Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 16, 2014

The growing intimacy between Bard College and the American military

Filed under: bard college,middle east — louisproyect @ 4:09 pm

Parents, don’t let your kids grow up to be Bardians.

I say that as a Bard graduate who went there when it was a bohemian outpost even if it wasn’t very radical. There’s one thing I know, however. Under President Reamer Kline, an Episcopalian minister who ruffled the feathers of the student body on more than one occasion, you would have never seen the kind of outrageous partnership with the US military that has been developing under President-for-life Leon Botstein, who once had the temerity to invoke Karl Marx in a commencement address in the early 1990s. Well, you know what they say about the devil quoting scripture.

As an alumnus, I get the occasional email from the school. Most often they are innocuous items about a weekend up at the school to hear Leon lecture on Dvorak or some such thing. But you can imagine my consternation when I received this last Friday:

Screen shot 2014-09-16 at 10.10.48 AM

Malia Du Mont, who is leading this macabre tour of Murder, Inc. strikes me as the same sort of character that Jessica Chastain  played in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty”, a woman capable of administering torture in the morning and then going out later to dinner at a quaint restaurant with another well-educated chum where they could discuss Rilke’s poetry. Here’s some information on her from the Bard alumni website:

Malia Du Mont ’95 is special assistant to the chief of staff in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs. Malia majored in Chinese at Bard, and after graduation moved to China, where she spent a year teaching English and a year doing graduate studies. In 1997 she moved to Beijing to serve as a Defense Intelligence Agency intern and bilingual research assistant at the United States embassy. “At Bard, joining the military never entered my mind,” she says. “But I was interested in service to my country, and living in China, I gained an appreciation of American freedoms.” Sheen listed in the United States Army Reserve in 1999, and, the same year, entered the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, eventually earning a master’s degree in public policy. After several years working as an Asian security analyst at The CNA Corporation, she decided to volunteer for deployment with the Army Reserve, and in 2006 was sent to Afghanistan, where she was responsible for providing strategic political-military analysis to the commanding general and other senior United States officials. After a year in Kabul, Malia continued her military service as an Afghanistan analyst at NATO’s Allied Command Operations in Belgium. She returned to Washington D.C. in 2008, and volunteered for further military service in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where she participated in the Obama Administration’s Afghanistan Strategy Review.

There was about as much chance of a Bardian from my generation following such a path as there was me being invited to Botstein’s house for tea and crumpets. (What the fuck is a crumpet anyhow?)

That’s not the end of it. On the Bard College website, there’s an announcement for a joint Bard-West Point conference on the Middle East:

The Bard Globalization and International Affairs program, and the West Point–Bard College Exchange will present a panel “New World Disorder: U.S. Grand Strategy in a Chaotic Middle East,” featuring Walter Russell Mead and James Ketterer of Bard College and Ruth Beitler of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The panel will address the increasing and overlapping challenges facing the United States across the Middle East and North Africa. It will take place, on Monday, September 22nd at 6:30 p.m. in the Weis Cinema at the Bertelsmann Campus Center at Bard College. For more information, go to http://www.bard.edu/bgia/.

The Middle East and North Africa present a wide variety of foreign policy challenges for the United States. The panel will discuss U.S. policy toward the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the aftermath of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, ongoing tensions in Libya, strained relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and continuing negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program. There will be opportunities for questions and comments from the audience.

Walter Russell Mead is James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and the Humanities. He is the author of many articles and books, including Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World. James Ketterer is director of international academic initiatives at Bard’s Center for Civic Engagement and was previously Egypt country director for AMIDEAST. Ruth Beitler is associate professor of international relations and Comparative Politics in the Department of Social Sciences at the U. S. Military Academy, where she serves as course director for Middle East Politics and Cultural Anthropology. She is also director of the Conflict and Human Security Studies Program.

I’ve written about Walter Russell Mead in the past. He is Bard’s Thomas Friedman. People like Friedman understand the true nature of globalization. In a March 28, 1999 NY Times article, he put it this way:

The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist — McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

That’s clearly understood by Mead and by Bard’s Globalization and International Affairs Program that should be renamed the Program for Globalization and American Hegemony if the people running it had a shred of honesty. Like Du Mont, the character running the program is a Bard graduate–his name Jonathan Cristol. In an article about Cristol I wrote in February 2011, I took note of his disgusting take on the Arab Spring in an article for Mead’s “The American Interest”, where he wrote:

Am I really arguing that these states should brutally suppress the protestors and that the United States should encourage them to do so? Not really. The optics of America supporting brutal suppression would not be good for Washington. However, if these governments wish to stay in power, the best means of doing so is to scare the people sufficiently enough to stop them from marching through the street.

Maybe liberty and justice are indeed for all, but these particular protests are not necessarily good for the United States. America’s love of democracy sometimes blinds us to the potential results of the democratic process (re: Gaza) and to the fact that liberty and democracy do not always go hand in hand.

Just the sort of person qualified to organize a conference on the Middle East, at least if you see things from the perspective of the Pentagon and the CIA.

James Ketterer is a new name to me. I have grown to expect new hires at Bard to follow the State Department script and he did not disappoint. He was “country director” for Egypt under the auspices of Amideast, an outfit dedicated to promoting American and Middle Eastern ties. Its past President was Robert S. Dillon, the Ambassador to Lebanon from 1981 to 1983. You have to assume that anybody serving in such a capacity was there to promote imperialist goals, no doubt provoking such anger among the natives that they had the nerve to bomb the American embassy.

Finally, there’s Ruth Beitler, the West Point professor that we can assume was chosen to reinforce the idea that Arab protest was not necessarily good for American interests. She’s the author of “The Fight for Legitimacy: Democracy vs. Terrorism”, a Praeger book that came out in 2006. With a title like that, you can be sure that she would feel right at home on the Sean Hannity program. On February 24, 1967, the NY Times reported that Praeger had published 15 or 16 books on the advice of the CIA. When asked whether the spooks had financed their publication, Frederick Praeger said that he had “no comment”. Back then, you could be sure that Bard students and professors would have been outraged by such interference with American intellectual life but now I am not so sure.

Like all works in this genre, you will never see a reference to how democracies can act in a terrorist fashion. Hamas is terrorist but when an IDF jet drops a bomb on a UN School harboring women and children, it is the act of a democracy defending itself. Too bad Orwell did not live long enough to see how doublethink functioned when it came to the Middle East. I am sure he would have some pungent words for the likes of Ruth Beitler.

It should be acknowledged that Leon Botstein is not an outlier in building ties to the American military. Like most college presidents, he understands that corporate and military power go hand in hand with the health of the American academy. The corporatization of the American university continues apace. If the U. of Illinois bends over backwards not to alienate its bourgeois Jewish funders, you can bet that Bard will be even more solicitous since its President is a Zionist ideologue. In a January 2nd Chronicle of Higher Education article, Botstein spoke about the role of alumni in his opposing the BDS movement: “As an active member of the Jewish community, I recognize that the American Jewish community is disproportionately generous to American higher education. For the president of an institution to express his or her solidarity with Israel is welcomed by a very important part of their support base.”

All of this is part and parcel of the deadly grip of American corporate and military on the American academy, with the full impact being felt in Middle East politics. Just as Steven Salaita was victimized by the U. of Illinois, so was Joel Kovel at Bard College. Leon Botstein much prefers a faculty that will not have the brass to complain about a conference like this rigged to favor the Netanyahu agenda. I guess for that kind of faculty, we would look to a place like Brandeis University that despite its official ties to Judaism at least hires professors willing to stick out its neck when it comes to Israel, as this Fox News report would indicate:

Emails within a tight circle of academics at an exclusive university just outside Boston founded by American Jews reveal a long-standing and vehement anti-Israel bias and anger at Fox News and a human rights advocate who renounced her Muslim faith.

Thousands of messages on a Brandeis University ListServ obtained by conservative students and reviewed by FoxNews.com were hyperbolic in their condemnation of Israel, regarding the recent fighting in Gaza and prior conflicts with the Palestinians. Accusations that Israel has committed war crimes and “holocaustic ethnic cleansing” against Palestinians appear in the messages from academics at the school.

In one message, Brandeis Professor of Sociology Gordon Fellman urged Israeli academics to sign an “open letter” to “end the illegal occupation in Palestine.” The letter states that “the government of Israel, having provoked the firing of rockets by its rampage through the West Bank, is now using that response as the pretext for an aerial assault on Gaza which has already cost scores of lives.”

It goes on to note that “an atmosphere of hysteria is being deliberately provoked in Israel, and whole communities are being subject to collective punishment, a war crime.” Fellman later encourages participants to read a work titled, “S. African Nobel Laureate Tutu likens Mideast crisis to apartheid.”

So, if you are trying to figure out where to send your kid to school, my suggestion is to give Brandeis a second look. It is there where professors are defending true Jewish values rather than at militaristic Bard College.

 

 

 

September 8, 2014

After Gaza War, One-Third of Israelis Consider Emigrating

Filed under: middle east — louisproyect @ 12:20 pm

(And those who don’t end up in Berlin probably end up in New York, the true homeland of the Jews. And among them, I sometimes get the feeling that most of them end up in my building on the Upper East Side. The language you hear most in the lobby and elevators after English and Spanish is Hebrew.)

Hat tip to http://www.richardsilverstein.com/

After Gaza War, One-Third of Israelis Consider Emigrating

Israel’s Channel 2 published a poll which found that in the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge, one-third of Israelis are considering emigration.  56% would not emigrate were they given the opportunity.  Unlike in the past, only 36% would think badly of anyone who did emigrate.

In some ways, this is nothing new.  The great national poet of Israel’s post-independence era, Natan Alterman, decried Israeli emigration to West Germany as early as 1953!  Pollsters too have produced similar numbers in the past.  But it’s interesting that in the aftermath of this particular war, the numbers of those considering abandoning Israel have risen.  This may be considered a massive vote of no confidence in the leadership of the nation, and the nation itself.

A major pop hit these days is this song, Berlin, which treats the notion of yeridah (a pejorative reference to emigration) as jolly, fun, hip and cool.  This jarring, ironic treatment of emigration is something that is new to Israel, which traditionally views leaving as a traitorous act of abandonment.  I don’t particularly like the song musically.  It has a robotic rhythm and circus-like melody which I suppose is precisely the intent of the performers, who’ve devised an alienating musical format to convey an alienating social phenomenon.

But in this case, I think the song offers telling commentary on an important development in Israeli society.  The truth is that a huge number of young, well-educated, professional Israelis have already decamped, or are making plans to do so, to more hospitable climes in Europe or elsewhere.  They do so for many reasons: some are economic, seeking greater financial, professional or educational opportunities.  Some are security-related: they simply don’t want their own children facing the same burden of war and danger that they’ve faced.  And some find the climate in Israel to be stifling either culturally or politically.

The lyrics of the song savage a number of sacred national institutions from Ha-Tikvah to Naomi Shemer’s Jerusalem of Gold.  Even Berlin, the city from which the Holocaust emanated and home of the exterminators of European Jewry, becomes a more desirable refuge (“Reichstag of Peace”) than the “Jewish homeland.”  Here are the lyrics translated (I’ve amended Emily Hauser’s translation slightly):

BERLIN

Why stay here
Everybody’s asking
When you can catch a plane and begin to breath.
Even the newly Orthodox are leaving
And getting far away from me
How long can family be an excuse?
The neighbor’s lived in LA for 15 years already
She says we need to shut that watchful eye,
And everyone who comes back from abroad
Tells me how good it is there.

Berlin, Berlin
Even if I forget my right hand
You’ll wait forever
For us to return to you.
Reichstag of Peace
And of the Euro and of light
For all your songs
I don’t have a passport.

Let’s be honest.
Grandpa and Grandma didn’t come here [Israel] because of Zionism,
They fled because they didn’t want to die.
And now they understand that here there’s no life [possible],
They’d rather we be far away than poor.
No, it’s not a fleeing for convenience’s sake
It’s fleeing flat out
To keep your head above the water.
Even our forefather Jacob went down [emigrated] to Egypt
Because rent there was a third
And salaries double.

Understand:
The whole world migrates everywhere
Only here is it considered betrayal of the [Jewish] people
By leaders who want us to remain alone
To remain afraid
Because everybody hates Jews.
And every time they open their mouths
They pin the yellow star on me again
Like a medal of honor
Like it’s a boutonniere.
They degrade all of us
Without a scrap of pride.
Liberate the Ghetto already
Let us live like a normal people.

I don’t really want anywhere else.
It’s cold there
Strange there
And Hebrew is the only language I love speaking.
Give me a bit of the Kinneret
If there’s any left, I’ll be happy.
But how long can we ignore tomorrow?
How can I raise kids in a place that
Chased away Dudu Zar ?

Israel will increasingly become a poorer, more ultra-Orthodox, more settler, Mizrahi society (though of course Mizrahim will be emigrating as well).  With this will come a rising tide of hatred, intolerance, ethnic division, and religious extremism.  The IDF, already dominated by Orthodox-settler commanders, will become more so.  If you think present-day Israel is extreme, the future promises even worse.

Young people with ambition, and their lives and families ahead of them, understand that there is little hope that things can change for the better.  Foreign cities beckon and offer the pluralism, opportunity, freedom, tolerance and democracy that Israel lacks.  A more reasoned, rhetorically articulate defense of emigration is offered in this Haaretz op-ed by Rogel Alpher.

To be clear, I’m not celebrating this development. I don’t want to see Israel become a backwater, a dysfunctional state. In fact, I’d prefer to see Israel as a thriving, vibrant multi-cultural oasis with opportunities for all and welcoming to all. But I must describe what I see, not what I wished I’d see. That’s the difference between me and liberal Zionists. They see what they think is there or what should be there. Not what is.

August 13, 2014

Qatar, Hamas and the Islamic State (IS): in defense of dialectics

Qatar: the heart of darkness?

Yesterday I received email from a Bard College graduate:

Could this be Gaza and the West Bank under Hamas?

https://news.vice.com/video/the-islamic-state-part-3

The Vice article was about IS brutality. So the implication was that Hamas constituted the same kind of threat as IS. Now it should be said that the Old Bardian, as we like to refer to ourselves, votes Democrat and oscillates wildly between support for Palestinian rights and fear of Hamas.

But he does raise an interesting question. If Qatar and Turkey are behind both Hamas and IS, at least according to some pundits, how can you not oppose both? Indeed, if your methodology is based on formal logic, that is a foregone conclusion. Since Seymour Hersh is the source for many of the Qatar and company as an orchestrator of jihadist terror in the Middle East reports, it is worth reminding ourselves of his latest LRB article:

The full extent of US co-operation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in assisting the rebel opposition in Syria has yet to come to light. The Obama administration has never publicly admitted to its role in creating what the CIA calls a ‘rat line’, a back channel highway into Syria. The rat line, authorised in early 2012, was used to funnel weapons and ammunition from Libya via southern Turkey and across the Syrian border to the opposition. Many of those in Syria who ultimately received the weapons were jihadists, some of them affiliated with al-Qaida.

Now it should be said that the evil trio has been reduced to an evil duo ever since Saudi Arabia ended up on the side of the angels against IS. According to Business Insider, Saudi Arabia has asked Egypt and Pakistan to help patrol its borders against incursions from IS. The article cited The London Times: “The kingdom is calling in favors from Egypt and Pakistan. No one is certain what ISIS has planned, but it’s clear a group like this will target Mecca if it can. We expect them to run out of steam, but no one is taking any chances.” Adding to the abject failure of reality to live up to “anti-imperialist” projections, Saudi Arabia never had much use for Hamas. Along with Egypt and Jordan, it is the strongest supporter of IDF terror in Gaza next to AIPAC and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

It is not precluded that Qatar will also call upon Egypt and Pakistan for military assistance if ISIS is still around 9 years from now. Its deranged leader has warned FIFA that it would attack the 2022 World Cup games because soccer was “a deviation from Islam.”

Even more confusing is the newly announced pact between Iran and “the Great Satan” over the naming of a new prime minister in Iraq, who will be more effective against the IS threat. Enjoying a military embarrassment of riches, Iraq’s skies are now dotted with drones from the two nations only six months ago described by a thousand “anti-imperialist” websites as mortal enemies.

If Qatar is an archfiend threatening secular values and benign “national development” in Syria through its proxy war, what do we make of its willingness to back Hamas? Does that conform to “anti-imperialist” guidelines or are we dealing with a profound formal logic problem equal in its complexity to the Poincaré conjecture?

The evil duo—Qatar and Turkey—are not only the targets of daily Orwellian two minutes of hate organized by the “anti-imperialist” left but also Israel’s increasingly fascist state as the Times of Israel reported:

Qatar’s recently attempted to transfer funds for the salaries of Hamas civil servants in Gaza, following the formation of a Palestinian unity government, but was blocked by the United States, which pressured the Arab Bank not to process them. But former national security adviser Maj. Gen. (res) Yaakov Amidror told The Times of Israel that the emirate’s funding for the organization’s terror apparatus, including tunnel diggers and rocket launchers, has continued unabated.

“Hamas currently has two ‘true friends’ in the world: Qatar and Turkey,” Amidror said. The small Gulf state is currently Hamas’s closest ally in the Arab world, after the movement’s relations with Egypt soured following the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi in June 2013. Qatar, which has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in reconstruction and infrastructure projects in Gaza, is also home to the movement’s political leader Khaled Mashaal in Doha.

This is not to speak of Qatar’s role in funding al-Jazeera, the sole source of pro-Palestinian television coverage as well as some very good reporting on domestic and international news. Just go to their website and you fill find a hard-hitting article on Ferguson, Missouri that points out that “in 2013 nearly 90 percent of vehicles pulled over by Ferguson police were driven by African-Americans. The arrest rate was of those drivers was more than 10%, nearly double that of white drivers who were pulled over.” But if you evaluate Qatar solely based on which side it supports in Syria, then you will be forced to treat it as a mortal enemy as MRZine did.

Turkey’s Prime Minister, of course, is everybody’s favorite villain with his suppression of the Gezi park rebellion and his allowing jihadists to infiltrate Syria, not to speak of his corruption and attacks on journalism, either print or electronic.

But there are those times when he has the kind of backbone every other politician lacks. It was Erdoğan after all who put the power of the Turkish state at the disposal of the flotilla sent to Gaza. He has also threatened to send Turkish warships to defend the next flotilla, although I suspect that this is bluster more than anything. But if he did, what would we make of that? How can someone be on the side of the angels (Hamas) and the devil (IS) at the same time—leaving aside the question of whether he ever had much to do with that gang?

On August 22, 2013 the Financial Times printed a letter that served as a cautionary note against oversimplifying the Middle East:

A short guide to the Middle East

Sir, Iran is backing Assad. Gulf states are against Assad!

Assad is against Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brotherhood and Obama are against General Sisi.

But Gulf states are pro Sisi! Which means they are against Muslim Brotherhood!

Iran is pro Hamas, but Hamas is backing Muslim Brotherhood!

Obama is backing Muslim Brotherhood, yet Hamas is against the US!

Gulf states are pro US. But Turkey is with Gulf states against Assad; yet Turkey is pro Muslim Brotherhood against General Sisi. And General Sisi is being backed by the Gulf states!

Welcome to the Middle East and have a nice day.

K N Al-Sabah, London EC4, UK

That letter prompted the blogger Big Pharaoh to diagram the relationships:

Screen shot 2014-08-13 at 2.53.14 PM

If anything, the letter and the diagram are out of date. To keep track of the latest developments, you’d need a super-computer of the sort that the NSA uses to snoop on our email. But this matters little to people who are bent on dividing the world into two spheres, which are not only mutually exclusive but a taxonomic guide to determining where a government or armed movement fall in terms of their historical role.

For much of the left, there is a driving compulsion to reduce world politics to a binary opposition between Good and Evil. It is understandable why they would do this since the Cold War shaped our consciousness for 45 years until the end of the Soviet bloc and even continues to do so in a rather problematic way. In 1971, when I was a member of the Trotskyist movement, we condemned the Kremlin for doling out aid to the Vietnamese as from an eyedropper as we used to put it but at the same time understood that Soviet aid was critical.

Now in 2014 the left carries on as if Putin was Brezhnev and Assad was Ho Chi Minh. Just as long as the USA is still the “evil empire”, syllogistic reasoning will prevail. 1) The United States is the evil empire; 2) The United States supports the Syrian rebels (whether or not that is true); 3) Therefore, the Syrian rebels are part of the evil empire.

So what’s going on here? I have been critical of Trotsky’s adoption of Zinovievist organizational principles that have had a baleful effect on the revolutionary movement even to the current day, but I find myself coming back to his writings when it comes to the question of dialectics.

Oddly enough, the failure to see world politics dialectically was a failing of both James Burnham and the “anti-imperialist” left today. Marx transformed Hegelian dialectics into an instrument of revolutionary analysis. In almost every major watershed debate on the left, there has been a need to return to dialectics in order for the debate to receive a proper resolution. In Trotsky’s day, the fundamental difference was over the Soviet Union that Trotsky ultimately refused to identify as “socialist”. Whenever I ran into syllogistic attempts to define the USSR over the years, I always came back to how Trotsky put it when challenged to subsume it under fixed categories: “Doctrinaires will doubtless not be satisfied with this hypothetical definition. They would like categorical formulae: yes – yes, and no – no. Sociological problems would certainly be simpler, if social phenomena had always a finished character. There is nothing more dangerous, however, than to throw out of reality, for the sake of logical completeness, elements which today violate your scheme and tomorrow may wholly overturn it.”

That would certainly apply to the Middle East today: “There is nothing more dangerous, however, than to throw out of reality, for the sake of logical completeness, elements which today violate your scheme and tomorrow may wholly overturn it.” Trotsky was referring to the Soviet Union, a society that incorporated some of the most retrograde political aspects that on the surface resembled fascism with some of the most progressive, including a planned economy. For the foreseeable future, the Middle East will have many contradictory aspects that will make the USSR look like a grade school exercise by comparison. It will continue to perplex some for being a backdrop for a religious zealotry that can cut both ways. It can serve rulers who seek to reinforce their rule through the authoritarian use of the Qur’an as it also serves the fighting spirit of men and women determined to put an end to authoritarian rule. It would be best in some ways that religion played less of a rule, thus allowing class divisions to become more transparent. But we have to start with reality, not wishes—at least if we want to influence the course of historical events.

July 15, 2014

Jon Stewart getting tired of Israel? It’s about time.

Filed under: middle east,Palestine — louisproyect @ 10:45 pm

March 21, 2014

The People Want

Filed under: middle east — louisproyect @ 11:54 am
Counterpunch Weekend Edition March 21-23, 2014

What Do the Arab People Want?

Is a Real Revolution Possible in the Arab World?

by LOUIS PROYECT

At first blush, the term “Arab Winter” makes sense given the restoration of military rule in Egypt, Syria’s descent into sectarian chaos, and Libya’s coming apart at the seams. Can a case be made for guarded optimism, however? If so, then there is probably nobody more qualified to make it than Gilbert Achcar, the preeminent Marxist scholar of the region whose 2013 study “The People Want” attempts to get beneath surface impressions, especially those based on changing seasons. If Marxism seems deeply troubled as a political movement and lacks a sizable contingent in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), it still has a use as an analytical tool. Owing much to its Hegelian roots, the dialectical method at the heart of Marxism is ideally suited to resolving contradictions. And no other region in the world is more riven with contradictions than MENA, arguably the source of its failure as of yet to deliver on the promises of 2011.

In a September 4, 2013 article for “Guernica” titled “What is a Revolution”, Tariq Ali adopted a rather frosty tone in sizing up the undelivered promises of the region, described mostly as a failure to qualify as a genuine revolution. He wrote that only “a transfer of power from one social class (or even a layer) to another that leads to fundamental change” could qualify as a revolution. Now, of course, there was a time in which Tariq Ali would have been more generous with movements that were so lacking, including many of the national liberation movements he embraced as a young radical. Using his yardstick, Vietnam had no revolution when it drove out the American imperialists.  Just look at the millionaires in Vietnam today, profiting off of sweatshops. But that is no argument for not protesting against B-52 bombing raids and Operation Phoenix. If Ali was referring to the classical socialist revolution that have been far and few between since 1917, rarer in some ways than the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker that was supposedly last spotted in Arkansas back in 2005, he certainly had a point even if it did not do justice to the social realities of Egypt, Syria, or Libya.

full: http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/03/21/is-a-real-revolution-possible-in-the-arab-world/

December 22, 2013

The Past; Wadjda

Filed under: Film,Iran,Islam,middle east — louisproyect @ 6:45 pm

In many ways, the biggest impacts made by Iran and Saudi Arabia this year were not on the battlefield or at the diplomatic roundtable but in film. “The Past”, made by Asghar Farhadi, was Iran’s official selection for the 86th Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. I always have had problems with the designation “foreign” when it comes to film since it smacks of Hollywood corporate narcissism, more so in this instance since I nominated “The Past” for the N.Y. Film Critics Online best picture of 2013. Period. “Wadjda” was the first film ever directed by Haifaa al Mansour, who grew up in a small town in Saudi Arabia and now lives in Bahrain. The film depicts the struggle of an 11-year-old Saudi girl to own a bicycle in violation of patriarchal religious norms. It is a tale reminiscent of “Offside”, the 2006 Iranian film about young women trying to sneak into a football stadium to watch a World Cup qualifying match. Ironically, despite all the bitter rivalries over whether Sunni or Shias represent Muslim orthodoxy, the two authoritarian states have much in common when it comes to women’s rights or the lack thereof.

Let me make a bold statement. On the basis of only two films, the 2011 “A Separation”, and “The Past” that opened at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema on Friday, I would regard Asghar Farhadi as the finest film director today. “A Separation” won an Oscar for the best foreign film of the year in 2011, and like “The Past” was the best film period. Unlike another brilliant Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who directed “Offside” and was arrested for opposing the government in 2009, Farhadi’s films are much more personal and less likely to give offense to the authorities. That being said, he is still very much a political filmmaker even if his message is more subtle. “A Separation” dramatized the class and cultural differences between a middle-class, secular-minded family and the pious housekeeper they hire.

Set entirely in Paris, “The Past” is even less about Iranian society. While focused on domestic conflicts like “A Separation”, it is still a politically engaged film. This is one instance where I would not dream of giving away a surprise ending but suffice it to say that the film is very much about the experience of the “foreigner” in a racist society.

In the opening scene, Marie (Berenice Bejo) is picking up her estranged husband Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) at the airport, where he has just arrived from Tehran. Separated from her for some time, he has come to Paris to sign some papers for their divorce and to appear in court with her to finalize matters.

Despite the obvious tension that still exists, she convinces him to stay at her house instead of a hotel. Upon arriving there, he is puzzled by the hostility of Fouad (Elyes Aguis), the 8-year-old son of Samir (Tahar Rahim), the man she plans to marry. Marie’s daughter Lea, who is the same age as Fouad, is happy to see her dad. Another daughter Lucie (Pauline Burlet), a product of another marriage prior to the one with Ahmad, is in her late teens and just as troubled as Fouad in her own way. Marie alludes to the problems she is having with Lucie that become clearer as the film unfolds.

Within a half hour of Ahmad’s arrival, Fouad throws a violent temper tantrum and locks himself in his room. He cries out that he wants to go back to his dad’s apartment. (Samir has only partially moved in with Marie.) As is the case with “A Separation”, this is a family setting all sorts of records for dysfunctionality and a reminder of Tolstoy’s epigraph to “Anna Karenina”: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Eventually we learn of the source of the disquiet. Samir’s wife lies in a coma, the victim of a failed suicide attempt after discovering that he has been having an affair with Marie. Like a late 19th century Gothic tale updated for the current epoch, “The Past” is a drama about the most evil spirits imaginable—those summoned up by our own psyche.

While this is a film that is remarkable on all accounts, it was a stroke of genius for Asghar Farhadi to make a highly melodramatic story about the lives of ordinary people. Marie is a pharmacist and Samir is a dry cleaner, just the sort of people you meet everyday when you are out shopping. As any smart writer understands ever since the beginning of the 20th century, the best tragedy comes out of the lives of ordinary people, not kings and queens. When Ali Mosaffa was asked in a press notes interview whether the film was a French or an Iranian story, his answer was very much on point: “I think the strength of the script is that it’s neither French nor Iranian. It’s a human story.”

Like “The Past”, “Wajda” is about ordinary people. Wajda is a 10-year-old girl who lives in the suburbs of Riyadh with her mother, who is trying to convince her husband not to take a second wife.

Wadjda is the quintessential “tomboy”, the sort of girl I went to elementary school with and found much more interesting than those preoccupied with Barbie dolls. Wadjda wears high-top sneakers that look like Converses and enjoys listening to pop music cassettes. All in all, she will remind you very much of Marjane Satrapi, the spunky Iranian girl who turned her battles with the clerics into the comic book “Persepolis”.

Wadjda wants more than anything to ride a bike. I know what it feels like for a 10-year-old to be determined to own a bike. When I was exactly that age, I threw such a tantrum that my parents drove through a hurricane to go to a Sears 25 miles from our home to pick me up a Huffy two-wheeler. In Wadjda’s case, the adversary is not a storm but the backward authorities that consider bikes for boys only. In essence, Wadjda’s lonely and stubborn battle is the same as women two and three times her age fighting for the right to drive a car in Saudi Arabia.

It is also, unsurprisingly, the same sort of challenge that the director faced as a woman making a movie in Saudi Arabia, where there is not a single movie theater because of Wahhabist backwardness.

Every step was difficult and it was quite an adventure. I occasionally had to run and hide in the production van in some of the more conservative areas where people would have disapproved of a woman director mixing professionally with all the men on set. Sometimes I tried to direct via walkie-talkie from the van, but I always got frustrated and came out to do it in person. We had a few instances of people voicing their displeasure with what we were doing, but nothing too disruptive. We had all of the proper permits and permissions so overall it went relatively smoothly.

“Wadjda” played at various theaters in the middle of 2013. Look for it soon on Netflix or Amazon streaming.

June 22, 2013

Arab Idol

Filed under: middle east,music — louisproyect @ 10:28 pm

NY Times June 22, 2013

Palestinian ‘Arab Idol’ Victory Unleashes Rare Outburst of Joy

By REUTERS

GAZA/RAMALLAH — Palestinian cities erupted in joy after Gazan singer Mohammed Assaf won the “Arab Idol” song contest final held in Beirut on Saturday night, providing a welcome break from the grinding conflict with Israel.

The fresh-faced 22-year-old from humble roots in a refugee camp endeared millions of voting television viewers with his Palestinian patriotic anthems and folk songs.

After watching Assaf’s victory from giant screens in the Gaza Strip and Israeli-occupied West Bank, tens of thousands of Palestinians set off fireworks, danced in the streets and blasted his music from cars idling in frantic traffic jams.

“This shows that Palestinians don’t just fight and struggle, but we rejoice and make great art,” beamed Awad Najib, a government employee, after a mass viewing outside the Ramallah presidential palace in the West Bank.

Some Muslim clerics in Friday sermons had dismissed the pageant, saying its title encouraged idolatry and that people’s energies would be better spent confronting Israel’s occupation.

Political activists, too, complained that the glitzy spectacle had little to do with the Palestinian plight.

But most Palestinians would have none of this, and Saturday’s revelry was like the end-of-Ramadan holiday combined with the World Cup Final.

The scale of the celebrations easily outstripped most political or protest rallies of recent years, and far exceeded those held after Palestinians gained non-member statehood in a vote at the United Nations General assembly last November.

Many political leaders, who have increasingly alienated Palestinians with their bickering, have sought to try to hitch a ride from Assaf’s galloping popularity.

Some greying officials had changed their Facebook profile pictures to his smiling face and spiked hair, urged people to text him their votes and praised his nationalist credentials.

“This win is a source of pride and a victory for our people on the road to achieving its dream of establishing an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital,” President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement.

Abbas was jolted this week by his prime minister’s surprise offer to resign and faces pressure by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to jump-start stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

But for locals, Assaf was all, and politics took a back seat.

“In the middle of the political failures, Assaf achieved something that made Palestinians everywhere feel hope was still possible,” said Imad Ahmed, a teacher from Gaza watching the show with his family at a beachfront restaurant.

After the victory, Assaf was named by the U.N. as its first youth ambassador to Palestinian refugee camps in the territories and in neighboring countries. He is expected to visit the West Bank to perform.

(Reporting by Noah Browning and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Eric Walsh)

February 7, 2013

Marxist Idealism and the Arab Spring

Filed under: middle east — louisproyect @ 7:51 pm

by Pham Binh on February 7, 2013

in analysis

marxtf

The bourgeois-democratic revolutions known as the Arab Spring have ruthlessly exposed the methodological and analytical deficiencies of many Marxists. Evidence-based, detailed, rigorous, and critical evaluation of the social, political, and human contradictions driving these revolutions is rare (rarer still is any sense of what is to be done to aid these struggles) while lazy thinking, abstractly correct positions, and we’ll-have-to-wait-and-see-how-things-turn-out passivity are common.

These deficiencies became painfully obvious once the Arab Spring spread from Tunisia and Egypt to Libya and Syria. The revolutions that swept Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak from power were “clean” and “pure” for Marxists because they were against U.S.-backed dictators and vindicated our bias towards general strikes and working-class action.

This was the good Arab Spring.

The revolutions in Libya and Syria, on the other hand, were unclean and impure, tainted by U.S. imperialism, backed by reactionary powers like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and quickly devolved into armed struggle, with little or no role played by the working class acting as a class. These revolutions were not nice, worker-based, and peaceful but vicious, militarized, and complicated by foreign powers and Islamic extremists who played a prominent role.

This was the bad Arab Spring.

Missing from both the good and bad Arab Spring narratives are the complex layers of interlocking contradictions between and within classes, parties, governments, and peoples as well as any appreciation of the intangible, non-material factors that revolutions involve (the moods of the masses, the feeling in the streets). Instead, Marxists have used each revolution as fodder for pre-set political morals – “strikes are more effective than arms” (Syria), “no to U.S. intervention” (Libya), “the need for a revolutionary Marxist workers’ vanguard party” (Egypt) – without any regard for the actual political, social, or historical terrains or even the wishes and aspirations of the people making these revolutions.

read full: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=5759

November 21, 2012

Bard College, Israel and the Palestinians

Filed under: bard college,middle east — louisproyect @ 12:12 am

Peter Beinart

Walter Russell Mead

The Fall issue of the Bard College alumni magazine came with its regular New Republic type propaganda, this time taking the form of an article by Peter Beinart titled “Israel’s Challenge: Can Democracy and Zionism Coexist?” Sigh, all I ever wanted to find out from an alumni magazine is whatever happened to Shoshana Rosenberg, the art major who liked to listen to Olatunji records when we were having sex. Why do I have to put up with sermons from the right wing of the Democratic Party? I want my tuition money back, all $8000 of it.

Beinart’s article was actually a speech he delivered at Bard last spring on his new book “The Crisis of Zionism” at the invitation of the campus chapter of J Street, a liberal Zionist group that is viewed in AIPAC circles as little different from Hizbollah. To show you how unhinged groups like AIPAC are, J Street is a group that now states:

Israel’s current military operation is a response to the hundreds of rockets that have rained down on Israel from the Gaza Strip over the past year. Every day, Israel’s southern residents carry with them the fear that a sudden Qassam rocket could change their world forever.

It should be said that Beinart has been the target of the American Likudniks as well. When he was invited to speak at the annual Jewish Book Fair in Atlanta, the powers-that-be disinvited him. In my view, this is not so much a sign that Beinart’s views are progressive but that official Judaism is veering ever more sharply to the right. Given time, they will be ostracizing Alan Dershowitz. (Well, maybe not.)

The talk was sponsored by the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities, one in a host of liberal think-tanks largely paid for by George Soros. It is useful to remember what Hannah Arendt once said about the kind of people who run Israel today and the well-funded lobby that speaks on its behalf. This was an open letter to the N.Y. Times on December 4th, 1948 signed by her, Albert Einstein, and other Jewish notables:

TO THE EDITORS OF THE NEW YORK TIMES:

Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the “Freedom Party” (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine.

The current visit of Menachem Begin, leader of this party, to the United States is obviously calculated to give the impression of American support for his party in the coming Israeli elections, and to cement political ties with conservative Zionist elements in the United States. Several Americans of national repute have lent their names to welcome his visit. It is inconceivable that those who oppose fascism throughout the world, if correctly informed as to Mr. Begin”s political record and perspectives, could add their names and support to the movement he represents.

Read in full

Breinart’s speech was filled with all the old bromides. I found this one particularly nauseating:

Most of Zionism’s founders were people who originally wanted to live in the countries of their birth in Europe, and who desperately hoped that Europe would live up to the Enlightenment liberal ideals that they believed in fervently. They reluctantly came to the conclusion that they could not live safe, full lives in Europe, and that the Jewish state could be more true to Enlightenment principles than the countries they came from.

Talk about denial. Let’s look at one of these champions of “liberal ideals”, a fellow named Israel Zangwill who was born in London in 1864. At one time he was an advocate of colonizing Palestine but later on favored settling in any territory deemed ripe for a takeover. This was a guy who championed Jewish emancipation, woman’s suffrage, and peace among nations—just the sort of high-minded person Beinart was referring to.

But from Wikipedia we learn:

In 1901 in the New Liberal Review, Israel Zangwill wrote that “Palestine is a country without a people; the Jews are a people without a country”.

In a debate at the Article Club in November of that year, Zangwill said, “Palestine has but a small population of Arabs and fellahin and wandering, lawless, blackmailing Bedouin tribes.” Then, in the dramatic voice of the Wandering Jew, “restore the country without a people to the people without a country. (Hear, hear.) For we have something to give as well as to get. We can sweep away the blackmailer—be he Pasha or Bedouin—we can make the wilderness blossom as the rose, and build up in the heart of the world a civilisation that may be a mediator and interpreter between the East and the West.”

In other words, the “democracy” that Beinart blathers on about was democracy for the Chosen People, not the dirty fellahin. If there is any real difference between the original aspirations of the Zionist movement and that of the French in Algeria, it is lost on me. At least the pied-noir spared us liberal, democratic pretensions.

Apparently some students at Bard were not taken in by Beinart’s nonsense. In a profile on Peter Beinart that appeared in New York Magazine a couple of months after his appearance there, we learn:

In late April, Beinart takes an Amtrak train out of Penn Station and heads two hours north, up the Hudson Valley. Like any author flogging a book, Beinart has become a familiar presence on the speaking circuit—although, given his book’s subject, his particular circuit largely consists of synagogues, Jewish community centers, and Hillel houses. Oftentimes, he faces a hostile audience. At the Columbia Hillel, he debated Daniel Gordis—the event was promoted as a “Heavyweight Fight on Zionism”—and was heckled. “I feel like from the clapping I have about a quarter of the room,” Beinart said during a rare moment of applause, “which is better than I expected.”

On this April evening, Beinart’s schedule calls for him to be at Bard College. It is Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, and he has been invited by the school’s J Street student chapter. The mood, however, is anything but festive—although this time he is facing anger from his left. As he walks into the lecture hall, he is handed a flyer by a student protester that reads celebrate ­israeli ethnic cleansing “independence.” He then spends most of his 90 minutes insisting to those in attendance that Zionism is not racism and that Tel Aviv is not the center of all the evil on Earth. When it is over, Beinart looks whipped. “I wish Jeff could have seen that,” he says.

(The “Jeff” referred to immediately above is Jeff Goldberg, another “liberal Zionist” who shares Beinart’s early support for the war in Iraq and tepid criticisms of Israeli policies.)

My guess is that Leon Botstein has probably evolved toward a J Street type of Zionism. He is smart enough to show his new clothing by advising (I’m sure) the alumni magazine to include Beinart’s speech. He has also attempted to burnish his reputation among progressive Jews by defending the right of the International Solidarity Movement to have official status on campus.

Over the past several weeks, Bard College and I as its President have been the object of unsubstantiated, exaggerated, and often vitriolic accusations regarding a student group on campus that has chosen to affiliate itself with an organization called the International Solidarity Movement. Some of those who have posted on blogs and written emails claim that ISM is a “terrorist” organization committed to the destruction of the State of Israel and its people. The information on the Bard ISM student website is being misrepresented to suggest that the college and its students are involved with illicit activities, encouraging and training terrorism.

http://inside.bard.edu/president/letters/bardism/

One can only welcome the president’s stance on this issue. Anything else of course would have been a sign of gross capitulation to the Israel lobby and clearly an unwise course of action.

The latest IDF blitzkrieg on Gaza has elicited a “think piece” by Bard professor Walter Russell Mead, who I have described once as the school’s Thomas Friedman. Titled “America, Israel, Gaza, and the World”, the article attempts to answer the question “Why aren’t the Americans hating on Israel more?”

Mead cleverly tries to make his position more tenable by reducing ostensibly radical positions to a caricature: “Others allege that a sinister Jewish lobby controls the media and the political system through vast power of Jewish money; the poor ignorant Americans are the helpless pawns of clever Jews.” Well, the fact is that the major media is careful to omit any analysis that is to the left of Peter Beinart, but few of us blame this on “Jewish money”—starting with me. Israel gets kid gloves treatment because it is a reliable protector of American imperialist interests in the Middle East. Once upon a time Walter Russell Mead, before he became fat and sloppy at the trough of academic privilege, understood how this worked—at least to some degree.

This is the Publishers Weekly blurb on Mead’s “Mortal Splendor: The American Empire in Transition”, written in 1988, when Mead apparently still had some dim memory of a leaflet he wrote 20 years earlier:

Since the end of World War II, Mead asserts, the United States has maintained the largest empire in history. This neoimperialism, he argues, is built on intervention in the domestic affairs of Third World countries and coercive political efforts to block those countries’ sustained economic growth. Both Nixon and Carter tried to regulate change in underdeveloped nations in ways that would be acceptable to U.S. corporate interests.

Nowadays, Mead enjoys a perch at the American Interest, a magazine with an editorial board including the likes of Zbigniew Brzezinski, Niall Ferguson, Bernard-Henri Levy. What the hell. If you are going to sell out your youthful beliefs, you might as well do it in grand style.

Assuming a kind of professorial neutrality, Mead draws a contrast between most people on earth who are appalled by Israeli barbarism and the “Jacksonian” American people who do not believe in proportionality. This is a reference to Andrew Jackson who did not believe in fighting by the rules. I would say that the fate of the Palestinians and the Cherokees—seen side-by-side—gives some credence to that.

Mead tries to explain the average American’s response:

Thus when television cameras show the bodies of children killed in an Israeli air raid, Jacksonian Americans are sorry about the loss of life, but it inspires them to hate and loathe Hamas more, rather than to be mad at Israel. They blame the irresponsible dolts who started the war for all the consequences of the war and they admire Israel’s strength and its resolve for dealing with the appalling blood lust of the unhinged loons who start a war they can’t win, and then cower behind the corpses of the children their foolishness has killed.

Key to Mead’s presentation of the American mindset is this analogy:

Certainly if some kind of terrorist organization were to set up missile factories across the frontier in Canada and Mexico and start attacking targets in the United States, the American people would demand that their President use all necessary force without stint or limit until the resistance had been completely, utterly and pitilessly crushed.

But that’s where Mead drops all pretensions of being a James Chase Professor entrusted with the hard-earned $50,000 dollar a year education of Bard students and becomes what he really is beneath the pretensions: a crude propagandist of the sort that pops up regularly in the op-ed pages of the N.Y. Post.

While Mexicans certainly had grievances against American imperialism (the reference to Canada of course was absurd–almost as absurd as Ali G. advising  Brent Scowcroft to bomb Canada), imagine if the American Southern slavocracy had defeated the North and colonized Mexico in order to reproduce the plantation system. To make it work, it would find it necessary to expel the native peasant population into El Salvador and Honduras. At that point, it would be logical for the expelled Mexicans to fight for the right to return to their homeland.

Once upon a time Mead might have understood this. Nowadays he is an addled old sot drunk on his own propaganda.

September 20, 2012

Tears of Gaza; In My Mother’s Arms

Filed under: Film,Iraq,middle east,Palestine — louisproyect @ 9:47 pm

Two powerful documentaries from the Middle East should be put on the must-see list for New Yorkers with a passion for justice. Sharing the theme of the impact of war on children and a partnership between Arab filmmakers and Europeans of conscience, they should definitively answer the question so much in the news today: why do they hate us?

“Tears of Gaza”, which opened yesterday at the Cinema Village, is an unstinting, Guernica-like look at the horror visited on the Palestinian people by the Israeli Wehrmacht (called the IDF) that is focused on three children who lost their parents and other family members in the winter of 2008-2009.

While watching the television news, veteran Norwegian director/writer/actress Vibeke Løkkeberg saw a story about a boy crying over his father who was killed during an Israeli bombing. Upset over the failure of the world media to cover the ongoing brutality that reminded her of the US invasion of Iraq, she wrote a script for the film based on three orphaned children.

Teaming up with her husband and producer Terje Kristiansen, the two were prevented by both Israel and Egypt from entering Gaza. As was the case with Libya before Qaddafi’s overthrow and Syria today, the international press was blocked from Gaza. Unlike Libya and Syria, which were and are ruled by “villains” (excepting of course when they were brokering deals with Western multinationals or torturing victims of the CIA on behalf of the “war on terror”), Israel’s blitzkrieg received the endorsement of American and European elites and was not likely to inspire newspapers or television networks to risk their reporters’ lives over a war against “Hamas terrorists trying to destroy Israel”.

As necessity is the mother of invention, Løkkeberg and Kristiansen ended up with footage shot by Palestinian photojournalists Yosuf Abu Shreah, Mwafaq al Khateeb, and Saed al Sabaa who were in Gaza at the time. Editing and postproduction was done in Norway.

The film starts on a wistful note showing Palestinians at the beach and celebrating a young couple’s marriage. And then all hell breaks loose. In unrelenting detail, you see Israeli jets and helicopters destroying civilian homes and leaving dead bodies strewn everywhere as ambulances speed here and there collecting the still-living. When you see the obvious defenselessness of the Gaza slums and the aerial terror being rained down on them, you feel a rising sense of anger at the Zionist entity. If you were for the Palestinians before you saw the movie, your solidarity will increase. If you were sitting on the fence (and those sorts of people should be dragooned into seeing it), you will find reason enough to oppose Israel. And for those who know how to connect the dotted lines, there is every reason to understand why al-Assad—up to now—has been getting away with Gaza-style slaughter of his own people and why you should demonstrate on Saturday against him.

The press notes for “Tears of Gaza” includes an epigraph from Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Opening at Maysles Cinema on October 8th, “In My Mother’s Arms” is focused on three war orphans just like “Tears of Gaza”. Filmed during the final days of the U.S. occupation of Iraq (excluding the remaining mercenary forces of course), it tells the story of Husham Al Thabe, a young, handsome, and chain-smoking Iraqi man who runs an orphanage for 32 children in a two-story house in the Al-Sadr neighborhood, Baghdad’s poorest slum and a frequent target of senseless bombings by Sunni terrorists. Although the film, like “The Tears of Gaza”, lacks any didactic narration of the sort found in more explicitly political films, Husham’s mission speaks for a break with the sectarian strife that has marked Iraq since the early 2000s, intentionally fostered by American imperialism. The orphans are Sunni, Shia, Turkman and Kurd, a cross-section of the country’s population and obviously representing Husham’s intention to heal the nation’s wounds.

The film begins with Husham stopping his car beneath a bridge and approaching two homeless boys. Do they have families, he asks? No, they were killed. How do you survive? The answer: begging.  He invites them to come with him and they do. He provides a warm and supportive environment for all the kids, even if he is one step ahead of the landlord who seeks to evict him. Unlike the state orphanages, which are notorious for their mistreatment of children, Husham’s relies totally on private donations, mostly from humble bazaar merchants who give hundreds rather than millions of dollars.

The most poignant of the children is 7-year old Saif, a Kurd who barely remembers his mother who was killed by a terrorist bomb along with his father. When other children taunt him by calling out his mother’s name—Mujada—he attacks them in a blind rage.

The name of the film derives from a play that Husham mounts with the help of a theater director based in the Al-Sadr slum. “In my mother’s arms” is a kind of oratorio devoted to the vision of mother and child reunion, even if only in the realm of the imagination. It stars Saif who sings a lament about life’s cruelties. Despite the sadness of the play, Saif achieves a kind of psychological breakthrough by finding a reason to live: the chance that others can appreciate his performance.

The film is co-directed by two Iraqis: Atia and Mohammad Al-Daraji. Atia founded Iraq Al-Rafidan, a full-service film and video production company with a mission to give a voice to the Iraqi people. The Al-Daraji’s partnered with Humam Film, a UK/Dutch company established in 2006 “to seek and explore individual creativity while producing films with a social conscience and impact.” This of course is the kind of partnership between NATO countries and the Arab world that should serve as an example.

The film begins with some shocking statistics about the number of orphans the war has left. You get some sense of the depth of the problem by reading an Alternet article dated December 18, 2007:

Iraq’s anti-corruption board revealed on Saturday that there were five million Iraqi orphans as reported by official government statistics, urging the government, parliament, and NGOs to be in constant contact with Iraq’s parentless children.

That’s about 1/6th of the country. For comparison’s sake, the U.S. has just over 2 million orphans even though it is nearly ten times the size of Iraq.

Meanwhile, the government of Iraq has demonstrated hostility toward private aid even when its own institutions are worse than useless. Alternet reported:

Maysoun al-Damlouji, a member of the parliament’s Civil Society Organizations Committee, slammed a recent government decision that closed down all private orphanages. “Instead of helping private institutions improve their performance and remove all obstacles hindering their work, the Iraqi government decided to close them down, adding to the complexity of the situation in the state-run institutions.

This is one instance in which an exception to the drive toward privatization hastened by the invasion and occupation of Iraq works would benefit the people. Or perhaps the more important lesson to be drawn is that the clash between state-ownership and privately-owned institutions is secondary to the more important criterion, namely whether a government serves the people or the people serve the government—the struggle that virtually defined the Arab Spring that is ongoing.

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