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Making Connections in Israel's Stategy

July 21, 2014

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

I really can’t comprehend what the long term intent of Israel’s current military action is. But I’ve had a most discomforting thought, namely that Israel’s short term aim is based on earlier developments-- the success of the boycott and divestment campaign—and to put the U.S. Congress on the spot.

Perhaps months ago Israeli strategists, noting how world opinion in their favor was waning, asked: “Will American lawmakers remain loyal? Could there be a crack in the Washington fortification we so carefully nurture? Are ‘they’ as solidly behind us as we demand?”

Of course, from the start of the attacks now underway on Gaza, the US media and U.S. leaders rush to affirm their allegiance: “Israel is justified-right or wrong”; “We must support them.”

But Israel might have needed reassurance from Washington well before this crisis erupted. Possibly months ago, Israel began to worry about the mandate it’s enjoyed for decades, and wondered if it remained beyond economic and moral censure. Because on other fronts it was facing serious threats to its immunity.   

Had you noticed how things hadn’t been going Israel’s way? During the past year the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement has made significant gains in securing pledges by institutions and individuals to divest their funds from Israeli companies and to boycott events there. Notable among those joining BDS’ call is the respected British physicist Steven Hawking, Microsoft’s Gates Foundation, the American Studies Association, and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. Rock stars’ cancellation of their concerts and academic sanction indicate this is serious stuff.

BDS’s successes are augmented by the Palestinian leadership applying directly to the United Nations for recognition, and most recently, a hard won union with Hamas. If things continued this way, some U.S. leaders might reconsider their stand and find the courage to join the global chorus for justice.

Could the successes of BDS have so worried Israel that it needed to test its status with Washington?

What was Israel to do in the face of all those peaceful initiatives? Surely not re-enter peace negotiations in good faith. Nor halt illegal colonialist settlements. Release hostage prisoners, recognize the Palestinian right of return? You’re joking.

Israel is doing what it knows best:--stepping up the violence and terror, pressing ahead with ethnic cleansing, rounding up thousands, deploying its inexhaustible lethal arsenal while pleading danger from terrorism, crying that Syrian and Iranian arms for Gaza militants assault its cities and homes.

What better way to achieve assurance than to precipitate an event that obliges the U.S. president to reaffirm what he has done so consistently and loyally. If the virtue behind the boycott and divestment strategy reached the hearts and minds of any of our elected officials, now it may have been subdued. 

 One thing I’ve learned over the years of closely observing Israeli policy is that no action is simply a response to an alleged provocation. Israel’s moves are part of long-term strategies and careful control of their U.S. partnership. END

[ Making Connections in Israel's Stategy ]

We do not want to send our children

June 30, 2014

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

“I’ll go anywhere, even to America.”

It was 1994 when I heard these words, spoken by an Iraqi lad, Yasser. Yasser was  barely 20, plodding sadly from embassy to embassy. He was in Jordan when the vicious US-led world embargo, only four years into reducing that country to shambles, was forcing Iraqis to escape waves of disease, deterioration and death generated by the siege. Several million mainly young and educated Iraqis would follow this despondent young man through the embargo. Many more left after the US invasion in 2003. Today, with new instability threatening the entire country Iraqis continue that reluctant quest.

“Even America”. !! Not a statement anyone, least of all Americans, wants to hear. In those two words, Yasser uttered so much about his dilemma. What haunts me until today was his tone:--deep lament.  They are not words we can associate with those silent boatfuls of refugees, lines of women and men at visa offices, human trafficking, and UN camps. Yasser spoke to his sadness, his reluctance, his anger.

American citizens, the majority of whom are themselves descendants of emigrants, are currently debating the fate of tens of thousands of children stumbling across their southern borders. Yet how many can comprehend Yasser’s sadness? How does the United States so rapidly become a hallowed and privileged goal to those of us now comfortably lodged here?

We should remember that U.S.A is a goal only when one’s own homeland is wracked by insecurity, where parents are unable to see any future for their young. As Alexandra Early observes of an ongoing Salvadorian exodus: “The vast majority of Salvadorians, like other Central Americans, don’t want to migrate to the U.S. They love their families and communities and would much prefer to stay … in their own countries”. This same applies to Iraqis, etc.

For Salvadorians, Iraqis, like Syrians, Hondurans, Vietnamese, Sudanese and countless other petitioners at our borders, migration is not a first choice, neither for youngsters nor adults. But parents, year after year, seeing such bleak prospects in their homeland, reluctantly apply all their energies and funds to sending away their children.

Speaking to a colleague in Syria only yesterday, she informed me her daughter is now in The Emirates (UAE). She sighed: “At least our children may be safe”. But then, reflecting, she added, “Look how we seem happy that our children are not here beside us”.

This is repeated in millions of homes across the world. War, persecution, poverty, and exploitation are the source. Often, whether in Honduras, Vietnam or Palestine, we know it’s a product of ongoing self-interested, heartless U.S. policies and unholy alliances, and America’s search for unlimited economic gain.

In the case of Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, places I’ve written about, émigrés depart thinking it’s a temporary move. Then strife at home, and in neighboring countries where other family members fled, continues. A decade on, they find themselves sponsoring loved ones to join them. A generation later, the process continues. Yasser ended up in Australia and I wouldn’t be surprised if, at 40 now, some of his brothers and sisters and their families are with him there. Yet, for every family who secures resettlement, thousands of others remain—because they can’t leave, or to secure their home and their homeland, somehow enduring, rebuilding, hanging on and believing it is worthwhile, that conditions might… somehow, improve.

The holy month of Ramadan has arrived—a time, alongside the prayers, contemplations and breaking-fast when families feel so much joy being together. I doubt if there is one among Muslims worldwide who doesn’t feel the absence of our children or our parents, our husband, our wife, our mother, our beloved brother and sister, during these days.

[ We do not want to send our children ]

Voting in Syria

June 04, 2014

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

What could be the point of Syria’s presidential election? 

Why would anyone watch the voting in Syria yesterday? If I were a refugee, waiting on tables in Lebanon, would I? If resettled in Boston, would I? If on an extended visit with my daughter’s family in Kuwait, would I? Would the main candidate, incumbent Bashar al-Assad, himself even follow the polling?

Globally millions line up outside voting stations to elect a new president, members of parliament, local councils, party candidates. Some contenders run unopposed; some come from behind to surprise everyone. Some are first timers, some veterans fighting for a tenth term. Elections happened in fractious Ukraine, another was just completed in post ‘Arab spring’ Egypt. We watched Indians choose a new leader a fortnight ago. Newark, New Jersey had its mayoral election last week.

Syrian citizens should have their chance too, shouldn’t they? Surely they watch what others do across the world and want to have a go. Capable women and men who know something about governance and who dare to challenge an incumbent should get a crack at leadership, shouldn’t they? Their supporters need the thrill of a hard-fought campaign, of rallying together for something new, of believing their representative can do better than others.

But nothing of that sort is happening in Syria. Rather than this election making a real difference, it seems to be what analyst Fawaz Gerges suggests: -- a coronation of Assad. “It’s a celebration of his ability to survive the violent storm and basically go on the offensive," said the London-based professor.

Although a few Syrians are listed as opponents in yesterday’s presidential election, everyone knows they pose no challenge to al-Assad. Surely there was no one waiting earnestly for polls to open, and later watching anxiously as ballots were counted late into the night.

All that we outside observers— perhaps those inside the country too-- can ask is: why? Why bother with all the fuss; why invite the international scorn this exercise will likely elicit?

Perhaps the Syrian regime is looking at Egypt where the chief candidate, ex-general Abd el-Fattah el-Sisi, after winning handily with 96.1 % of votes cast, was assured by Washington that it would continue to work with him. It surely makes the US and its allies, all rabidly anti-Assad, look disingenuous about their concern for democracy. Whereas president Obama long ago arrogantly told the Syrian leader he must go, he takes a radically different position about the Egyptian commander–in-chief. That Bashar al-Assad, newly anointed, can use this election to quell unrest and unite his people, as his counterpart el-Sisi probably will do in Egypt, is doubtful.

El-Sisi has managed this election as a sanction for militarily acquired power, and he may succeed… with international support. Al-Assad cannot play the same game. This election is no cause for the Syrian leadership to enjoy any confidence, and no reason for Syrians to expect some respite from their war.

[ Voting in Syria ]

Poet and Novelist Maya Angelou, 1928-2014. Keep close what she gave us

May 29, 2014

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Only last week, I was listening to Gather Together In My Name, an audio book. So I was reminded of Maya Angelou’s power with words, her extraordinary life too. If there’s a more poignant and commanding example of message embedded in ‘voice’, I cannot imagine. In every line, in every pithy phrase, in every interview, she utters poetry.

We are enriched by the treasure chest of audio recordings Angelou leaves us. Look for them. Listen to her voice. Especially hear “On The Pulse of Morning” 

I wonder if Arabs and other Muslims heard her words in that ode recited at Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration. In itself it’s a powerful invocation, so perfect for the horizon we peer onto when a leader takes office. Her ode is not for a man but for a nation, for every nation, for every one of her citizens. Angelou speaks to the horizon of every morning:--for each of us, whatever our status, whatever our condition. (I have this poem posted on the wall of my bedroom.)

Angelou, in her 2008 interview with Armstrong Williams, remarks: the challenge is “to defy gravity, to stand erect and remain erect, and be absolutely present… so that everything I know I have, is in this chair, with me now.” This Buddhist idea surely explains her clarity and the force of her person.

I met Maya Angelou. Yes. At the YariYari conference in New York. 1997. It was a crowded celebration of African and African-American women writers. With a small group seated around this lady—she was Yari’s honored guest-- I dared: “What do we need”, I selfishly asked, “to confront, thwart and overcome racist attacks on our people?” (At that time, I was preoccupied with Arab civil rights work in this country.) Angelou’s reply was abrupt. “Shout, cry out for help. The predator senses weakness and he goes directly to it, taking it in his jaws. But, when he confronts boldness and solidarity”, she said assuredly, “then he slithers away.

“So cry out”, she admonished. “Scream, loudly.”  Then she turned from me. I felt intimidated. I wanted to talk about this; but Angelou must have gauged this was enough advice. She had many young people pressing her. I’ve never forgotten those words, and tone of rebuke she used.

I read her best known book, I Know Why A Caged Bird Sings, early on; still, well after college.

I had another experience of this woman’s importance to Black writers in particular. Angelou’s writing career had been nourished as a member of the Harlem Writers Guild; it is said she owed much to the guild and to its leader John O. Killins. When Killins later headed the Writing Circle at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn in the 1980s, he invited me to join. That experience with him and his cluster of emerging writers made an enormous difference to my growth:—more to my finding my voice as an activist than as a writer. Transforming.

Then. when I heard Angelou read "On the Pulse of the Morning", my esteem for her as a unique voice for Americans took a leap. I’ve heard that some editions of that poem exclude her references to Muslims, Arabs, and sheiks among those whose horizons she speaks to. So be sure to look for the original. You will see what I mean. 

[ Poet and Novelist Maya Angelou, 1928-2014. Keep close what she gave us ]

Winterís A Distant Memory, Alas.

April 11, 2014

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

For months, I’d wanted to write about our all-consuming winter. But you heard nothing from me. Like many east coast inhabitants, I was stricken by what they call ‘cabin fever’.  Although warmed by a well-stoked woodstove and an oil boiler chugging limply through the night, one feels immobilized, pitiable, and mistreated. Hard not to complain; it doesn’t matter that I’m one among millions. All those comforts we take for granted are not longer comfortable. Not nice.

Now that it’s over/past/gone I stretch lazy limbs, strip to one layer of clothing, listen to the twitter of real birds, and toss a green salad. There’s a term for U.S. retirees --snow birds-- who pass these hard weeks in Florida. They’re back too.

What I find so astonishing in these early days of our thaw, is that with the sight of one red-breasted robin, the twinkle of a single purple crocus budding through melting mud, and the bang bang of a carpenter’s hammer on a neighbor’s roof, the scourge of those four icy, white, blustery, hostile, inconvenient and unsociable months absolutely evaporates.

I have to think hard to recall images of that historical wintery precipice:— a young deer stranded on a icefloat in the river, shoveling through feet of snow to replenish the bird feeder; strapping on my boots, missing mittens and scarves, the utter silence of fresh snow embalming a town, colorless hillsides; the roaring snowplow at 4:30 in the morning, orange lights blinking crawling through snowed roads, tires spinning on black ice; abandoned trips to the city, then finally, escaping onto the dry highway between storms only to land under two feet when I reach the stalled metropolis and forget my car in a snowdrift; then when roads out of Manhattan clear, heading upstate I hit another blizzard 100 miles before reaching home. New Yorkers on their morning ride to work forget fashion and pile ugly boots, oversize coats, and funny Nepal-knitted wool hats over their brand-named suits. Bundled little schoolkids, eyes peering over heavy scarves, are hardly visible in the crush of hunched up adult subway passengers. And remember those mittens attached with string that threaded up one sleeve and down the next? We hated them as children. But I saw a pair dangling from the sleeve of a young New York worker. Slush-slush-slush: on Manhattan streets, walkers tiptoe through icy paths at an Alabama pace, and apartment dwellers pull carts of accumulated dirty clothes through the slush to nearby laundromats.

All gone now. On a drive to the radio station last Sunday, I actually saw people outside their homes wandering over brown grass, a woman leisurely walking her dog, a couple sitting on their house veranda-- outside. Ah, this is why the winter can depress us—we don’t see each other. We cease to witness the routine of daily life. Welcome back.

comments welcome

[ Winterís A Distant Memory, Alas. ]
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Saree Makdisi, LA Times OpEd, Nov 18, 2013

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