New Age Islam Edit Bureau
02 May 2016
Women of Palestine in Their Israeli Jails
By Hamid Dabashi
Al-Qaeda Down but Not Out
By Rene Slama
An Open Letter to President Obama
By Khalid Alnowaiser
The Improbable Reformers
By Nina L. Khrushcheva
Saving Afghan Peace Process
By Muhammad Waqas
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Women of Palestine In Their Israeli Jails
By Hamid Dabashi
01 May 2016
In his now legendary painting, Women of Algiers in their Apartment/Femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement (1834, oil on canvas), Eugene Delacroix captured something so provocative, so elemental, about Arab and Muslim women at the height of the European Orientalist painting that a century-and-a-half later the eminent Algerian novelist, artist, and feminist Assia Djebar (1936-2015), used the very same title for her groundbreaking collection of short stories, Women of Algiers in Their Apartment(1980), turning the Delacroix painting upside down and celebrating the beauty and resilience of Algerian (Arab) women in face of multiple tyrannies.
Before Assia Djebar, the master Egyptian artist Inji Aflatoun (1924-1989) had used her own experiences as a Marxist feminist revolutionary painter jailed by Nasser for four years (1959-1963) to produce some of her masterpieces depicting women in prison cells. The aesthetic genealogy and political power of Aflatoun’s work partook in an entirely different universe than what Delacroix had inspired in Djebar.
Decades after both Aflatoun and Djebar, the eminent Tunisian filmmaker Moufida Tlatli made her exquisite masterpiece, The Silences of the Palace/Samt el Qusur (1994), in which she expanded upon Aflatoun’s and Djebar’s pioneering work and investigated much deeper into the trials and tribulations of two generations of Tunisian women domestic workers at the palace of a rich and abusive family at the height of Tunisian ant colonial struggles.
Doyen Of Palestinian Cinema
These and similar works of art have just been given a powerful new twist by the doyen of Palestinian cinema, Mai Masri, whose career as a documentary filmmaker expands for over 40 years, and now, in her first feature film, she ups the ante in telling the story of Palestinian women in Israeli prisons.
On April 25, the Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University was privileged to host the New York premiere of Masri’s new feature film, 3000 Nights (2015).
A Beirut-based Palestinian, Masri’s distinguished career as a filmmaker began in the early in the1980s with her pioneering documentary, Under the Rubble (1983), and has continued apace until today when she has directed her first feature film.
Premiered internationally at the Toronto International Film Festival, and based on a true story, “3000 Nights” chronicles the life of Layal (as interpreted masterfully with unsurpassed poise and grace by Maisa Abd Elhadi) who was sentenced to eight years of prison by the Israeli military court, falsely accused of aiding and abetting with what the European settler colony calls “terrorism”.
The incarceration of human beings inside the confinements of a prison has been the subject of many philosophical, poetic, literary and cinematic reflections across many cultures and conditions.
Masri’s cinematic engagement with the subject places the location of women imprisonments squarely in the context of the Israeli colonial conquest of Palestine …
From Plato’s Crito (360 BC) that takes place inside Socrates’ prison cell, to the legendary prison poems of Masud Sa’d Salman (1046-1121) to Lord Byron’s The Prisoner of Chillon (1816) to Frank Darabont’s Shawshank Redemption (1994), we are witness to myriad of attempts to understand the nature of incarceration on human soul.
Most recently, in his Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, the French social historian Michel Foucault investigated the penal code as integral to the disciplinary formations of European modernity.
Masri’s cinematic engagement with the subject places the location of women imprisonments squarely in the context of the Israeli colonial conquest of Palestine – in the framework of what the distinguished Palestinian sociologist Elia Zureik, extending Foucault’s insights, has studied in detail in his most recent book, Israel’s Colonial Project in Palestine: Brutal Pursuit (2016).
In this book, Zureik studies in detail the tripartite trajectory of the Zionist colonial conquest of Palestine: violence, territory, and population control, which he analyses as a specific form of what he calls “racialist discourse”.
While Zureik has advanced the Foucauldian frame of reference of surveillance and governmentality much deeper into the domain of racialised violence and settler colonialism, Masri’s “3,000 Nights” offers a number of crucial twists on such theoretical insights into the nature of Israeli settler colonialism.
By concentrating on women prisons she successfully genders the politics of penitentiary violence and occasions a much needed and necessary full-bodied encounter with the horrors of a surveillance state in its full violent operation.
Masri’s mastery of her cinematic craft enables a vision of colonial incarceration that no mere critical thinking can do.
The genre of prison in cinema challenges the visionary gifts of a filmmaker to the maximum for she (or he) has to tell a long story almost entirely through interior shots, limited in space, mise en scene, camera movements, choice of lenses, options for lighting, and the very physicality of acting to a bare minimum.
Masri comes to her first feature film from an extended documentary background, mostly shot in the open air of urban settings and refugee camps she knows like the proverbial palm of her hand.
Here she and her director of photography Gilles Porte and editor Michele Tyan are at their professional best to be able to tell a full-bodied story within the confinements of a few adjacent cells, a hallway, and a small courtyard (the film was shot in a military prison in Jordan).
Because of this exquisite cinematic feat that Masri and her colleagues have achieved, it is no longer necessary to belabour the point and insist on how powerful the entire metaphoric choice of the central character of the story Layal is to keep her child when she realises she was incarcerated while pregnant, give birth in an Israeli prison, and raise her beautiful boy she names Nour/Light in the midst of this dark misery.
What the continued Zionist thievery, murder, and mayhem in Palestine face is the effervescent power of Palestinian people to give birth (just like Layal to Nour while in an Israeli jail) new force and vision to the single most atrocious colonial carnage of our time.
The Israeli propaganda has convinced itself that it has sold its lies to the world at large when it labels the defiance of the nation it has conquered as “terrorism”.
All it takes is one ingenious cinematic gem by a Palestinian master filmmaker to dismantle the entire house of cards that it keeps mounting around itself.
Al-Qaeda Down but Not Out
By Rene Slama
2 May 2016
Five years after the killing of Al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden, the network he founded is far from dead even if it has suffered a series of setbacks. Replaced as the preeminent global terrorist power by Daesh, Al-Qaeda nonetheless remains a potent force and dangerous threat, experts say.
With last year’s Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris and a wave of shootings in West Africa, Al-Qaeda has shown it can still carry out its trademark spectacular attacks. And in Syria and Yemen its militants have seized on chaos to take control of significant territory, even presenting themselves as an alternative to the brutality of Daesh rule. By the time US Special Forces killed Bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2, 2011, the group he founded in the late 1980s had been badly damaged, with many of its militants and leaders killed or captured in the US “War on Terror.”
Dissention grew in the ranks as new Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri struggled in Bin Laden’s place, until one of its branches, originally Al-Qaeda in Iraq, broke away to form Daesh.
After seizing large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014, the group declared a “caliphate” in areas under its control, calling itself simply Daesh. It has since eclipsed its former partner, drawing thousands of militants to its cause and claiming responsibility for attacks that have left hundreds dead in Brussels, Paris, Tunisia, Turkey, Lebanon, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and on a Russian airliner over Egypt. Its self-declared “emir” Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi has won pledges of allegiance from extremist groups across the Middle East and beyond, with especially powerful Daesh affiliates operating in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and in Libya.
Jean-Pierre Filiu, a Paris-based expert on militant groups, said Daesh has been especially effective at using new technology to surpass its less tech-savvy rival. “Al-Qaeda propaganda has become invisible on social networks thanks to the media war machine that Daesh has managed to successfully create,” Filiu said. “Al-Qaeda has lost everywhere to Daesh, except in the Sahel” desert region of northern Africa, he said.
William McCants, of the Brookings Institution in Washington, agreed that Al-Qaeda had lost some ground to Daesh, but said the organization has recovered. “Al-Qaeda has a strong showing in Syria and in Yemen,” he said.
In Syria the group’s local affiliate, Al-Nusra Front, is one of the strongest forces fighting President Bashar Assad’s regime, holding large parts of the northern province of Idlib. The local branch in Yemen, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has meanwhile seized significant territory in the south. AQAP suffered a setback last week when Yemeni troops recaptured the key port city of Mukalla it occupied for more than a year.But AQAP remains the key militant force in Yemen with thousands of members compared with only several hundred affiliated with Daesh, McCants said.
AQAP, considered by Washington to be Al-Qaeda’s most well-established and dangerous branch, has also claimed responsibility for one of the group’s most important attacks abroad in recent years.
In January 2015 gunmen stormed the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo with assault rifles and other weapons, killing 12 people in an attack claimed by AQAP. Another branch, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), has carried out assaults on hotels and restaurants in Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast since November that have left dozens dead, including many foreigners.
The attacks in West Africa “have reasserted the regional presence of AQIM and shown its expanding reach,” New York-based intelligence consultancy The Soufan Group said in March. “AQIM has used the attacks to challenge the influence of Daesh, to demonstrate and build its local support and to show that it is united after earlier damaging divisions,” it said.
The International Crisis Group also argues that although Daesh has reshaped the terrorist landscape, Al-Qaeda “has evolved” and its branches in North Africa, Somalia, Syria and Yemen “remain potent, some stronger than ever.”
“Some have grafted themselves onto local insurrections, displaying a degree of pragmatism, caution about killing Muslims and sensitivity to local norms,” said the Brussels-based think-tank. Al-Qaeda chiefs in Yemen and elsewhere have condemned Daesh for some of its actions, including bombings of Shiite mosques.
The US clearly still sees Al-Qaeda as a key threat, pursuing a vigorous drone war against the group in Yemen. The strikes have killed many senior operatives, including Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command Nasir Al-Wuhayshi in June 2015. In March a US strike on an AQAP training camp in Yemen killed at least 71 recruits. Writing for French news website Atlantico in early April, former intelligence officer Alain Rodier said that while Daesh may have stolen the spotlight, Al-Qaeda may be in a better long-term position.
An Open Letter to President Obama
By Khalid Alnowaiser
2 May 2016
Dear President Barack Obama, I am pleased that you decided to visit my country, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, recently. I hold no official post and am simply a Saudi attorney in private practice in Jeddah who has the greatest respect for America, as I was fortunate to be educated in your country.
Contrary to western perceptions, we here in Saudi Arabia do have freedom of speech, and that’s why I’m free to write you this letter.
In 2009 you delivered a famous speech at Cairo University where you expressed your hopes on many issues that are inspiring to all Arabs. Since then, however, many of us have seen stark contradictions in what you said and what positions your government has taken.
Your decision to engage with Iran threatens not only our security, but America’s as well:
l It is dangerous, bad policy to ignore 90 percent of the 1.5 billion Muslims — led by Saudi Arabia — whose interests are irreconcilable with Iran’s domestic and foreign policies.
l We agree with you that diplomacy is better than waging wars, but this does not mean that the United States — the world’s superpower — should be transformed into a wounded lion while Iran threatens its neighbors and continues its expansive and aggressive policy to destabilize the entire Middle East. Your diplomatic efforts threaten to expand, rather than eradicate, terrorism.
Those who support western notions of a civil society, order and social tolerance are put at high risk by a worldview, which promotes disorder and revolution and is driven by the goal of world domination.
Mr. President, do not assume that cooperation is possible with an Iran bent on destroying its adversaries.
You recently said in The Atlantic Monthly that regional “competition” between Saudi Arabia and Iran has fuelled the conflicts in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, and you expressed the belief that the Saudis should “share” the region with their fierce regional enemy! Would you have us share the Middle East with President Assad, a murderer of women and children, who is fully supported by Iran even as you recognize that there is no place for him on the world map?
You are relying on your intelligence capabilities, but the terrorists remain many steps ahead of the United States, especially in social media outreach to our disaffected youth. For the sake of America and your true friends in the Middle East, please don’t defer any decisive action against Iran just to pass your remaining months in office with the illusion that you have contained Iran’s ambitions.
Even if you have defused Iran’s nuclear weapons temporarily, Iran has the financial resources to threaten not only Saudi Arabia, but also Israel, Europe and ultimately the United States. All we have to do is look at Syria to see how Iranian involvement has destroyed that sad country and destabilized other countries around it.
One must ask:
l How can you allow the continuation of monstrous crimes against humanity occurring in Syria, Iraq, Palestine and elsewhere?
l Does America really want to be seen as doing nothing to stop aggressive Iranian expansion fuelled by unlimited Russian support?
l Don’t you realize that Saudi Arabia is the safety valve of the Middle East? It has always maintained stability and security in the region. Saudi Arabia will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States, but you must lead the fight against Iran, not appease them. They are bent on dominating the Middle East, not stabilizing it; they are committed to destroying those who have different religious, cultural and political beliefs. They are the world’s greatest sponsors of terror.
Mr. President, I am an Arab Saudi citizen without any connection to the Saudi government who simply wants America to continue exercising its great influence internationally. With great power comes great responsibility. Our long-standing relationship with you is not only deep between our governments, but also among our citizens. Now, more than ever, America must remember who are its friends and who are its enemies.
The Improbable Reformers
By Nina L. Khrushcheva
2 May 2016
Over the last few years, Pope Francis has reinvigorated the Catholic Church’s core message with passionate criticism of unbridled capitalism and a new, more progressive worldview. In the United States primaries, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign is doing much the same for the Democratic Party — and for US politics more broadly.
Sanders’s message borrows substantially from the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement and its call to arms against economic inequality. But even before Sanders emerged as a contender for the Democratic nomination, Francis won the hearts of millions with a similar message. Francis has denounced the “widening gap between those who have more and those who must be content with the crumbs.” It should therefore not be surprising that last year, he invited the author and OWS activist Naomi Klein to attend a conference on the environment that he was hosting in Rome.
This year, Sanders addressed the same gathering, arguing that climate change is the most serious security threat facing the world. His long-held beliefs on the topic mirror those of Francis, who, in a groundbreaking encyclical, aligned himself with the scientific community on climate change. Both Sanders and Francis link environmental degradation to unbridled capitalism, emphasizing that the world’s poorest suffer disproportionately from the environmental impact of activities that often enrich the world’s wealthiest.
There is another interesting commonality between Sanders and Francis: Both are well into their eighth decade. At first glance, it seems odd that these pensionable men are among the leading figures echoing and inspiring the young in seeking revolutionary change. Yet, on reflection, the connection is not surprising. After all, when it comes to indignation about the world’s injustices, the old can be just as passionate as the young. The impact of Sanders and Francis on young people is intensified by the sense that, for both men, truth and morality matter more than self-importance or enrichment. They both appear modest — Francis has rejected his predecessors’ monarchical lifestyle, and Sanders’s estimated net worth is significantly below average for a US senator — and, for all their progressiveness, thoroughly un-modern.
Moreover, Sanders and Francis are relative outsiders. Sanders may have a long career in US politics, but he represents the small liberal state of Vermont, and he passionately denounces the big money that is most politicians’ lifeblood. For his part, Francis is the first pope from Latin America, and the first to condemn economic inequality with such intensity. Of course, Francis is not the first pope to address the topic. In fact, this year’s Papal conference celebrated the 15th anniversary of an encyclical by Pope John Paul II about the ethical pitfalls of the market economy and globalization.
But John Paul II, originally from Soviet-bloc Poland, also staunchly opposed communism; indeed, he played an important role in bringing about that system’s downfall in Central and Eastern Europe. While neither Francis nor Sanders is advocating communism, both seek to revive, to varying extents, communism’s original aspiration to create a brotherhood among all people.
Mikhail Gorbachev — another revolutionary of humanity and decency — had a similar aspiration in the 1980s. Interestingly, he took inspiration from John Paul II’s argument that people are not free unless they determine their system of government and help create their own laws, and tried to advance democratization within the rigid Soviet system.
By bringing a message of justice to communism’s victims, Gorbachev firmly believed that he could reinvigorate the Soviet Union’s dying ideology. And, for a moment, he did. When the Gorbachev-led 19th National Communist Party Congress was broadcast on television in 1988, the country breathlessly watched its young leader publicly debate his reform ideas, most notably with Andrei Sakharov, a famed nuclear physicist and dissident human-rights activist.
Ultimately, of course, the Soviet Union’s ossified structure could not be saved; but, thanks in large part to Gorbachev’s fundamental decency, the USSR’s demise in 1991 was rather peaceful. He created an environment in which demands for radical change led to compromise, not rage — in sharp contrast to, say, the violent breakup of Yugoslavia.
Like Francis and Sanders, Gorbachev was an improbable reformer. Despite rising to power with the support of the KGB, he did not surrender his thought processes to that machine, in the way that President Vladimir Putin clearly has. Likewise, far from fitting the mould of the Democratic machine, Sanders is working to pull the party back “to the social democratic left where it belongs.” And many in the Vatican today cannot fathom Francis’s approach.
The opponents of Sanders and Francis may not be old, but they represent the old, while the improbable reformers, though elderly, are speaking for the young. In August 1991, an attempted coup against Gorbachev failed because he had the support of young people, both on the streets of Moscow and other cities and in the tanks and junior officer corps of the Soviet Union. That is the power of young people — a power that Sanders has tapped. Should Hillary Clinton beat him for the Democratic nomination, as seems likely, she will ignore it at her peril.
Saving Afghan Peace Process
By Muhammad Waqas
2 May 2016
The recent Taliban bombing in the heart of Kabul that killed over 64 innocent civilians has sent a strong signal to the world. The back of Taliban is far from broken — they stand resilient and stronger than ever at any point since 2001 to stage large-scale attacks across Afghanistan.
The deadly violence is not just having repercussions for Afghanistan’s internal security situation, but it is taking a toll on the already distraught relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan as well.
Soon after the attack, Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah canceled his much-anticipated trip to Pakistan, while Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has also made a policy shift of ending Pakistan’s role in the ongoing peace talks with Taliban. The change in policy coincides with rumors that a delegation from Qatar-based Taliban political office is visiting Pakistan to discuss peace prospects with the Afghan government after the group had recently dismissed negotiations under the quadrilateral group of Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the United States. This development is not likely to drastically change the situation as the Afghan government faces a backlash for pursuing peace dialogue with the Taliban, who have launched their annual spring offensive encouraged by military gains in the country.
The Afghan government is seeking to pressurize Pakistan even though no concrete evidence has so far surfaced to implicate the country’s premier spy agency or any Pakistan-based militant organization in the Kabul bombing. From Pakistan’s perspective, the sharp US criticism of not doing enough against Haqqani network is disappointing. Over the past few months, the US administration had lauded Pakistan for bringing the Taliban back to negotiating table and pushing for peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan itself feels a victim of terrorism and interference by regional countries. The arrest of an Indian and Afghan intelligence operative along the border has only fuelled its suspicions that neighbouring countries are involved in stirring unrest in Pakistan.
It is high time that the Afghan and U.S officials recognized the regional peace initiatives and sacrifices of Pakistan in the war against terrorism. Rather than playing the blame game, the focus of all stakeholders should be on reaching a political solution to the Afghan crisis and building the capacity of security institutions in the war-torn country. The Taliban are ready to wait and fight till the end, while cracks begin to appear in the coalition. Restoring peace in Afghanistan would require patience, trust and openness from all parties. It must be understood that Pakistan stands to be the biggest loser in the region due to violence in Afghanistan; long-term stability in Pakistan is not possible without peace in its neighborhood. Any efforts to engage the Taliban by isolating Pakistan from the whole process are most likely to fail because the country still somehow maintains credibility and clout over the group.
Nonetheless, peace in Afghanistan is not the sole responsibility of Pakistan and all stakeholders must work together to create a conducive environment to end violence in the country.