Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Funny, that Riverbend should put up a new post. I spoke at a seminar for older adults in a kind of elderhostel program yesterday and I was surprised when a older gentleman came up after my talk (on Sunni, Shia, and Sufi strands of Islam) and told me that he reads the Iraqi blogger Riverbend. We both noted that she hadn't posted since December 31. I recommended Treasure of Baghdad to him.

Today I went to check Helena Cobban's Just World News and heard that Riverbend had posted again. Her topic? An Iraqi woman had come forward to claim that she had been gang-raped by US-trained security forces on al-Jazeera. On Al-Jazeera!! That is a dramatic and powerful act. Nearly unthinkable. I can only imagine the conversations going on in living rooms and kitchens across the Arabic speaking world today. Rape is not a crime that is easily discussed or prosecuted in the Middle East. In a subsequent post Riverbend notes:
No Iraqi woman under the circumstances- under any circumstances- would publicly, falsely claim she was raped. There are just too many risks. There is the risk of being shunned socially. There is the risk of beginning an endless chain of retaliations and revenge killings between tribes. There is the shame of coming out publicly and talking about a subject so taboo, she and her husband are not only risking their reputations by telling this story, they are risking their lives.

Nuri al-Maliki's response was not just to denouce this woman but to reward the men accused of the crime. Ugh! You can read Maliki's statement on her blog as well.

Both blog entries are essential reading. More, perhaps on this later. Sick children and an important lunch meeting mean that there is little time for blogging today.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Arab Media & popular culture

I encountered two music clips today from the Middle East. The first is Baladna (Our Country) by the Iraqi singer Haithem Yosef. It is beautiful and sad and reflects the grief of those who have had to flee, it speaks to the nostalgic and romantic unity of Iraq that will always exist in the heart of exiles whether or not it remains a reality on the ground in Iraq. Sad, sweet, and bitter. Thank you Treasure of Baghdad for bringing it to my attention.

The second comes from Cairo via the Kuwaiti singer, Shams. I think that it is instructive that it takes that kind of distance to produce a ruthless satire. The Iraqis are caught in chaos and grief that is unimaginable. The rest of the Arab world has enough safety to be bitter and very, very funny. Both Juan Cole and Helena Cobban take note of this video. Two very heavy hitters. Professor Cole notes,
She says, "Hi! How are you?" as a cardboard Bush smiles and raises his shoulders idiotically. "No one is like you," she adds, "and there certainly aren't two of you." She shakes her head in front of a White House stage prop.

She sings in front of a sign that says "Democracy." She chases away confused US troops. She mugs for the camera and does a little belly dance. She appears as the statue of liberty lady. She lies down on the word "Guantanamo," referring to the allegations of the use of torture there, a counterpoint to the block letters "Democracy" earlier.

It is the oddest thing, but certainly a "resistance" video of a sort.

What is most striking of all is the tone of familiarity and intimacy along with the contempt. Bush has become an Arab leader, like Mubarak or Asad, and is subject to all the same parodying and jokes that they are in the Arab street.

Helena also explains the video this way:

She sings a well-known Egyptian popular song of romantic repudiation. "Hi! How are you... You think you're so great? I never want to see you again!" while hamming it up with a dizzying array of props representing aspects of Bush's policy in the Middle East. And yes, that includes Washington's "information" policies, too, with repeated visual references to newspaper stories and to round-table type TV talk-shows...

The ending is key, Shams sits on a graph (that most seem to think reflects rising oil prices) in a black cowbay hat, in a mock duel with President Bush, he falls off and lands on his back, hard in the sand, as she pushes what soon becomes the letter E in liberty onto him, the word liberty pummels the President into dust and behind prison bars while a fortune teller reveals the future, Shams walks off into the sunset wearing a wedding dress and holding the hand of the groom Handala (the iconic Palestinian child and symbol of resistance, read more here). Wow! Powerful ending. Are all Arabs now dispossesed like the Palestinians? Alienated, yet joyful in their resistance?

My favorite part is the talking heads in the situation room, I'd like to cut some of those strings too! Watch it!

Baladna, however, is the sad song that will linger when the laughter from Shams is gone.