Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The best analogy I've ever seen on the Palestinian multi-state solution

My friend Amoona M. told this story of the Palestinian occupation in simple language while debating a Zionist. As another of her friends said "sometimes you need to talk in child-like language to get Zionists to understand". hahaha Here's the piece from Amoona:

Ok, let me tell you a story...

You live with your family (parents and siblings) in your house. One day, I come and tell you give me one room, because I don't have anywhere else to go. Your parents say ok, but you don't really agree.

I come in, and while acting as if I'm occupying just the room your parents gave me, I start occupying two other rooms. Your parents say nothing, but you and your siblings start going crazy, because I am little by little chasing you from your rooms.

One day, your parents die. At that moment, you only have two rooms left in that big house that was initially yours, and I'm occupying the rest of it. Your brother has one room, and your sister the other one. They don't agree with each other on how you all should deal with me.

(By the way, none of them are 100% reliable.)

I claim everywhere that you all are attacking me, that I'm trying to live peacefully in my house, and in the meantime, I sometimes enter in your sister's room, and put some of my stuff to occupy it slowly, and sabotage your brother's room to weaken him and take his room.

And someone comes, and tells you well, if you want to leave peacefully, then leave that house, and go build a little cabin to your brother in one corner of the garden, and another one for your sister in the other corner of the garden. And that someone wants you to get satisfied of this solution, otherwise it would mean that YOU don't want peace.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Political and analytical statement on John Huddy's "Storming Las Vegas"

A conventional review of John Huddy’s book would no doubt stay within the acceptable bounds of debate/discourse that are common to the Western world. From the beginning the stereotypes and assumptions begin. Our protagonist is immediately branded (even on the cover) as a Cuban-born Marxist and a Soviet-trained mercenary. Obviously this is to strike fear, terror and disdain into the heart of the Western reader, along with the idea that we are dealing with a very evil person.

Jose Vigoa is a criminal unlike any that Las Vegas has seen before. This is true at least of the small time criminals. Vegas always has and always will be about large scale crime that is either above the law or within the boundaries of the law. These large-scale criminals of Vegas take the form of casinos, of nightclubs and of 24 hour liquor service establishments. The powers of Las Vegas also are capable of providing the technically illegal, such as room-service prostitution and the purest drugs known to man. All of this I personally have witnessed and in many cases experienced first hand during my decade in this self and soul-destructive city.

Make no mistake; I do not defend the actions of men like Vigoa. However, I condemn to a greater degree the establishments with which he attacked for the amount of lives that they have destroyed financially, morally and far too many times physically. It was stated that Vigoa believed justice to be manipulated by the powerful. It was stated that he believed that “politics-twisted, corrupt, and perverse politics-ruled all.” During his 2 year crime spree he didn’t believe that he was attacking anyone who didn’t deserve it. He believed (despite the fact that he committed murder), that he was merely taking the money from the Capitalist pigs that wouldn’t miss it anyway. Outside of his twisted mental state on the taking of human life, there is a certain “Robin Hood” aspect to his actions.

As to the background of Vigoa, he WAS a military trained mercenary who ended up fighting for the Russians during their time in Afghanistan in the 80’s. For those not up on history, that entire affair had a remarkable similarity to the now 8 year old U.S. occupation of the same country. The law enforcement agencies who tracked Vigoa on this murderous spree comprised former military men who knew from the start that they were dealing with a highly trained professional. This fact alone is an indictment against war, private contractors and Special Forces highly trained for assassinations. If Vigoa can use these skills in civilian robbery incidents, what kind of damage is being done to civilians by over-zealous soldiers in foreign countries who have been trained with these same skills?

The book further plays on the fear-mongering common in our current Western world. It does so by making a point to show law enforcement questioning whether the robberies initially had any ties to “Arabs” or “Muslim/Islamic” extremists. This is all typical U.S. hubris and ignorance.

Perhaps the brainwashing of American Capitalistic society is no more evident than in a book such as this. The prosecution is ecstatic. Once again, the streets of Las Vegas are “safe”. No worries now that they know they have it within their power to capture criminals the caliber of Vigoa. “We have protected the good citizens of Nevada from this man”. However, the giant, excessive, drug-infested, alcoholic, family-destroying, immoral gambling mecca of 2 million people supporting the vices of the world still stands. In the final analysis this is what led to my ultimate political radicalization. I never had a complete sense of satisfaction in Las Vegas. Were there good times? Of course there were. The city wouldn’t attract with no promise of pleasure. However the emptiness and destruction that Las Vegas will do to an individual is intense and extremely dangerous if you allow it. I personally had to move away to preserve my own integrity and to find myself once again. To people like Vigoa, the city carried the promise of riches and taking down the mighty stronghold of Capitalism. His actions were certainly immoral, but in the end the city is an even mightier and more powerful criminal backed by the largest crime syndicates in the world, those located on Wall Street.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

So that your own heart
Will grow.

So God will think,

I got kin in that body!
I should start inviting that soul over
For coffee and

Because this is a food
Our starving world

Because that is the purest

Hafiz, The Gift
Translated by Daniel Ladinsky

Book Review: "N-----" by Randall Kennedy

After reading such an emotionally charged book as Kennedy’s, I am almost hesitant to write a review. Anything I say as a white man about the linguistic term that is the title of this book is liable to be controversial to someone. However, it IS a book that I believe readers of any ethnicity owe it to themselves to absorb.
I can appreciate how Kennedy doesn’t explicitly forbid the usage of the word (OF COURSE considering the user’s race and context). He emphasizes that there are free speech debates that are quite relevant in considering censorship, and rightfully so. No one should be forbidden to speak as they will in a free society. At the same time, we can not overlook the fact that this IS (in my opinion) the vilest word in the English language. It has created the setting for murders, fights and court cases.
If there is a criticism I would make about the book, it is that there is not enough history as to why the word has become so volatile. To many, it should be common sense, but those that need to hear the message the most perhaps are unaware of WHY this one word carries so much negative meaning to an entire race of people. One wonders for example, what would have gone differently in John Mayer’s recent Playboy interview if he had just put down an appropriate study of the history of this word.
I will keep this review purposefully short as it is not my place to elaborate on who should or shouldn’t, can or can’t, or does or doesn’t have the right to use this term. I would simply encourage all who doubt the magnitude of one word in the English language to spend some time with this book. It is important for everyone to understand the proper context, background and appropriate usage (or lack thereof) of this powerful, insulting, sometimes bonding and always controversial word.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Book Review: The Arab Americans A History

Gregory Orfalea is to be commended for taking on a demographic that is often ignored in American discourse. The fact that the Arab-Americans escape visibility is obvious whenever someone looks at the ethnic section of any official document. There is rarely a box to check “Arab-American”.
The book is incredibly well-written, as one might expect from a professor of creative non-fiction. The first chapter, where Orfalea describes his trip back to his ancestral homeland of Syria is at times humorous, sentimental and familiar. Whether in our mind’s eye or through an existential experience, many of us have journeyed back to the place of our roots. We do this to determine where we come from, and where we are going. This opening chapter sets the tone for the entire book in its emphasis upon the incredible sense of community in the Arab culture. The nuclear family, Orfalea states, is not as important to Arabs as the extended family, quite a reversal from the Western world. The family, the community looks out for one another.
Ellis Island is an often talked about place as we are taken back to the 1870’s when the first known Arab immigrant arrived on our shores. This is where the book enters into an area comprising my one major criticism. Orfalea often takes a tone of trying to prove that Arabs could be successful in American Capitalism. The tone strikes me as an effort to show assimilation vs. the contributions of this rich ethnic history that have CHANGED America for the better. It is true that any immigrant demographic has to adjust to culture shock, the American labor market, and American consumption. However, the interviews which Orfalea chose to put into the book tended to portray “successful” Arabs (according to Western standards). I certainly do not wish ill will on anyone, but I would have liked to have seen a bit more on the average American who happened to be Arab. It is my Marxist training and class consciousness that always looks at how a particular ethnic group is treated within the poor and working classes.
What is encouraging to me as an activist is that overall the Arab-American community is quite aware and informed of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and their views tend to be “liberal” in this respect regardless of whether or not they are fiscal conservatives. This should go without saying, but there is an element of 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation Arab Americans who are as uninformed about the crisis as any other demographic.
I was glad to see Orfalea showcase the great intellectuals that have an Arab ethnicity. I was especially struck by a particular incident of civil disobedience in which Orfalea was joined by Edward Said (who was a close friend). For years, the two of them were accompanied by a handful of other intellectuals in instigating an Israeli tax boycott (which has inspired me to do the same). They averaged out the amount that the US government contributes to Israel per person and deducted the $37 from their tax returns. Never once did they receive an audit or penalty from the IRS.
The difficulties with which the Arab-Americans have had to deal with since 9/11 was the topic of the last major section of the book. Here again we come back to the common theme of community. My impression is that this idea of community and its importance to Arabs has had to do with the incredible adversity and constantly changing landscape of their homelands. Whatever the reason, it is admirable, and it is something from which the individualistic West could learn a great deal. Orfalea’s own experience with community becomes quite personal to the writing of the book as he closes with an anecdote about his own father. When the research for the book took more time and money than was expected, his father put a 2nd mortgage on his house to help Orfalea finish the project. While this could happen within any close American family, the emphasis here was that it was just a normal part of the Arab consciousness. My hope is that Americans realize how beneficial the idea of community can be with one’s family or social environment. I also hope that we as Americans (no matter what our ethnic background) acknowledge this great need for the other in order to survive, enrich, fulfill and change for the better our own lives and the lives of those with which we share our time on this earth.