Along the same lines, I wrote a series of reflections on Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen's 2007 film Jellyfish, which appeared in Zeek today. Nonsensically titled Netanya Fish Fry, the piece addresses recent American attempts to come to grips with contemporary Israeli cinema, and a tendency I detect to try and de-politicize it. Contending that recent narrative experimentation in Israeli filmmaking is in fact it's own political gesture, the article is about Diaspora anxieties about Israel, displaced onto film criticism.
It was an event that held a little significance for everyone. For Israelis, because of the commitment that the US President reiterated to their security. For Americans, because of the opportunity that their leader took to excoriate their country's opposition in a foreign parliament. And, for Iran, which was once again reminded that, despite how poorly the US is faring in Iraq and Afghanistan, America would still protect Israel from any manner of threat. In other words, it was an exercise in consistency, one that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert duly noted by nearly falling asleep during the President's speech in Jerusalem on Thursday.
Notwithstanding the umbrage taken by the US press to Bush's address to the Knesset, for anyone familiar with the importance that the Republicans have attached to securing Jewish votes in the forthcoming elections, it all made sense. Of course the President would take advantage of such an ideal opportunity. The problem is that, aside from the advantages that Israel most definitely accrued from playing host to the occasion, it had less to do with Israel than it did with the United States, and the failings of the present administration to make any positive achievements in the Middle East during Bush's two terms in office. With the failure of Lebanon's government to contain Hezbollah, one cannot ask for a more timely display designed for domestic consumption during an election year.
As the United States slowly loses Lebanon to Iran, despite the immense investment the Americans made in the Siniora government, once again we have another example of how US intervention in the region has worsened Israel's security. Sandwiched in between an Iranian-supported state in the south, and not one, but now two in the north, Israel's situation, at the end of Bush’s final term in office, is actually worse than it was on 9/11. No wonder Israelis would want the kind of dramatic security guarantees that the US President has offered. No wonder they'd want it specifically from Bush, and that Israel would place so much value on it, too. Given how poorly the Israel Defense Forces have performed in recent years, the need for American reassurance, of the kind that the President reiterated, is that much more important. Its a horrible situation.
Yet, there is also good reason to argue that Thursday's event in Jerusalem had little to do with reaffirming the significance of Israel's security, however flawed America's conception of it might be. Bush's speech, as an editorial in Friday's Haaretz suggested, also signaled the President's willingness to use Israel's conflict with Iran as a way of maintaining control over US Mideast policy after leaving office. To implicate Israeli security requirements with such a possible maneuver can only serve to further damage Israel's long-term interests, not simply because precedent suggests that the US would lose such an engagement against the Iranians. But, as important, because it would implicate Israel's security interests in contravention of America's electoral process.
Americans may not have a clear idea of an effective Mideast policy alternative to that of Bush. Though the Democrats have not exactly offered any compelling options, the amount of energy that Republicans have expended trying to debunk Obama's alleged positions suggests that conservatives fear another emerging policy is surely out there, and that it really is different. For as nebulous as that position might be, the desire for such a policy change is an enormous part of what will motivate millions of Americans to vote Democratic in November's Presidential election. As the Bush administration's failures in the Middle East have repeatedly demonstrated, that's exactly why Israel ought to remain open to whatever alternatives an Obama-led government might have to offer.
Originally published on Allvoices
Now closed, San Bruno's Golden Gate National Cemetery lives on 161 acres of land. Boasting 138, 352 interments, this enormous military graveyard sits at the northernmost end of Silicon Valley.
I pass by this spot every day on my way home from work. Yesterday, I got out of the car to take this picture. Looking north towards San Francisco, the city was invisible. All I could see were tombstones.
Three quarters of the way through his speech, the President's mouth seized up, as though he were about to say something important that he just could not figure out how to put into words. Alas, this moment would be forever frozen in time, as the media player refused to restart, prematurely ending George W. Bush's address to a gathering of Israeli and foreign dignitaries at the Facing Tomorrow conference, held this evening in Jerusalem.
Snapping a screenshot of this scene, I could not help but giggle at what a great photo opportunity this was, capturing the American leader stopped in his tracks, his mouth wide open. No amount of contempt could sum up the tremendous satisfaction that welled up in my chest as I imagined how speechless the President really looked. The pleasures I've been able to derive these past seven years are few, my revenge fantasies limited to short, ironic moments like these.
Obviously, Bush is an easy target.
Provincial, religious, and inarticulate, he's the most opportune of
prey to have one's adolescent way with. A paradigmatic Philistine, or
an anti-democratic ideologue straight out of central casting, the
President's horrible record lends much credence to his critics, who
blame him for every ill that has befallen the U.S. since 9/11. From a
collapsing economy to the war in Iraq, Bush has left Americans feeling
poorer and more insecure than any President since Woodrow Wilson.
This is why, at least for me, it's important to not over-emphasize the singularity of this moment. As inclined as Americans might be to harangue Israel for being so automatically willing to grant Bush such a warm welcome, it's important to remember that Israel has never been the President's sole foreign supporter. The governments of Tony Blair and John Howard, Silvio Berlusconi and Jose Maria Aznar, were, of equal, if not to greater degrees, supportive and admiring, as is French President Nicolas Sarkozy today.
Though I'd prefer that Israel's Prime Minister not be a member of this club, there was something positive about being forced to watch this evening's proceedings. With his days looking increasingly numbered, Olmert will not be the last foreign leader to have such an intimate connection with the Bush era. That honor will be left to Sarkozy, who, from the looks of it, will end up outliving both besieged heads of state. No great shakes, but at least, for once, it will be a European that will be the last in line, and not another Israeli.
Amongst the photos we received from Reuters today, this remarkable shot of a young Hezbollah supporter chanting slogans in front of the UN headquarters in Beirut really stood out. Between the teddy bears, fake blood and barbed wire, Banksy has finally found his local match.
Originally published at Allvoices
Today, Israel commemorates the sixtieth anniversary of it's founding. Unlike the celebrations of the country's 50th birthday in 1998, today's events have a far more somber quality to them, as though they are observing the passing of something far more tentative and fragile than we imagined back then, just before the peace process ground to a halt. Predictably, this month has witnessed the publication of a number of controversial articles questioning whether Israel will survive, generating, in turn, the expected reactions. In other words, business as usual.
As an Israeli citizen, and as an American-born editor working in English-language news publishing, I've resisted the temptation to draft my own thoughts on the subject, if only because I'm loathe to indulge the cliches that inevitably accompany the ritual of commenting on any specific nation's annual observation of it's independence. Especially those penned by U.S. Jews, which I read all of the time, and inevitably drive me nuts. Whether its spreading the love, or demonstrating disappointment, more often than not, it all reads the same.
This isn't to say that I'm not using the date as an opportunity to reflect on the nature of the state my friends and family continue to create. I am, just as I do every day, as someone who, for better or worse, always has Israel on his mind. If Israel has succeeded in establishing itself as it's own unmoved mover, to quote my divinity school training, it would make Aquinas proud. Nothing in my mind is not somehow related to or impacted by it. Israel is everywhere, and everything.
However, I don't feel the least bit sentimental about it, and there's something about recognizing this that I find relatively liberating. To wit, my wife and I will be going home to see my parents in a month's time, and the country will not feel any different than it did the same time last year I returned home, or, for that matter, this week, as I worried about the fact that I was not worried whether I'd write anything about this date at all. Israel, quite simply, exists, and feels more a part of my life than ever.
Of course, like the pundits I like to read, I could offer my own interpretation of the country's Italian-style political scene, and what I think the future holds in store for Israel under a coming Berlusconi-equivalent. Or I could offer it by way of talking about the remarkable films I saw this week at the San Francisco International Film Festival, such as Vasermil, Children of the Sun, or Under the Bombs, all of which offer rich insights into how Israelis and Arabs alike experience the country. At some point, I'm sure I will.
But, today, I guess, my point is far more mundane. For me, as it is for many Jews, Israel is something of a vocation. If that's what citizenship ultimately means, that's fine. I gladly accept it. As much as I'd like to find the identity somehow transformative or more involving, over the years, I've had to set certain instinctual limits to it because the psychic burden of being Israeli is traumatic enough. Adding anything else to the equation would be, for lack of a better of way of putting it, completely overwhelming.
In what could be one of the most crucial dub reissues of the year, Greensleeves has just published the sequel to my favorite King Tubby production of all time, Dangerous Dub. Out of print since 1996, this 1981 LP is the kind of record that teaches you to appreciate an entire genre.
Much brighter sounding than other Tubby recordings (at times the treble sounds an awful lot like Scientist) amidst a sea of never-ending reggae re-releases, More Dangerous Dub most definitely stands out. The mix is so clear and expansive, I can hear even the tiniest of details on my MacBook's crappy internal speakers.
One of the principle points Charlie Bertsch and I put forth in our presentation on Burial at the Experience Music Project conference last month is that dub's political meaning inheres in the way it uses reverb to symbolically create space, to enlarge it, as though the effect is it's own metaphor for freedom.
Given how bleak things looked in Jamaica when this album was recorded, it's no surprise that it sounds as optimistic as it does, especially by Tubby's standards. It is as though More Dangerous Dub is an exercise in irony, particularly given how dark dub first sounded during it's heyday under socialist rule in the mid-1970s.
CEDAR: When you compare the rebels on Masada to the wise men in Yavneh, the rebels died as lions, and the wise men lived as dogs . But the dogs had puppies, and we are those puppies. So, there was something about blowing up Beaufort, blowing up the fortifications, blowing up the mountain, at the end of the film, that was also about blowing up a symbol of (the lion's) power. It's about our power to create something else that, at least for me, makes us different from our enemies.
ZEEK: It means that as Israelis, we can start over. That we have the ability to reinvent ourselves.
CEDAR: Not only that. It means that we have an identity without the geographical symbol, that we have an identity that is as powerful and as firm as concrete and fortifications, flags and pride.
To read the rest of my interview with director Joseph Cedar, check out the new issue of Zeek.
Nearly a year to the day I left Tikkun to complete my book, I went back to work as an editor again. Not so coincidentally, the gig was online, with Allvoices, an international news and community portal. Tasked with recruiting a team of bloggers to help launch the site's publishing platform, and responsibility for editing and managing the largest collection of international news feeds I've ever seen, I've spent the last five months adjusting to a job that's both new and extremely familiar at the exact same time.
I'm very grateful for the opportunity. Given what a crisis publishing is in, I continue to find myself exceedingly lucky I found any work at all, let alone work in news media. The degree of relief I feel, as you might imagine, remains profound. My biggest concern in quitting my former job in such dreadful economic circumstances was that my book might be my final hurrah to fourteen years in publishing. I'm glad to say its not, though I would have continued to do this irrespective of whether I'm paid or not.
One aspect of my present gig that makes it so fulfilling is familiarizing myself with English language news resources in places I would not have otherwise gotten to know, such as central Africa and the Caribbean, discovering first class, UN-funded news organizations, or independent European agencies that are every bit as good as AP or Reuters. It's all been enormously inspirational to discover, especially at a time when it seems as though the business is going to absolute pot.
The other aspect of my present gig that I've really enjoyed has been working with a crew of twenty-two regular bloggers, such as my longtime colleague and pal Mitchell Plitnick, the Belgrade-based journalist Amy Miller, Cairo's aBendinTheNile, and Ilana Sichel in Jerusalem, to name a few. Their writing can be every bit as good as anything I read at past gigs, if not more so. I still do a serious amount of traditional editorial work at Zeek to balance it all out, and the perspective it helps provides is something else.
The best anecdote I can impart about all of this is that my co-workers, who hail from India, Europe, and Pakistan, like to jokingly refer to me as the 'Mossad agent.' Though it's not meant to be pejorative, in context, it's still a hoot to hear. Relating this to a relative who queried me about the Arab media I've been having to review, giggling, he responded, " Nu, you know, this stuff could come in useful some day."
C'mon Fairuz, where was this album really recorded? The fine print on the upper right says Lebanon, but the LP's title indicates that it might also have been made in the US. The ambiguity of the record's ideal location, as somewhere in between America and the Middle East, suits this 1971 release extremely well. How contemporary, especially considering the fact that the record is nearly fourty years old.
American defense concerns have always given weapons names that fit their function. For example, fighters such as the F-15, F-16 and F-18 were appropriately given names such as 'Eagle', 'Fighting Falcon,' and 'Hornet,' while the black-painted, radar-evading F-117 stealth bomber was dubbed the 'Nighthawk'.
As silly as these names can get, (Why not a Dayhawk? When is the Chickenhawk coming? etc..) you can see the cultural logic behind their specificity. They're meant to convey that such war machines embody the fierce, agile, even predatory qualities that define the brave birds that the aircraft were named after.
Hence the curious naming of the new 'Masada' assault rifle by it's manufacturer, Magpul Industries. Named after one of the first recorded incidents of mass suicide (in which 960 Jews besieged by Roman troops took their lives) the complexity of the rifle's title represents a fairly serious break with convention.
As though anticipating criticisms over having chosen such a potentially controversial name, in a PDF brochure for the weapon posted to Wikipedia, Magpul maintains that the company is neither "Jewish or Israeli backed," but that it has always found the story of Masada to be "a bold example of defiance."
If you want to get a sense of what informs so many American estimations of Israeli military prowess, you won't find a more revealing signifier. One people's loss is another's defiance. Or, one could conjecture that such takes on Israelis say more about American desires than what they think about Jewry.
In January, the Masada was licensed to the larger American arms manufacturer Bushmaster, who have since retitled it the Adaptive Combat Rifle.
Right across the street from the San Francisco supermarket where I confirmed the non-identity of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades leader stands a liquor store. Until recently, it's owner was a Palestinian, and the clerks who worked there were either from southern Lebanon or the West Bank.
The last time I had talked to the Lebanese clerk was in July 2006, at the beginning of the war. He had told me that he was very concerned about his family, who still lived in the south, and had just had their electricity and water cut off during the first days of the fighting.
Two weeks ago, I found him standing in front of the store. He recognized me, and we shook hands. "Did your family make it through?" I asked. "Yes," he replied. "Barely. Your people bombed the hell out of their village," he added, as a young couple walked by us speaking to each other in Hebrew.
I told him about the turn I took last summer in Ghajar, and asked if he could help me identify the puzzling green flag of the militiamen I'd run into there." Oh, they were Amal," he said, referring to the Lebanese Shi'ite guerrilla organization that preceded Hezbollah.
Two weeks ago, France 24 produced a larger television piece on the recent advert attempting to 'shame' Israelis who do not do their military service. Based on the recent forum on the Observers site, I discuss my decision, 23 years ago, to not do my military service. Jennifer shot the original interview.
The nicest part about this experience was hearing about it first via my uncle Avi in Tel Aviv, who saw it on France 24 at home, and then telephoned my parents about it, who in turn called me. I didn't get a chance to see the full piece until last week, when Roi Ben-Yehuda let me know it had been posted online.
Note the use of the word 'deserter' in the English broadcast of the interview. In French, the original term, 'deserteur' is also used to describe people who choose not to do military service as an act of conscience. It doesn't consistently translate as 'to leave one's post', though that surplus is most definitely there.
This is our local grocery store. We try not to shop there too often because it's expensive, and offers a fairly unimaginative selection of coffees. But, being four blocks away, it still has it's value. Such as when, fact-checking an article about the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade cell in Nablus last summer for a magazine, I ran into a friend who had just spent a month working with an NGO in the West Bank city.
"The author identifies the head of the local 'Brigade crew," I told Rebecca when I saw her, dropping the name given to the commander. "You must have run into those people with some frequency when you were there. Does it ring a bell?" I asked. Laughing, she gently replied, "No, of course not. That's definitely not the guy's name, and besides, I couldn't pin a pseudonym on him if I tried."
Every weekday morning, I turn on the news as I pick up our bedroom before heading off to work. Last Friday was no different. Hoping to catch the all-too-brief snapshot of CNN's international channel that we get here in the US between eight and nine AM Pacific time, I switched on the TV, which, as I discovered, was already tuned to what looked like a European news program.
"Over ten thousand veterans have committed suicide since coming home from Iraq," I could hear an American-accented voice saying, as I folded my wife's puppy dog-themed red pajamas.
Unnerved by what I'd just heard, I looked up at our television screen wondering if the channel was tuned to CNN. My suspicions proved correct. It wasn't This was the morning broadcast of Russia Today, which, unsurprisingly, was covering America's Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan conference, a reprise of the similarly-named 1971 event, in which Vietnam vets such as Senator John Kerry spoke out against the war in Southeast Asia.
As inclined as I was to dismiss this broadcast as a polemical exercise by an anti-American news channel, these figures didn't seem all that far off. Our neighbor works as a physical rehabilitation specialist at a local VA hospital where the majority of her clients are soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. The stories she's told me about their state of mind, (and their bodies,) sound like obvious recipes for suicide.
Broadcast the day after the 5th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, this depressing disclosure capped off a stream of bad news issued forth throughout the week. From the rising US casualty rate (confirmed today at 4K) to the increasingly chaotic state of the economy, last week, it felt as though the entire country was taking inventory on the various ways in which the war has begun to tear at the fabric of life here.
This feeling is made more pronounced by the fact that my view is one that is both that of an insider as well as an outsider, as an Israeli as well as an American. Thus, reading all of the glowing reviews of Republican Presidential nominee John McCain's visit to Israel last week in the Israeli press, especially the overt deference shown his candidacy, I felt myself growing increasingly uncomfortable with the correspondence between what Americans were waking up to and how we were reacting to McCain.
Though the Arizona Senator's positions are largely indistinguishable from those of Clinton and Obama, there is a particular spirit to his approach to the region that, like Bush, is both ideologically and morally impervious to the mistakes America continues to make in Iraq. Or, to put it in the words of a US colleague, "Like Bush, McCain just doesn't get it. His problem is that though his reasons would be different, he'd still be willing to do it all over again."
So, how might one explain the preference we showed for McCain? Is it ideological, or is it due to a justifiable anxiety about the mess that the Americans will leave Israel with if they withdraw from Iraq? Don't discount how concern over how such a move might further empower Iran, (despite how the American invasion of the country has already done so), motivates such flawed judgment calls. Fear continues to play an enormous role in informing many Israeli positions on Diaspora politics.
The problem is that these kinds of dynamics do not necessarily play out well anymore abroad, especially in crisis situations like the one that America is presently undergoing. Everything that is wrong with the Bush Administration, and how it has run the country the past seven years is epitomized by how the situation in Iraq has impacted the US economy, and injured nearly thirty thousand American troops. The figures are not as high as Vietnam, but the combination of events feels unprecedented.
This is how most Americans view the conflict, even if they believe the invasion was justified. Why make Israel complicit with this situation? This is the risk we take when we fail to properly qualify ourselves in relation to domestic American politics. This doesn't mean we have to shut up about it. We can have our opinions, and share them. But only if we make a more serious effort to qualify our preferences with a more profound sense that as Israelis, we don't take for granted the toll this war has taken on America.
Republican Presidential candidate Senator John McCain's visit to Israel this week provoked a great deal of discussion in both the Israeli and Diaspora Jewish press. To be expected, conservative commentators praised McCain's initiative as a sign that the Arizona legislator would be a better President for Israel than the current Democratic front-runner, Senator Barack Obama, while liberal Jewish pundits opined on the lack of difference between them in matters concerning Israel.
France 24's Observers hosted a lively forum on the greater subject in which I took part, together with Jewcy's Daniel Koffler, Haaretz US correspondent Shmuel Rosner, and conservative Jewish blogger Neo-Neocon. What emerges is an exceedingly balanced discussion that will give you an excellent sense of the parameters of the debate currently taking place about what kind of American President would be best for Israel. Big up to France 24's Roi Ben-Yehuda for shouting us all out.
As we approach the fifth anniversary
of the US invasion of Iraq, it is worth putting certain facts into
perspective. Until the 2003 invasion, it was assumed that the 1948
Arab-Israeli war had created the region's largest and most significant
refugee crisis, sending an estimated 750,000 Palestinians into exile.
According to figures made available by news agencies, over the past five years, the US occupation of Iraq has turned over 4 million of the country's citizens into refugees. In an article published by the Associated Press on Monday, it is estimated that two million of these refugees are internal, with the rest spread around the region.
Separated by 60 years, and different national contexts, there are as many reasons to not assimilate these events as there are for comparing them. From an Israeli perspective, however, given the tragic legacy that the Palestinian refugee crisis has bequeathed the region, the Americans would be well advised to learn from precedent.
This post is also published on allvoices.com
I could see four soldiers standing next to a table, rifles in hand, staring right back at us. They could have been Lebanese, they could have been not. It was hard to tell from that distance. Positioned next to the southernmost entrance to Ghajar, a Lebanese border village, which, until the 2006 war, had been divided between Israel and Lebanon (whatever Lebanese military entity was controlling that side of the frontier) the town had been the site of numerous firefights over the years, most recently, in 2005, when Hezbollah militiamen launched a combined infantry and rocket attack on IDF troops in the village.
Raising their rifles rather threateningly in our direction, we quickly decided it was time to back out, turn around and head up towards the Golan. Our destination was the Druze village of Majdal Shams, where we were hoping to arrive in time to see residents communicating via bullhorn with their Syrian cousins across the shouting wall, a hillside spot along the Syrian-Israeli frontier, where the 1974 ceasefire line separates the Israeli municipality from a Syrian Druze village called Hadar. A minefield lies in between.
Driving out of Ghajar, an IDF humvee we'd encountered on the way into town (heading in the opposite direction) had since parked at a checkpoint, and the troops inside had set up shop. Hair unkempt, heavy machine gun hanging listlessly on top of the vehicle's roof, several sleepy-looking young soldiers stared at us rather curiously, as though they were surprised that an Israeli-plated vehicle was coming from the direction of the Lebanese town. They did nothing. Taking the steering wheel with my right arm, I extended my left out the window, and, issuing a sigh of relief, waved goodbye.
After we returned home, I remember telling a relative about the checkpoints in Ghajar. "I thought the town was firmly in our hands, and no longer divided," I told him. "But the second checkpoint we arrived at seemed like it was manned by hostiles. However, the flag flying stretched out behind them was green, not yellow, like Hezbollah's." "I'm very surprised to hear this," my cousin replied. "You should have never been allowed to pass through that first checkpoint, let alone get close to that second one. I'm going to make a phone call. The commander responsible for this is going to get into a lot of trouble."
The best stocked section (aside from the Health and Diet shelf) in San Francisco's Green Apple Books bargain media annex.
Perhaps the single most frequently asked question posed by my interns at Tikkun was why we continued to receive so many books about Nazism and the Holocaust to review.
Indeed, every day, new books about the Shoah would inevitably outnumber arriving titles on Israel and Judaism. "It's one of the occupational hazards of being a Jewish magazine," was my stock reply.
I haven't spoken about such issues in years. It was a pleasure to think through them again. The renewed perspective that this side of the Bush era helps provide is really something else.
A form of social, news blogging called an 'event' by Allvoices.com, I wrote it as a quick experiment today to see how well I could limit myself to working within the site's prescribed event style.
Rule number 1: You always have to riff off of established sources.
France24 has launched The Observers, a new, bilingual citizen journalism initiative. At the behest of staff writer Roi Ben-Yehuda, I became an Observer last week, and gave my thoughts on a new Israeli government drive to encourage teens to do their obligatory military duty.
As someone who, when they came of age in 1985, did not do their service, I explain why, as well as criticize a new state-produced video designed to prevent kids from doing the same. Check it out. The following response, by the anonymous Yael, is worth the price of admission alone.
Attributed to progressives sympathetic to Islamist criticisms of Israel and Zionism, this genre of anti-Semitism is the least understood form of prejudice against Jewry. Viewed as opportunist in its support of Islamic and right-wing Arab views of Jews and Zionism, as a means of disguising racism as anti-colonialism, left-wing anti-Semites are treated almost as though they are false progressives, who don the multicultural mantle of the left in order to be openly prejudiced.
Jews are incited against not because they profess an inferior culture or religion, but because the object of their faith is a state that discriminates against non-Jews, specifically, Muslims. Because their concept of the state is so integral to their religious identity, Jews are viewed as being inherently biased against non-Jews. Whether they are Diaspora or Israeli Jews, the foundational importance of the Zionist state, as an exclusively Jewish state, is supposed to be similarly viewed by progressives and by Islamists as an iconographic instance of the core politics of Jewish identity.
In short, Judaism is a synonym for racism because behind it hides Israel. Progressives aren't supposed to like Judaism, first, because Israel stands for the indivisibility of religion and state, and second, in the form of the Israeli state, for the official practice of discrimination against Palestinians on the basis of their ethnicity. Though Judaism is found to be deeply problematic, both historically and theologically, the notion of returning to the promised land that Zionism prescribes is less important than how it is understood to function as a cultural cover for the West's theft of Arab lands.
- From an article I'm currently working on
When I first heard San Antonio's Fearless Iranians from Hell, I thought they were terrible. Just another thrash band, with predictably bad metal leanings. But, twenty years later, the project's singularity is painfully obvious.
Faux-Middle Eastern hardcore, featuring the bass playing of an ex-member of the Butthole Surfers on the late, great Boner label, I played this hilarious 1986 EP back to back this morning with Muslimgauze, and it made a whole lot more sense.
While I'd argue that the concept is definitely stronger than the execution, one of the great things about punk has always been that as a form of critique, given the right context, sometimes a good idea is all that's really required.
The killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 was of particular importance in reinforcing this understanding of Pakistan. A Jewish-American reporter engaged in a multiethnic marriage, Pearl's murder by Islamic militants was promoted as an iconographic instance of the clash of civilizations thesis, transposed to America’s relationship with Pakistan. The ideological tensions inherent in emphasizing Pearl as though he were the US - multicultural, liberal, interfaith - to Pakistan as uncivilized, violent, politically corrupt and religiously intolerant - ought to be clear.
Pearl represented America, and its actualization of the ideals it was promoting on the War on Terror, which Pakistan, with its tribes, its madrassas, and its fundamentalists was in conflict with. This made Pearl a martyr-equivalent to domestic neoconservatives. If Americans wanted more nuance in news coverage of the country than Pearl’s remembrance allowed, they had to seek it out from foreign news sources such as the BBC and The Guardian.
- From a report I recently wrote about south Asian news coverage in the US
It was a hard decision to make, but I had to do so. For the last twelve months, I desisted from doing any freelance work in order to reserve all of my energies for Israel vs Utopia.
Now that the book is in my editors' hands, today, my first article since last March was published by Zeek. And, on Tuesday, I conducted my first formal interview since I spoke to Jimmy Carter in December 2006.
Morning reading for my book research, February 2007. The Class War Federation statement on the War in Lebanon was definitely the most colorful of these four selections.
You may not agree with them, but the document's wholesale criticisms of all of the parties involved display a refreshing disenchantment with the positioning on the war that we've grown accustomed to.
I can't seem to locate the original statement. However, I've linked through to the copy that was circulated on the LBO list when it was first published during the summer of '06.
It's finally out, and boy does it look good. Strolling through the Haight yesterday, Jennifer and I stumbled upon the brand new edition of the Punk Planet interview collection, We Owe You Nothing, at the appropriately DiY, volunteer-staffed Bound Together Books.
Featuring several new interviews conducted between 2001 and 2007, We Owe You contains six pieces I acquired for PP back in the day, including interviews with Steve Albini, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, Negativland, Team Dresch's Jody Bleyle, Outpunk's Matt Wobensmith and Black Flag.
Toronto's Eye Weekly reviewed the collection on the 9th, together with former Punk Planet Associate Publisher Anne Elizabeth Moore's excellent Unmarketable. Putting Anne's book in the mix not only was smart. It also explains why PP remains essential to understanding the zeitgeist.
The Middle East reflects America back, wishing it were somewhere else. The quintessential site of sixties utopianism, Woodstock, printed on the wall of an abandoned Syrian army barracks in the Golan Heights. On the border, June 2007.
When Jennifer first began working at her new office in October, she mentioned that the Jordanian consulate was also in her building. I'd forgotten this until Saturday, when we stopped by to show off her new digs to Jen's parents, who'd flown up from LA for the weekend.
Unlocking the front door, we noticed that the country's coat of arms had been pasted inside the building's Mission street entrance. Though the details are slightly obscured by a mid-afternoon shadow, its hard to miss the archetypal Bedouin icon, the desert falcon, symbolically holding up the Hashemite royal crown.
Walking up towards Union Square afterwards, I wondered how many people took notice of it, and if they did, understood it - the falcon, the importance that Bedouins play in Jordanian politics. Overhearing Arabic on the street, twice in the course of the next ten minutes, I figured, most likely, more than a few.
Every time I go home to see my parents, I always seem to do something wrong with my US passport. For example, once I ran it through the wash just before we were to take a trip to nearby Istanbul.
It would have been one thing if I'd known where my Israeli papers were. Handing the border control officer a decidedly damp American ID, when he could tell that I held dual citizenship, is another. I barely made it on to my flight.
I wonder whether there would have been a problem if I'd had memorable sleeves for my passports like these. The eagle inscription is so in-your-face, it feels like it's watching out for you.
The cover of a January 1969 edition of the French weekly news periodical L'Express, featuring the face of former President Charles de Gaulle set inside a Star of David. Surrounded by an English translation of a letter de Gaulle wrote to David Ben Gurion in 1967, it's figured prominently in revisions to my book, whose 2nd draft I'm furiously working on finishing right now with my editor.
A scanned page from European Union official Francois Massoulie's idiosyncratic volume, Middle East Conflicts, the image is bordered on either side by the end of one of my own book's chapters, an open Real Audio browser loaded with a BBC page, and my most recent playlist, featuring the brilliant Sledgehammer Dub LP by the consistently overlooked roots producer, Niney the Observer.
Wednesday at noon, former Political Asylum singer and AK Press founder Ramsey Kanaan will be hosting an hour-long discussion about the political legacy of The Clash on Against the Grain, courtesy of Pacifica flagship station KPFA, 94.1 FM in the SF Bay Area, and everywhere else, online.
Ramsey's guests include yours truly and Craig O'Hara, the author of The Philosophy of Punk: More Than Noise, a new edition of which is scheduled to drop in the new year. If you're interested in the band, in punk, or in how music and politics collide, we pretty much cover it all.
Despite the fact that this was a book writing year, I still managed to pack in a few titles that were distinctly off-topic. For regular MashDown readers, of course, that means, unsurprisingly, I read a lot about politics, music and the visual arts, though not necessarily of the gallery kind.
This was also the first time in almost a decade that I was able to read for pleasure, and not for the purpose of assigning books for review. That, in itself, was a welcome change. Instead of scanning a chapter or two and then sending them off, I was able to take in new books in their entirety.
In no specific order, here are the ten tomes that made the biggest impression on me in 2007:
Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land (Verso)
Gil Hochberg, In Spite of Partition (Princeton)
Jacqueline Rose, The Last Resistance (Verso)
Sari Nusseibeh, Once Upon a Country (FSG)
Judith Butler & Gayatri Spivak, Who Sings the Nation State? (Seagull)
Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policeman's Union (Harper Collins)
Michael Veal, Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae (U. New England Press)
Jeff Chang, Total Chaos: The Art And Aesthetics of Hip-Hop (Basic Civitas)
Abby Banks and Thurston Moore, Punk House: Interiors in Anarchy (Harry N. Abrams)
Jennifer Baumgardner, Look Both Ways (FSG)