Saturday, August 26, 2006

dear god, thank you for movies. love, me.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Home

Couldn't resist sneaking back in. Watch this story. The right to information movement is one of the most exciting things happening in India at the moment.

I have just finished reading Suketu Mehta's Maximum City (in which, incidentally, the tale of the Jain family's grand renunciation freaked me out more than anything about gangsters, the underworld, riots, etc.). If I ever write a book about Bangalore's infrastructure, it will be called Minimum City.

Ustad Bismillah Khan is no more: 'Much has been written about the Ustad as a devout Muslim who also worshipped Saraswati, the muse of all artists. His pluralism and tolerance were not learnt. They were instinctive and non-didactic, something that flowed naturally in the context of his being. He belonged to a generation that worshipped naad, the abstract principle of the perfectly tuned note.' A truly moving tribute here and one from L. Subramaniam.

I am reading things about Lebanon in the Indian media that I havn't come across anywhere else: 'While Hizbollah's fighting skills are well known, its blueprint for a modern Lebanon of co-exististing communities - Shia, Sunni, Christian, and Druze - is less well known.' Thank god for a free press.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

blogging break

6 weeks to go before thesis full draft deadline. i will not be blogging for the rest of august and september. sorry to have to leave when there is so much to write about, but there always will be!

Monday, August 14, 2006

the wider world

Pluto may not be a planet.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

For Lebanon, not Hizballah II

[In response to a post on a friend's blog, which I can't link to because it's a private blog.]

The more I read your post the more disturbed I am about it. I am going to leave Hizballah aside for a moment because I don't know enough about them (but precisely for that reason I cannot claim to be one of them like Galloway does, although I can and will continue to condemn Israeli war crimes - in any case I dont see why doing the latter necessarily entails doing the former).

Why would 2002 have been the wrong time to be critical of Saddam Hussein? Why is any moment the wrong time to be critical of Saddam? In choosing strategic moments to be now vocal, now silent about Saddam you are mirroring perfectly the behaviour of the US government, which chooses to be silent about the crimes that Saddam commits in Halabja in the late 80s and then very vocal about them in the 90s. Why cannot you develop a voice in which to be critical of both the US government and Saddam, and particularly the links between them? What is this talk of 'power imbalance', as if we are supposed to obey the laws of physics and step into whatever pan of the scales is less powerful no matter how odious its particular beliefs and agendas may be? You are repeating the mistakes of the Stalinist left during the Cold War that was grateful for the existence of *anything* countervailing US power, even if that countervailing power had its own gulags, its own purges. This enemy-of-my-enemy logic is total crap.

Hizballah is not Saddam, so I am not seeking to argue by analogy here. I just find the Saddam comment deeply disturbing in its own right. It represents everything that is wrong with a section of the left at the present time. You say we're supposed to 'think'. Sure, but we're also supposed to care about peoples' lives and freedom, not just march in support of abstract concepts and shorthand slogans like 'speaking truth to power'. We're supposed to be thinking about who is doing the speaking, why they speak in the way they do, how they hope to use the fact that they're doing the speaking today to ride to power tomorrow (this may be why Gandhi said liberation movements like the Congress should shut up shop once they've achieved their goal). You also use the phrase 'intellectual opportunism'. I suggest you think carefully about what you are accusing people of before you use words like that. Exactly what opportunities are we grabbing by making these criticisms?

As I write all of this I'm conscious of how splintered the left already is and how I might be exacerbating that situation. (Why else did the good guys lose the Spanish Civil War?) So rest assured, I will continue marching against Israeli war crimes with the likes of George Galloway, I will continue making common cause on this issue with Hizballah supporters. But they have no business co-opting me. In doing so, they are alienating me and people like me. *They* are doing the splintering. In mass coalitions like this, no one has the right to say 'We are all X' - no one. We are not all any one thing. We are all against Israeli aggression and we are all for a cessation of that aggression, but we have different visions of life after that and not all of those dovetail neatly with that of Hizballah. Those differences can't be postponed and they are *not* less important (women in every single political movement in history - except their own - have been told this).

As a footnote, let me just add that a few weeks ago when a majority of Lebanese citizens were asking for a Syrian withdrawal post-the Hariri assassination, Hizballah didn't participate in that demand. In fact they staged a counter-demonstration 'thanking' Syria for its assistance. Even in Lebanon they're probably not saying 'We are all Hizballah'. They may be saying it today - under Israeli fire - but they weren't yesterday and they probably won't tomorrow. And if they aren't, why should I?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Correction

Yesterday I blogged that the Government of India had banned Arab TV broadcasting in India under pressure from Israel. Thanks to Uma, I now know that this is not the case - there is no ban. Apologies to those I had mistakenly alerted.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

For Lebanon, not Hizballah

[For more informed opinions than mine go here and here. I am not a specialist on the Middle East, nor do I have time to be one at the moment. What follows is simply an attempt to sort through the political choices we seem to be confronted with at the moment based on what little I know. Please feel free to comment, refute, challenge.]

George Galloway's simple-minded resistance is beginning to annoy the shit out of me. On Saturday he proclaimed to the anti-war rally at Parliament square: 'We are all Hizballah!' We are emphatically not all Hizballah. I did not march on Saturday in support of Hizballah or Nasrallah. I marched for Lebanon, for a restoration of the conditions that will allow politics in Lebanon. Among the most important of these conditions are an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanese territory and a return of all Lebanese political prisoners. I actually do think this is the most important pre-condition for the restoration of politics in Lebanon because its accomplishment will deny Hizballah (and Syria and Iran) the opportunity to embed their self-interested claims for power in a legitimate discourse of resistance.

If what I am fighting for is a restoration of politics in Lebanon, for a future in which the Lebanese can decide for Lebanon, for Lebanese popular sovereignty - if this is what I am for, why do I have to decide whether to give my support to Fouad Siniora or Walid Jumblatt or Hassan Nasrallah or anyone else? I do not think I am required to have an answer to this question before demanding a ceasefire. A ceasefire is a precondition for making those kinds of choices. They cannot be made in the shadow of Israel's brutal war crimes.

Even if I was required to have an answer to this question before marching on Saturday, my answer was emphatically not Hizballah. I am not marching for Lebanon so that it can be transformed into a Shia theocracy tomorrow. This is Lebanon we are talking about - a multi-religious, multi-ethnic country, the only Arab country with an open queer scene as Verbal Privilege keeps reminding me. (If Hizballah's gender politics is anything like that of the clergy in Iran, we can expect Lebanon's relative liberalness to be stamped out in no time at all. I am not suggesting that a space for queer politics is the lodestar of political freedom in any country - I'm merely using it as a proxy for all kinds of other freedoms.) Hizballah does not own this country, nor does it own its resistance. It is the current face of that resistance because it is the only group in Lebanon that is prepared to advance widely-held demands through the use of force. But it does not own those demands, it does not own the cause.

Further, if what I am marching for is Lebanese sovereignty - a Lebanon in which the Lebanese make political decisions for themselves - then equally, I have to demand a severing of Hizballah's links with external sponsors. Hizballah needs to become a political force that is embedded in Lebanese Shia society (or Lebanese society more broadly, if it is able and willing to rise above sectarian identities). That means not responding to instructions from Syria and Iran. These external remote controllers (whomever they may be - and I really don't know what the evidence of this is) are not accountable to Lebanese Shia society and they have no business making decisions, the consequences of which are so brutally visited upon Lebanese Shia.

The key in all this is sequencing - which steps first - and this is where I am taking sides. Hizballah's raison d'etre as a group devoted to resistance against Israel and its external sponsorship towards this end can be legitimately dealt with only after the reasons for their resistance are removed. I think this because I agree with their professed motivations for resistance. Let me say that clearly: I agree with their professed motivations for resistance. I disagree with their methods and with their political vision for what Fanon would have called 'life after the last white policeman has left'. George Gallway's simple-minded resistance forgets the very thing that was supposed to have made anti-colonial resistance superior to colonial oppression. The great thing about Negritude was that it did not confront white supremacism with black supremacism. Resistance was emphatically not supposed to imitate the oppression of the powerful - it was not supposed to take the form of anti-racist racism. I am not fighting a Jewish theocracy (yes it is one, with its odious discourse of the 'demographic problem', its insistence on being a state only for the Jews, its apartheid legal system with differential rights and movement restrictions) - I am not fighting this Jewish theocratic apartheid state just so that 'liberation' movements can go and set up Shia theocracies in opposition.

In the meanwhile, as Edward Said would have said, never solidarity before criticism.

George Galloway on Lebanon

Watch this. Warning: not for the faint-hearted, or the nuanced.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Pictures

I won't write reams of prose about yesterday's protest beyond noting that it was much bigger than July 22 (police said 20,000). Amongst the most important people there were the Hasidic Jews in full regalia up to their big furry hats in the sweltering August sunshine. I think it's fair to say that they were among the star attractions, with Muslim families lining up to have their pictures taken with them and thanking them for their presence there. Whatever else this demonstration did or didn't accomplish (and there will no doubt be much 'expert analysis' of the inchoate and unfocused demands of the protesters, of the uncomfortably pro-Hizballah slogans and propaganda that were floating around, of the ironic apathy of 'not in my name' protests) - whatever else is said about this way of doing politics, its ability to draw people into a public sphere - quite literally, get them off their arses and on to the streets - brings people who may not ordinarily have encountered each other face to face. And for one brief moment there is a shadow of recognition that despite all the differences into which we are socialised, we do have some things in common, some visceral reactions that are so remarkably similar that either they are instinctual (my less preferred explanation), or all value systems are saying at least some things in common. Whatever else you want to say about yesterday, some Muslim kid somewhere in all those thousands realised that all Jews weren't bad. And some Jewish kid somewhere realised that being Jewish didn't mean you had to endorse everything Israel did. And maybe some adults too.







Friday, August 04, 2006

Actions

CEASEFIRE NOW DEMONSTRATION

SATURDAY 5 AUGUST, 12 NOON
ASSEMBLE SPEAKERS CORNER, HYDE PARK (nearest tube Marble Arch)
March route: past the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall (leave children's shoes outside Downing Street) to Parliament Square for the rally.

For more details go here, for details of bus transport from all over the UK (really everywhere - from Glasgow to Exeter, from Swansea to Norwich) go here. This could be another February 15. Tony Blair is in for a very rocky Labour Party conference.

Thoughts

Via Contrapuntalnews.com (kindred soul) I have come across this oasis of sanity. Read Jewish Voice for Peace's:

- excellent in-depth analysis of the Israeli attacks on Lebanon and Gaza

(i) making a clear legal distinction between the actions of Hamas and Hizballah:

The Palestinians are a people under occupation and they have the right to resist that occupation, even with force. One may argue over the advisability of their action, but it was permitted under international law. This is not the case with Hezbollah. Their act was a clear violation of international law, as was their subsequent attack on civilian targets within Israel. The Israeli occupation of Sheba'a farms doesn't justify Hezbollah's incursion into Israel in this manner.

(ii) demonstrating the strategic stupidity of Israel's actions:

Hezbollah, like Hamaas, had internal reasons as well as external ones for launching its attack. Hezbollah had come under significant pressure to disarm and allow the Lebanese to deploy in the south of the country. A UN Security Council resolution did demand this, and the new, more pro-Western government was also desirous of this. While Hezbollah had attained a heroic status for having fought Israel until it ended its 18-year occupation of Southern Lebanon, that was six years ago. It was a permanent fixture in Lebanon politically, but it was beginning to look like Hezbollah's days of being able to independently run its own military affairs in Lebanon were drawing to an end. Ironically, this is what Israel claims it wants, yet its invasion has united much more of Lebanon behind Hezbollah.

Hezbollah as a political party is deeply woven into Lebanese politics. As a militia, Hezbollah was losing its grip before the Israeli attack. But Israel's actions have reversed this. Now, the pro-Western Prime Minister of Lebanon tells the American Secretary of State that she is not welcome in Lebanon unless she brings a cease-fire with her and he openly thank Hezbollah, heretofore his bitter rival, for defending Lebanon.

In other words, Israel's disproportionate response (yes, it has to be said again and again) has been a Hizballah wet dream. Fouad Siniora (the Lebanese PM) was on BBC Newsnight this evening virtually echoing every single Hizballah demand - the return of Sheba'a Farms, prisoner exchange - in addition to demanding an immediate ceasefire (he probably won't get all of those things if he asks for them together).

(iii) not letting Iran off the hook - with pressure mounting on Iran on account of its nuclear programme and with Washington making no secret of its desire to see regime change in Tehran, it is in Iran's interest to act against the US and Israel. It has no need to do this overtly and by itself, given that it can act through proxies - Shia militant groups in Iraq against the US, and Hizballah in Lebanon against Israel. JVP thinks Syria is playing less of a role at the moment.

(iv) squarely blaming the US for - far from doing nothing - actually egging one side on to greater destruction.

- see also JVP's earlier excellent Q&A on Hamas' rise to power in Palestine - yes Hamas is a terrorist organisation (but so were the Irgun and Stern Group from whose ranks came Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir), yes Israel is justifiably concerned by the rise to power of a group that avowedly aims at its destruction (but Hamas has departed considerably from that position even without a formal amendment of its charter). This is a rare, brave and balanced analysis.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

What is to be said?

As usual, events overtake me. Or I become dumb with fury.

A friend has directed me to Alan Dershowitz, who sinks to a new low here.

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