Soviet romance with the free market, of the belief in American military invincibility even though that belief should have died in the jungles of Vietnam. When the war broke out, so many of the people in the streets with me here believed that somehow Bush had won. Had won everything, forever, that we had lost, that because we had failed to stop the war, we had failed to achieve anything, had never achieved anything, had no power at all. Dismayed by that despair and the amnesia and confusion behind it, I began writing about hope, speaking more directly to the hearts and imaginations of readers than I ever thought I could, to talk about the strange, unlikely routes that change takes, the unpredictable timelines on which it unfolds, the examples that shine like stars in the dark night of history, of for example of the amazing development in the twentieth century of nonviolence as a powerful tool for social change, one that has toppled world powers and dictatorships from the Philippines to Poland, that is at work in Burma and Tibet today. For guns and bombs destroy, but they don’t convert or conquer; the people of Iraq are not conquered, the war is not winnable, and truth is not the property of the strong but of the fearlessly honest.

In the struggle against this war, I saw extraordinary things at Camp Casey on Bush’s front door in 2005, I made new friends through the antiwar movement, I learned about sorrow and about the destruction of the human soul by torture-destruction of the torturers as well as the tortured, I rethought the relationship between the environment and human rights, between belief and action. I wrote, and I want to end by reading you a little of what the outbreak of war prompted me to write five years ago, the opening passage of my book Hope in the Dark:

On January 18, 1915, six months into the first world war, as all Europe was convulsed by killing and dying, Virginia Woolf wrote in her journal, “The future is dark, which is on the whole, the best thing the future can be, I think.” Dark, she seems to say, as in inscrutable, not as in terrible. We often mistake the one for the other. Or we transform the future’s unknowability into something certain, the fulfillment of all our dread, the place beyond which there is no way forward. But again and again, far stranger things happen than the end of the world.

Who two decades ago could have imagined a world in which the Soviet Union had vanished and the Internet had arrived? Who then dreamed that the political prisoner Nelson Mandela would become president of a transformed South Africa? Who foresaw the resurgence of the indigenous world of which the Zapatista uprising in Southern Mexico is only the most visible face? There are times when it seems as though not only the future but the present is dark: few recognize what a radically transformed world we live in, one that has been transformed not only by such nightmares as global warming and global capital, but by dreams of freedom, of justice, and transformed by things we could not have dreamed of. We adjust to changes without measuring them, we forget how much the culture changed. The US Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay rights on a grand scale in the summer of 2002, a ruling inconceivable a few decades ago. What accretion of incremental, imperceptible changes made that possible, and how did they come about? And so we need to hope for the realization of our own dreams, but also to recognize a world that will remain wilder than our imaginations.

It’s always too soon to go home. And it’s always too soon to calculate effect. Cause and effect assumes history marches forward, but history is not an army. It is a crab scuttling sideways, a drip of soft water wearing away stone, an earthquake breaking centuries of tension. Sometimes one person inspires a movement, or her words do decades later; sometimes a few passionate people change the world; sometimes they start a mass movement and millions do; sometimes those millions are stirred by the same outrage or the same ideal and change comes upon us like a change of weather. All that these transformations have in common is that they begin in the imagination, in hope. To hope is to gamble. It’s to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it’s is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk.

I say all this to you because hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. I say this because hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you havee to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope. Anything could happen, and whether we act or not has everything to do with it. Though there is no lottery ticket for the lazy and the detached, for the engaged there is a tremendous gamble for the highest stakes right now. I say this to you not because I haven’t noticed that this country has strayed close to destroying itself and everything it once stood for, in pursuit of empire in the world and the eradication of democracy at home, that our civilization is close to destroying the very nature on which we depend-the oceans, the atmosphere, the uncounted species of plant and insect and bird. I say it because I have noticed: wars will break out, the planet will heat up, species will die out, but how many, how hot, and what survives depends on whether we act. The future is dark, with a darkness as much of the womb as the grave.

The war is not over. War is not over. Peace is not over either, nor is truth, or justice, or solidarity, or hope. There are terrible forces at work in the world today, and beautiful ones. And there is no neutral position. We are all taking sides every day in every act we choose. It’s not over. This terrible war will end someday, but our work will never be done as long as there are human beings on earth. Our work as activists, as dreamers, as makers, as noncooperating resistance matters; it is one force that shaped the world the last five years, and it will continue shaping this world long after the war is over. What you do still matters, so don’t stop now.

Rebecca Solnit, a recipient of the Lannan Literary Award, is the author of twelve books, most recently Storming the Gates of Paradise, and lives in San Francisco.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Send Your Poems about James Brown

Say it Loud: Poems about James Brown. Edited by: Mary E. Weems, and Michael Oatman.

We grew up on James Brown’s Hit Me! When he danced every young Black man wanted to move, groove and look like him. Mr. Brown wasn’t called the hardest workingman in show business because he wasn’t. Experiencing a James Brown show was like getting your favourite soul food twice, plus dessert. His songs, like black power fists you could be proud of and move to at the same time. When Mr. Brown sang make it funky we sweated even in the wintertime. Losing him was like losing somebody in our family. This is a shout out for poems about the impact James Brown had on our lives. Poems that will help people remember, honour, and celebrate his legacy. Don’t be left in a cold sweat, send us your old and new James Brown poems today.

Submission Guidelines: 3-5 Unpublished and/or published poems with acknowledgement included. No longer than 73 lines Deadline: April 30, 2008 (Receipt not postmark) Send hard copies along with a Word Document and short bio on a CD to: Dr. Mary E. Weems / Education Department / John Carroll University / 20700 North Park Blvd. / University Hts., Ohio 44118 / Send via e-mail attachment (Word Documents Only) to:, and

Wafaa Bilal's "Virtual Jihadi"/We Tolerate Video Games Only If They Murder Others

Wafaa Bilal's "Virtual Jihadi" was recently shut down at Rennselaer Polytechnical Institute because of its controversial gaming scenario--you are a suicide bomber whose mission is to kill President Bush.

The article explains:
The origin of his work is a video game called "Quest for Saddam." The game, where players target the ex-Iraqi leader, prompted what RPI's Web site describes as an al-Qaida spin-off called "The Night of Bush Capturing."

Bilal hacked into that game and created a work that puts "his own more nuanced spin on this epic conflict," according to the arts department. In Bilal's version, unveiled at RPI Wednesday, the Iraqi-born artist casts himself as a suicide bomber who gets sent on a mission to assassinate President Bush.

You can kill the President in his game, Bilal said.

Bilal said his brother was killed in the conflict. His exhibit's stated intention is to highlight vulnerability to recruitment by groups like al-Qaida "because of the U.S.'s failed strategy in securing Iraq." It also criticizes "racist generalizations and stereotypes as exhibited in games such as 'Quest for Saddam."'

Bilal's overall work is actually quite remarkable, and deserves further consideration. Check out "Domestic Tension," which was not shut down, which invited participants to shoot (paintballs) at Bilal in a closed room, while being videotaped.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Daily Show Makes Anti-War Protestors Look Silly/How Original!?

What, no interview with Medea Benjamin? Selectively quoting enthusiasts can lead to endlessly ridiculous language. But is this really the argument? While it is disturbing that the protesters don't address the problem that their protest has a "nimby" quality (i.e. not in my backyard) (will they also go to Oakland?) (will they also go to the University of California, with its millions in Defense contracts?), it is also the case that people have a responsibility to confronting and acting on the local level.

Amiri Baraka's "Political Poem"/What is Luxury?

Political Poem

(for Basil)

Luxury, then, is a way of
being ignorant, comfortably
An approach to the open market
of least information. Where theories
can thrive, under heavy tarpaulins
without being cracked by ideas.

(I have not seen the earth for years
and think now possibly "dirt" is
negative, positive, but clearly
social. I cannot plant a seed, cannot
recognize the root with clearer dent
than indifference. Though I eat
and shit as a natural man. (Getting up
from the desk to secure a turkey sandwich
and answer the phone: the poem undone
undone by my station, by my station,
and the bad words of Newark.) Raised up
to the breech, we seek to fill for this
crumbling century. The darkness of love,
in whose sweating memory all error is forced.

Undone by the logic of any specific death. (Old gentlemen
who still follow fires, tho are quieter
and less punctual. It is a polite truth
we are left with. Who are you? What are you
saying? Something to be dealt with, as easily.
The noxious game of reason, saying, "No, No,
you cannot feel," like my dead lecturer
lamenting thru gipsies his fast suicide.

--Amiri Baraka (1964)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

This is the Film My Library Wouldn't Show/"Searching For Peace in the Middle East"

This is the Film My Library Wouldn't Show/"Searching For Peace in the Middle East": the title pretty much says it all. Watch it, and tell me whether you think it is unbalanced, unfair, etc.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"The Torturer's Top Tunes" thanks to David Chirot

In a blog where I occasionally talk music, and occasionally talk about torture, I found a recent email from David Baptiste-Chirot to the Buffalo poetics listserve worth posting here, in which music itself gets employed as a torture technique.


Mother Jones has published in their last issue (Feb '08) a list of songs used during torture sessions. I've also included some older "playlists" back to the "oldies" used against the trapped American Ally suddenly turned enemy "voodoo practicing dope fiend" General Manuel Noreiga. (Hence "Voodoo Chile" by Hendrix among others played for him.) Similar mind shattering blasts were directed at the Koresh Compound at Waco.

So far the only two countries I've found who officially use this technique are USA and Israel.


The songs choices, besides the Heavy Metal/Black Satanic Metal and Gansta Rap mega-decibel level also include the "heavily Patriotic" songs like "Born in the USA" and "American Pie" along with "Barney" and a lot of other "infantile" songs, the infantile-regressed stage one that the torturers hope to send the victims back to increase the levels of fear and helplessness.

"The tracks have all been played by guards and interrogators in inducing sleep deprivation, "prolonging capture shock," disorienting detainees during interrogations, and/or drowning out screams. The "Torture Playlist" is based on a leaked interrogation log, news reports, and on info from soldiers and detainees.

Here's the list (in no particular order):
"Born in the USA" - Bruce Springsteen
"Shoot to Thrill" - AC/DC
"Die MF Die" - Dope
"Take Your Best Shot" - Dope
"White America" - Eminem
"Kim" - Eminem
"Barney Theme Song" - Barney
"Bodies" - Drowning Pool
"Enter Sandman" - Metallica
Meow Mix TV commercial
Sesame Street theme song
"Babylon" - David Gray
"Stayin' Alive" - Bee Gees
"All Eyes on Me" - Tupac
"Dirrty" - Christina Aguilera
"America" - Neil Diamond
"Bulls on Parade" - Rage Against the Machine
"American Pie" - Don McLean
"Click Click Boom" - Saliva
"Cold" - Matchbox Twenty
"Swan Dive" - Hed PE
"Raspberry Beret" - Prince**

* *


- Bombardment with loud music has been known to have been used in other occasions

Manuel Noriega

"When the United States invaded Panama in December 1989, Noriega took refuge in the Holy See's embassy which was immediately surrounded by U.S. troops. After being continually bombarded by *hard rock music* and "The Howard Stern Show" for several days, Noriega surrendered on Jan. 3, 1990.[4] [5] "


According to the FBI[6] [7]:
"W[itness] observed sleep deprivation interviews w/strobe lights and *loud music*. Interrogator said it would take 4 days to break someone doing an interrogation 16 hrs w/lights and music on and 4 hrs off. Handwritten note next to typed synopsis says *"ok under DoD policy"*.

"Rumors that interrogator bragged about doing lap dance on d[etainee],
another about making d[etainee] listen to *satanic black metal music* for hours then dressing as a Priest and baptizing d[etainee] to save him - handwritten note says 'yes'."

"W[itness] saw d[etainee] in interview room sitting on floor w/Israeli flag draped around him, *loud music* and strobe lights. W suspects this practice is used by DOD DHS based on who he saw in the hallway."

The *Washington Post*, quoting a leaked Red Cross report, wrote:[8]

"The physical tactics noted by the Red Cross included placing detainees in extremely cold rooms with *loud music* blaring, and forcing them to kneel for long periods of time, the source familiar with the report said."


According to Amnesty International [9] :

"Detainees have reported being routinely subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during arrest and detention. Many have told Amnesty International that they were tortured and ill-treated by US and UK troops during interrogation. Methods often reported include prolonged sleep deprivation; beatings; prolonged restraint in painful positions, sometimes combined with *exposure to loud music*; prolonged hooding; and exposure to bright lights. Virtually none of the allegations of torture or ill-treatment has been adequately investigated by the authorities."

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Harassment of Professor Thomas Abowd at Wayne State

At Wayne State, of all places, where 20% of the student body is Arab American, another professor gets harassed and accused of anti-semitism.

From friends and colleagues of Professor Thomas Abowd at Wayne State University

Dear colleagues,

I need to write to you about a set of very serious racist and discriminatory attacks against Professor Thomas Abowd in his dispute with the Wayne State University administration and right-wing Zionist elements on campus. These circumstances are but a few of several offensive, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim happenings on this campus over the last few years, coming both before and after the attacks against Law Professor Wadie Said who applied for a job at WSU. The specific attacks against Professor Abowd are particularly troubling because, in this case, a WSU official has used racist and offensive language against Professor Abowd in the course of an official university investigation.

Included below is a short description of the line of questioning engaged in by officials of Wayne State University, particularly one Ms. Amy Stirling during her December 2007 investigation of Professor Thomas Abowd for several baseless and fabricated charges of "anti-semitism." (charges eventually all dropped for lack of evidence). A Union representative was present during this meeting with Ms. Stirling, and witnessed the racist language directed at Abowd. The Union representative took notes during the more than 2 hour conversation. It is clear to many that Stirling's line of questioning (as well as her generally hostile demeanor) was extremely inappropriate and had anti-Arab implications.

Ms. Stirling began her questioning of Abowd in a ridiculous set of false accusations made against him by avowed supporters of the well-known anti-Arab and anit-Mulism racist, Daniel Pipes. Members of this organization have been following Abowd around to talks on this and other campuses for the last few years. Pipes was speaking at Wayne State in October, 2007 and Professor Abowd took part in a non-violent demonstration against the founder of "Campus Watch" one hour before his event. After this demonstration, two right-wing Pipes-apologists who had been video taping and taking pictures of Abowd and who later attended the Pipes lecture, accosted Thomas after his speech and demanded to know why he said "slaughter the Jews." Such words were never uttered, by Abowd or anyone else at the demonstration. Abowd told these individuals that this claim was completely slanderous and to get away from him.

Perhaps anticipating Abowd filing a complaint against them for harassment, the two individuals who accosted him then went and filed bogus charges of "anti-Semitism" against Professor Abowd with the Wayne State Office of Equal Opportunity. The University then decided to launch an investigation into these false accusations, without a shred of evidence that Thomas had engaged in any wrongdoing. The investigation, many on campus believe, was done as part of a disturbing pattern at Wayne State of silencing criticism of Israel and those who fight for Palestinian rights. The university official who investigated these charges (who many familiar with the case believe is anti-Palestinian) questioned Abowd for a few hours and eventually concluded, a few weeks later, that the charges made against Thomas were totally baseless and unsubstantiated.

But, in the course of questioning him, the investigator, Amy Stirling, engaged in hostile and racist language toward Abowd, an Arab-American. Again, this was witnessed by a Union representative who Abowd insisted be present and who took notes during the entire conversation.

Most disturbing were her efforts to badger Professor Abowd to "discover" his ethnic/racial/religious identity and to inject race, ethnicity, and the subject of Islam into her investigation. Stirling repeatedly asked Abowd and demanded answers, on at least 5 occasions, to questions about Thomas' race, ethnicity, and religion. Here are some of the more troubling exchanges during what was at times more a hostile interrogation than a professionally conducted interview.

Stirling began her line of questioning by repeatedly and pointedly demanding an answer to the question: "What is your ethnic or racial identity." This was, in fact, the first question she directed at him. Abowd objected to the query, citing its non-relevance and racist implications. Abowd told Stirling twice that he would not answer the question because it was wholly inappropriate but she persisted in an aggressive way, remarking that the question was relevant, that she did have a right to ask it, that she wanted an answer to it, and then proceeded to ask him the same question two more times. He still refused to answer and told her to move on.

About 45 minutes later, in the course of her questioning, Stirling asked Abowd, very directly 2 or 3 times and in an antagonistic manner: "Are you a Muslim?" Once again, she was told that this was completely inappropriate, as offensive as it was irrelevant to the discussion. Professor Abowd mentioned that he was not only disgusted by this line of questioning but that he considered it a violation of his privacy and the principle of non-discrimination. He and many others familiar with the case believe that this line of questioning was part of an effort to build the case that Abowd was more likely to harass the Jewish individuals in question because he might be a Muslim or Arab: a truly bigoted idea.

In trying to explain why he and the Union representative thought this was an inappropriate set of questions, Abowd began by stating that "If I were white and the person who I was accused of making race-based comments to was white…" Stirling interrupted him and forcefully stated: "You are white." Abowd then responded that she did not have the right to tell him what he was or declare his ethnic or racial assignment, which she could not possibly know and which was none of her business.

Stirling's line of questioning was clearly troubling for a number of reasons. If a member of another community, say a Jew or an African-American, were asked such a question in this context it would, quite rightly, be regarded as being totally inappropriate. How, after all, could anyone make a determination about whether anyone did or did not engage in intimidation based on whether she/he was Arab or Muslim or Jewish or atheist? One can only imagine if the tables were turned, what the response would be if an administrator repeatedly demanded an answer to the question "Are you a Jew? Are you a Jew?" Even after an individual had made clear that she/he would not answer such a question.

As with the problems made for law professor Wadie Said during his job search at Wayne State in 2006 and other Arab faculty and would-be faculty and students on campus by the administration in recent years, Abowd's case is connected to a disturbing sentiment among the Wayne State administration that has become deeply hostile to criticisms of Israeli human rights abuses and military occupation among faculty and students. There are several administrators and Board of Governors on WSU's campus that are avowed apologists for Israeli military occupation and human rights abuses. When you combine these realities with the fact that Wayne State (where 15-20% of the student body is Arab) has done a horrible job of hiring and retaining Arab faculty, one sees a troubling pattern in the abuse leveled at Professor Abowd, an Arab-American, an award-winning teacher, and one of the few Arab/Arab-American faculty in WSU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

In addition to these acts of racism directed at Abowd, Wayne State University has also violated Thomas' constitutional and contractual rights on several occasions during his four years at the university, most recently around this latest incident of racism. In the case of this investigation, he was told three times in writing by Amy Stirling that he was not permitted to have a Union witness present at the investigation, in direct violation of the law and Supreme Court rulings (in fact, a judge ruled in Abowd and the Union's favor several weeks ago stating clearly that WSU could not deny union members representation in such a context). Despite their violations of the law and the union contract, the University has reprimanded Abowd, as well, without due process. Abowd has also had his lecture on Jimmy Carter's recent book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid that he was to give to the WSU Alumni Association, cancelled for unexplained reasons and not rescheduled. This decision also came directly from the administration.

Please send emails, letters, and phone calls immediately to the following persons responsible for this campaign against award-winning teacher and community activist, Professor Thomas Abowd. Many of his colleagues and fellow activists are concerned that Wayne State University may try to terminate him for political reasons!

Ms. Amy Stirling, Acting Director of Wayne State University's Office of Equal Opportunity

Phone Number: (313) 577-2280
Address: Attn. Ms. Amy Sirling Office of Equal Opportunity
5700 Cass Ave, Suite 3660 AA Bldg.
Detroit, Michigan 48202

Robert Thomas, Dean of College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Phone Number: (313) 577-2519
Address: Attn: Dean Robert Thomas
Wayne State University
4841 Cass Ave.
2155 Old Main
Detroit, MI 48201

Nancy Barrett, Provost
Phone Number: (313) 577-2200/ 313-577-2433(Diane)
Address: 656 W. Kirby Room #4092, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202

Andrea Dickson, Executive Vice President
Phone Number: (313) 577-2389
656 W. Kirby, Room #4165 FAB Bldg, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202

Professor Andrea Sankar, Chair of the Anthropology Department,
Phone Number: (313) 577-6961
Address: Professor Andrea Sankar
147 Manoogian Hall
906 W. Warren
Detroit, MI 48202

Campaign of Solidarity with Women Resisting U.S. Wars and Occupation

Though I disagree with the premise that U.S. feminists consistently fail to link the critique of patriarchy with the critique of empire, I think this statement is an important one to sign.

Given that International Women's Day coincided with the catastrophic events in Gaza, please show your solidarity by signing the statement below from the Campaign of Solidarity with Women Resisting U.S. Wars and Occupation. You can send your name, affiliation, and place of residence to:

Piya Chatterjee & Sunaina Maira

An Open Letter to All Feminists: Statement of Solidarity with Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim Women Facing War and Occupation

As feminists and people of conscience, we call for solidarity with Palestinian women in Gaza suffering due to the escalating military attacks that Israel turned into an open war on civilians. This war has targeted women and children, and all those who live under Israeli occupation in the West Bank, and are also denied the right to freedom of movement, health, and education.

We stand in solidarity with Iraqi women whose daughters, sisters, brothers, or sons have been abused, tortured, and raped in U.S. prisons such as Abu Ghraib. Women in Iraq continue to live under a U.S. occupation that has devastated families and homes, and are experiencing a rise in religious extremism and restrictions on their freedom that were unheard of before the U.S. invasion, "Operation Iraqi Freedom," in 2003.

At this moment in Afghanistan, women are living with the return of the Taliban and other misogynistic groups such as the Northern Alliance, a U.S. ally, and with the violence of continuing U.S. and NATO attacks on civilians, despite the U.S. war to "liberate" Afghan women in 2001.

As of March 6, 2008, over 120 Palestinians, including 39 children and 6 women (more than a third of the victims), in Gaza were killed by Israeli air strikes and escalated attacks on civilians over a period of five days, according to human rights groups.[1] Hospitals have been struggling to treat 370 injured children, as reported by medical officials. Homes have been destroyed as well as civilian facilities including the headquarters of the General Federation of Palestinian Trade Unions.[2] On February 29, 2008, Israel's Deputy Defense Minister, Matan Valnai, threatened Palestinians in Gaza with a "bigger Shoah," the Hebrew word usually used only for the Holocaust.[3] What does it mean that the international community is standing by while this is happening?

Valnai's threat of a Holocaust against Palestinians was not just a slip of the tongue, for the war on Gaza is a continuation of genocidal activities against the indigenous population. Israel has controlled the land and sea borders and airspace of Gaza for more than a year and a half, confining 1.5 million Palestinians to a giant prison. Supported by the U.S., Israel has imposed a near total blockade on Gaza since June 2007 which has led to a breakdown in basic services, including water and sanitation, lack of electricity, fuel, and medical supplies. As a result of these sanctions, 30% of children under 5 years suffer from stunted growth and malnutrition. Over 80% of the population cannot afford a balanced meal.[4]

Is this humanitarian crisis going to approach a situation similar to that of the sanctions against Iraq from 1991-2003, when an estimated 500,000 Iraqi children died to lack of nutrition and medical supplies, and the woman who was then Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, proclaimed that the death of a half million Iraqi children was worth the price of U.S. national security?

As feminists and anti-imperialist people of conscience, we oppose direct and indirect policies of ethnic cleansing and decimation of native populations by all nation-states.

In the current climate of U.S.-initiated or U.S.-backed assaults on women in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan, we are deeply troubled by one kind of hypocritical Western feminist discourse that continues to be preoccupied with particular kinds of violence against Muslim or Middle Eastern women, while choosing to remain silent on the lethal violence inflicted on women and families by military occupation, F-16s, Apache helicopters, and missiles paid for by U.S. tax payers. This is a moment when U.S. imperialism brazenly uses direct colonial occupation, masked in a civilizational discourse of bringing Western "freedom" and "democracy." Such acts echo the language of Manifest Destiny that was used to justify U.S. colonization of the Philippines and Pacific territories in the 19th century, not to mention the genocide of Native Americans. U.S. covert, and not so covert, interventions in Central, South America, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean have devastated the lives of countless indigenous peoples, and other civilians, in this region throughout the 20th century. The U.S., as well its proxy militias or client regimes, has inflicted violence on women and girls from Vietnam, Okinawa, and Pakistan to Chile, El Salvador, and Somalia and has avenged the deaths of its soldiers by its own "honor killings" that lay siege to entire towns, such as Fallujah in Iraq.

It is appalling that in these catastrophic times, many U.S. liberal feminists are focused only on misogynistic practices associated with particular local cultures, as if these exist in capsules, far from the arena of imperial occupation. Indeed, imperial violence has given fuel to some of these patriarchal practices of misogyny and sexism. They should also know that such a narrow vision furthers a much older tradition of feminist mobilizing in the service of colonialism—"saving brown, or black women, from brown men," as observed by Gayatri Spivak.

While we too oppose abuses including domestic violence, "honor killings," forced marriage, and brutal punishment, we are disturbed that some U.S. feminists—as well as Muslim or Middle Eastern women who claim to be "authorities" on Islam and are employed by right-wing think tanks—are participating in a selective discourse of universal women's rights that ignores U.S. war crimes and abuses of human rights.

While some progressive U.S. feminists claim to oppose the hijacking of women's rights to justify U.S. invasions, they simultaneously evade any mention about the plight of women in Palestine, Iraq, or Afghanistan. Their statements continue to focus only on female genital mutilation or dowry deaths under the guise of breaking the "politically correct" silence on abuses of women in the "Muslim world" that the Right disingenuously laments.[5]

Some progressives may support such statements with good intentions, but these critiques ignore the fact that Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim feminists have been working on these issues for generations, focusing on the intersections of gender, sexuality, race, class, and nationalism. Their work is ignored by North American feminists who claim to advocate for a "global sisterhood" but are disillusioned to discover that women in the U.S. military participated in the acts of torture at Abu Ghraib.

We are concerned about these silences and selective condemnations given that the U.S. mainstream media bolsters this imperialist feminism by using an (often liberal) Orientalist approach to covering the Middle East or South Asia. For example, on March 5, 2008, as the death toll due to Israeli attacks in Gaza was mounting, the New York Times chose to publish an article just below its report on the Israeli military incursions that focused on the sentencing of a Palestinian man in Israel for an honor killing; the report was deemed worthy of international coverage because the Palestinian women had broken "the code of silence" by resorting to Israeli courts.[6]

The implications of this juxtaposition of two unrelated events are that Palestinians belong to a backward, patriarchal culture that, rightly or wrongly, is under attack by a modern, "democratic" state with a legal apparatus that supports women's rights. Others have shown that the New York Times gave disproportionate attention to the Human Rights Watch report in 2006 on domestic violence against Palestinian women relative to its scant mention of the 76 reports of Israeli abuses of Palestinian rights by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Israeli organization, B'Tselem.[7]

Similar coverage exists of women from other countries outside the U.S. that are portrayed as victims only of their own cultural traditions, rather than also of the ravages of Western imperialism and predatory global capitalism. No attention is paid in the mainstream U.S. media to reports such as that in Haaretz documenting that Palestinian women citizens of Israel are the most exploited group in the Israeli workforce, making only 47% of the wages earned by their Jewish counterparts in Israel, and with double the rate of unemployment of Jewish women.[8] Little is known in the U.S. about what the lives of Iraqi women are really like now that they are pressured to cover themselves in public or not work outside the house, nor of Afghani women whose homes are still being bombed in a war that was supposed to have liberated them many years ago.

We stand in solidarity with feminist and liberatory movements that are opposing U.S. imperialism, U.S.-backed occupation, militarism, and economic exploitation as well as resisting religious and secular fundamentalisms.

We also support the struggles of those within the U.S. opposing the War on Terror and racist practices of detention, deportation, surveillance, and torture linked to the military-industrial-prison complex that selectively targets immigrants, minorities, and youth of color. We are grateful for the courageous scholarship of academics who are at risk of not getting tenure or employment because they do research related to settler colonialism or taboo topics such as Palestinian rights and expose controversial aspects of U.S. policies here and abroad.

At a moment when U.S. military interventions have made "democracy" a dirty word in much of the world, we strive for true democracy and for freedom and justice for all our sisters and brothers.

Piya Chatterjee, University of California-Riverside

Sunaina Maira, University of California-Davis

Campaign of Solidarity with Women Resisting U.S. Wars and Occupation

South Asians for the Liberation of Falastin

[1] "The Tragedy in Gaza," Kinder USA, March 5, 2008.

[2] Weekly Report on Israeli Human Rights Violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: "Wide-Scale Israeli Military Operations Against the Gaza Strip." Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, March 6, 2008.

[3] Rory McCarthy, "Israeli Minister Warns of Holocaust for Gaza if Violence Continues." The Guardian, March 1, 2008.

[4] "The Tragedy in Gaza."

[5] For example, Katha Pollitt's petition, "An Open Letter from American Feminists," posted at:

See also: Debra Dickerson, "What NOW? Feminist Fatigue and the Global Quest for Women's Rights," Mother Jones. www.MotherJones_com.News.mht

[6] "16-Year Sentence in Honor Killing," The New York Times, March 5, 2008.

[7] Patrick O'Connor and Rachel Roberts, "The New York Times Marginalizes Palestinian Women and Palestinian Rights." November 7, 2006.

[8] Ruth Sinai, "Arab Women – the Most Exploited Group in Israeli Workforce." Haaretz, January 2, 2008.