Archive for the ‘kultur’ Category

Case in Point: How NY Times Perpetuates Islamophobia.

July 23, 2011

Today, was a heinous day of cold blooded attack in Oslo and its vicinity. Many innocent victims many of them young died in a senseless attack which NY Times and other media outlets compared to a war zone. Sadly, if such an attack happened in Baghdad, Karachi or Kabul then the news would have been a blur or perhaps not even fit to print or put on the frontpage. But today I woke up to NYTimes.com alert about an apparent Jihadi attack in the heart of a European capital. The newspaper offered the name of the Jihadi organization and gave an extensive rationalization on why the attack might have taken place.

So how did they respond later when it turns out (to great relief of millions of Muslims, black and brown immigrants in Europe-America bracing themselves for another round of Xenophobic backlash) that the terrorist was indeed ‘native’, white and not Muslim. Well first goes the language of terrorism and the entire blame is individualized, its all about the person who carried out the bombing or perhaps a few Nazi nutters but they have nothing to do with European culture. Unlike Jihadists who of course represent the ‘real’ of Islam. At the end of the day we are left with the sorry rationalization that such terror acts might not have been perpetrated by Jihadis but rather inspired by them, as if there is no history of terrorist violence in the West. Alas we forget: Timothy McVeigh, Columbine and countless shootings at schools, Churches, Offices. I am not even going back to WWII here.

Its really a shame that such a biased newspaper carries so much influence and weight when it comes to framing the world to Americans.

Here is an excerpt from pg 2 of today’s (7/22/11) NYTimes.com story:
At Least 80 Dead in Norway Shooting
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/23/world/europe/23oslo.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&hp

American counterterrorism officials cautioned that Norway’s own homegrown extremists, with unknown grievances, could be responsible for the attacks.

Initial reports focused on the possibility of Islamic militants, in particular Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami, or Helpers of the Global Jihad, cited by some analysts as claiming responsibility for the attacks. American officials said the group was previously unknown and might not even exist.

Still, there was ample reason for concern that terrorists might be responsible. In 2004 and again in 2008, the No. 2 leader of Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, who took over after the death of Osama bin Laden, threatened Norway because of its support of the American-led NATO military operation in Afghanistan.

Norway has about 550 soldiers and three medevac helicopters in northern Afghanistan, a Norwegian defense official said. The government has indicated that it will continue to support the Afghan operations as long as the alliance needs partners on the ground.

Terrorism specialists said that even if the authorities ultimately ruled out terrorism as the cause of Friday’s assaults, other kinds of groups or individuals were mimicking Al Qaeda’s signature brutality and multiple attacks.

“If it does turn out to be someone with more political motivations, it shows these groups are learning from what they see from Al Qaeda,” said Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism researcher at the New America Foundation in Washington. “One lesson I take away from this is that attacks, especially in the West, are going to move to automatic weapons.”

Before and After Bin Laden

May 12, 2011

For most Americans the pre-dawn assassination of Osama Bin Laden is the closing chapter of a traumatic decade that started on that fateful Tuesday morning of September 11th. The attacks on World Trade Center and the Pentagon were said to herald a new age defined by the ‘war on terror” (a vague term at best and oxymoron at worst), pre-emptive war, suicide bombings, drone missile attacks, and legalization of torture. A stream of news anchors, talk show hosts and politicians made sure that we knew we were living in a new era by referring to 9/11 as “The day the world changed”. Sometimes it felt as if all of history could be divided as before and after 9/11. Indeed that was the state of American collective memory in the run up to the wars. Billions of dollars were spent to bomb and occupy Afghanistan; one of the poorest and war ravaged places in the world to capture Bin Laden, a former cold war asset. In the end Bin Laden was nowhere to be found, (after all he was taking refuge in the relative comfort of Abbotabad). As the hunt for Bin Laden, and Taliban leadership grew cold there were other justification offered for the war, Afghanistan had to occupied in order to save it from extremists, it had to be occupied in order to save Afghani women from the extremist Taleban, and now Afghanistan has to be bombed in order to end the war. An entire region was punished for the actions of a few militants. History didn’t seem to matter nor did the fact that the most wanted terrorists were former allies. All that was before 9/11. As Donald Rumsfeld, the chatty former Secretary of Defense put it best himself when he stated that there are “known knowns and then there are known un-knowns”.

After Afghanistan, the American war machine zeroed in on Iraq as neo-conservatives spooked the already frightened public by blanketing the airwaves about the existence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction program. There were large protests and deep anxieties about this war but the space for critique closed down as the war got going. Shock and awe the two basic elements of terror were the opening salvo of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The American tilt to war pushed Jihad from a fringe topic that had little precedence in modern times to a transnational form of resistance that attracted the outraged youth. The devastation in Afghanistan and Iraq magnified Bin Laden’s stature from a marginal figure in the Muslim world to a spokesman of the oppressed Ummah. All of this was possible by sacralizing 9/11 as an event outside of history by narrating the attacks to define good and evil in contemporary America.

However, for most people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, the attacks on World Trade center were not a beginning, or an end but just another chapter of violence that goes back to the last decade of cold war. The crucial difference now was that the attacks happened in the heart of the empire, whereas cold war battles were mostly fought by Black and Brown people in the global South. Bin Laden or for that matter Saddam Hussein were both creatures of late cold war alliances when American policy makers saw them as assets to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, or Iran after the Islamic Revolution. One can find photographs of a smiling Rumsfeld locked in a handshake with Saddam Hussein (at a time when Saddam was known to use chemical weapons), or Osama Bin Laden boasting about the help he received from Americans in the Jihad in his speeches and interviews. Overall, these facts don’t seem to matter because they are relegated to the pre-history as before 9/11. For years anti-war activists held on to the belief that only if people knew the facts then they would rise up against American imperial policies but this faith in reason overlooked the basic desire to sacralize 9/11 and to maintain a noble self image.

Domestically, the specter of Bin Laden had an enormous impact on America. The hard fought civil rights protections that were gained after decades of struggle were rolled back overnight as racial profiling became justified. Muslim-Americans, immigrants, and people of color became subjects of suspicion. In the days and weeks after 9/11 Shopkeepers were detained for carrying box-cutters, tourists were detained for taking photographs, restaurant workers were arrested when neighbors grew suspicious of people getting in and out of mini-van. All it took was a gesture, a scarf, a beard or innocuous garb to arouse suspicion and for authorities to ask for legal papers. The fear that gripped America was as much the work of Al-Qaeda as it was the doing of Homeland Security. The multi-billion dollar agency that was created to provide protection and gather intelligence issued fluctuating color coded terror alerts, confusing guidelines on what to watch out for and a culture of surveillance. We saw how ‘homeland security’ can blur into terror as it anticipates another attack or mimics similar techniques. In this past decade US moved away from International laws concerning rules of war and the treatment of political prisoners were put on hold as American intelligence agencies sanctioned torture (enhanced interrogation) of “enemy combatants’ who in most cases were completely innocent men caught and sold to the US. The iconic images of Abu Ghraib Prisoners will remain one of the most horrifying testimonials of the the thin line between security and terror, when they become one and the same.

It didn’t have to be this way and indeed in the days and weeks after the 9/11 attacks there was great introspection and reflection when Americans started paying attention to the world in a new way: “why did this happen? why do they hate us? what is happening in Palestine/Israel? Why were so many of the attackers from Saudi Arabia and Egypt? Is war the solution to violence?” These questions betray a sense of bewilderment and disconnect that defined American attitude to the non-western world in days before 9/11. But now there was a great desire to learn more about the Muslims, Middle East, and the conflicts that have engulfed Southwest Asia. The space for reflection and inquiry closed fast as the war drums were beaten on CNN and Fox as America went to war. We were told that the enemy was Bin Laden, Taliban and yes it had to do something with Islam. That was that and there was no room to reflect on the trail of destruction that created the conditions for an Al-Qaeda or Taleban to form, or the fact that Americans were now chasing the ghosts of cold war battles in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. Radicalism also proliferates in countries that have to endure the despotic of authoritarian leaders like Saddam Hussein, the Saudi royal family or unaccountable institutions like the Pakistan Army.

In this moment of jubilation in America there is little desire to face up to the reality that the trail of destruction that made it possible for Al Qaeda and Bin Laden to emerge has only expanded. In fact with tens of thousands killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and the destabilization of Pakistan it seems that the specter of Bin Laden and American foreign policy will haunt us for a long time to come.

Washington justifies its narrow foreign policy in the name of national interest. It paints a picture of the world where only Americans and Europeans are fond of peace, democracy and freedom. Its all too complicated for rest of the world, the Muslim world still falls in a mysterious void where ‘experts’ are brought in to extract meaning and shape to acts of brutality and violence. There is no sense of history, and no accountability. The nihilistic war culture of violence and terror personified by Bin Laden will continue as long as America pursues short term policies that put price of oil over and above human rights. The popularity of Al-Qaeda and the myth of Bin Laden crystallized in the moment when ordinary people felt they had little power over their own destiny. Recently Bin Laden’s vision of puritanical state has greatly weakened by the proliferation of democratic protests but these gains are still tenuous and vulnerable to counter-revolutions. The revolutions in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia have shown a deep desire for more open and democratic future in the Muslim world but here again America’s narrow understanding of national security does not allow it to fully support these movements and I fear that in short time a more favorable client leader will emerge. Things might change but they stay the same, case in point is the current discrepancy in the NATO’s support for the insurgency in Libya while keeping all eyes shut to the brutal repression, arrests in Bahrain where doctors have been tortured for coming to aid of protesters, students and human rights activists have been killed and now Shi’a mosques are to be razed to the ground. One will be hard pressed to find reports in Bahrain in America or the fact that Saudi Arabia has sent in its Army to help aid the repression. While the world might forget Bahrain, those on the grounds will always remember that the bullets, the tanks and the ammunition used by Bahraini police, and Saudi soldiers were made in America. So it goes on

Pakistan is a revealing case in that it has been witness to mass mobilization in every decade yet every change in government has closely followed the powerful interests of the national elite and American establishment at a huge cost to the vast majority of its own population. The chaos and confusion created by wars, American foreign policy, the Pakistan Army’s coups have created an environment where conspiracies carry more weight than facts, where an entire population is squeezed dry to pay for an Army that plays a duplicitous games with its own people and the world.

My Fatwa on Danish Cartoon Controversy

February 6, 2006

As Europe moves further away from the benign facade of multiculturalism to a more exclusivist position.  It seems to me that 21st century EU identity will be fashioned in opposition to the “muslim fanatic”, or more “objectively” those  who cant understand principles western civilization and ‘freedom of speech’.

What pisses me off in this game of secular righteousness (following the furor of Mohammad cartoons) is how the defense of free speech is being mobilized as a high moral principle when similar caricatures of other communities would be condemned for intolerance and/or even hate speech.  For example you will not find homophobic, anti-semitic, anti-black cartoons in mainstream newpapers in today’s Europe. Perhaps such caricatures might be prosecuted under hate speech laws in UK and Germany.

I am not interested in whether those who published these cartoons had the legal right to do so, of course they did… as they have the right to publish racist cartoons about other communities under freedom of speech. If these illustrators/ publishers are exercising free speech then why not the same rights for Holocaust revisionists, and conspiracy theorists. I am only using these examples to say that free speech is in fact not free but an exercise of power. It is largely a noble fiction, especially given how geo-political, corporate interests, and moral imperatives shape public discourse (…and good luck finding the figure of Iraqi casualties in American media or for that matter Pentagon Arm’s sales dictatorships throughout the world).

So why is the response to these blatantly racist cartoons so different in Europe? I think these images are acceptable because they fall within the legitimated face ‘cultural racism’ in today’s Europe. Nevermind, that these cartoons are also doing work for many other’s who are gaining from the already polarized situation among “civilizations”.

What do these hurtful images do when splashed all over Europe at a time when millions are seething with anger at the senseless war in Iraq, the stranglehold of dictators in their own countries, and very little hope of peace and stability in the long run. Of course these cartoons elicit outrage, anger, polarization, and further provocation.

This is where I find hallowed defense of high secular ideals repulsive, when they are done at the expense of history, in blindness to the contemporary brutality of an illegitimate war and peoples lived experiences. Aime Cesaire put it nicely when he remarked that the discourses of colonialism are always use the language of rights, of rights of man, equality and justice but its only when you look closer that you will see the trail of destruction, brutality and colonialism.