Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Switching to Dead Prez featuring Jay Z, Hell Yeah.

The track that justifies criminal activity as a form of reparations, or more probably as a means of resistance against a form of economic oppression that has left the inner city of America bereft of hope. “Ain’t you hungry my nigga, don’t you wanna get paid my nigga?” The chorus functions as revolutionary sloganeering: an inducement to embrace the post-revolutionary moment and take up arms in the name of preventing the complete effacement of a people. Dead Prez inhabits the space left by the Malcolm X/ Black Panther vision of the African American predicament. In some sense, it is possible to say that more mainstream rappers, such as Jay Z, Kanye West and 50 Cent present us with an accelerated version of minstrelsy, though not particularly buffoonish, as much as capitalizing and intensifying the ultraviolent and hyper-sexualized vision of the African American male as a caricature of white projections of the end of the civil rights project. As has often been said, the majority of the consumers of hip-hop and rap are white, suburbanites. The glorification of violence, misogyny and materialism found in mainstream rap music not only reflects the lack of developed economic systems in the inner city, but simultaneously reveals the hunger that the white mainstream culture has for sensational images of the other. In some perverse sense of order, the foregrounding of the “ghetto” as a signifier of authenticity reinforces in the minds of the white mainstream consumer the economic and cultural “arrival” of the African Americans in the post-civil rights moment.

The fact that this description conveys a colonized/colonizer dynamic should come as no surprise; rather than seeing the inner city as an important index of intentional and specific political and economic processes, it becomes a field of economic exploitation for the colonizer, and a field of desperation and perpetual conflict for the colonized. In this case, the product isn’t a material good, like a vital crop or mineral, but a set of cultural indicators and experiences whose initial vitality has been reduced to its most banal and libidinal elements.

And unless this set of dynamic interactions is understood, a track like W4 seems parodic at best and potentially absurd at worst.

“My J.O.B is just like a plantation.”

The critic charges that this is the worst sort of “complaint rap,” a parody of genuine revolutionary urge, transmuted into triviality and base simplicity. However, once the situation is perceived in terms of the near total economic disenfranchisement of the inner city (and thus, black and Hispanics) coupled with the simultaneous rigid codification and subsequent commodification of “street cred” and the extremely cynical and oppressive image of the “authentic OG,” the inner city street suddenly is more easily understood as being a kind of post-material plantation, a plantation of information and disembodied signification.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The video below is an attempt to use some multimedia tools to help tell a story, in this case, a brief primer on the country of Saudi Arabia.

video

Friday, October 22, 2010

Strange Bedfellows

Within the last week, the US administration has proposed large military aid packages to our “allies” in the terminal “war on terror.” Saudi Arabia will receive $60 billion worth of military aircraft, while Pakistan will receive $2 billion dollars in general military aid.

If anyone still thinks that our military adventure in Iraq, and our persistent efforts to assist in the creation of a stable Afghan state are motivated from a desire to spread democracy, our relationship with Saudi Arabia should shatter that illusion.

Several years ago, I wrote on this blog that the biggest terror threats in the world were to be found in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Pakistan. This was despite the fact that the media focus at that time echoed the US government line; that the greatest threats emanated from Iran and Iraq. The case of Yemen is a special one, and I will not examine that here. Saudi Arabia, however, remains the ideological and financial homeland of Al-Qaeda and its associated worldview. After oil, Saudi Arabia’s next most significant export is Wahhabi Islam. Its internal human rights record is abysmal, and democracy is virtually non-existent. This is a country where you can be executed – by public beheading – for the crime of “sorcery.” Of course, rather than the US supporting a genuine democratic movement in the Peninsula, it continues to support the Royal family, and thus secures preferential treatment with regards to access to oil. Furthermore, despite the US State Department trying to play down the assertion, it is clear that $60 billion worth of aircraft to the Saudis satisfies the desire of both the Kingdom and the US to contain Iran.

This represents a deep and dangerous cynicism. The US is upping the ante in a regional proxy war and simultaneously arming a country where political stability has thus far relied on heavy handed opposition to reform and an extensive police state apparatus.

Political stability in Saudi Arabia depends to a great extent on economic stability; in order for the relatively high per capita income of the Kingdom to be maintained, oil revenues must remain high, and the regime must fulfill its role as a basic instrument of income redistribution. Political reform has progressed at a snail’s pace, and internal security threats from Islamic fundamentalist groups continue to present a challenge to the regime. Providing such a large arms transfer to Saudi Arabia increases the long term threat of both regional and sovereign stability, as the Saudis are likely to use international conflict as an excuse for delaying crucial reforms at home.

Meanwhile, the military aid package for Pakistan similarly can only serve to escalate conflict in South and Central Asia, rather than contain it. The Pakistani regime, and indeed, the fate of Pakistan as a state in general, are at a crossroads. As I have recently written in this blog, the confluence of forces at play in Pakistan at the moment presents an existential crisis. It would seem that the US position is to throw more arms into the fray, and hope that the limping civilian administration in Pakistan can get a hold of things before the center collapses. The war in Afghanistan has become a war in Pakistan, and once again the US position suggests that the only way out is for the Pakistanis to completely eliminate the Taliban and Al-Qaeda affiliated groups, and return to some kind of imagined stability. However, the true crisis in Pakistan isn’t simply Islamic militancy, it is an institutional crisis. I don’t believe that an outright military victory over the Taliban and associated groups can actually be achieved. The fact that elements within Afghanistan’s government are continuously attempting to court the Taliban leadership into some kind of reconciliation process proves that the forces of Fundamental Islam will be part of both countries for the foreseeable forces. Rather than encouraging a de-facto arms race in South Asia, the US should be investing in a future civilian government that can encourage democratic reform and stable civilian governance, with the hope of creating an atmosphere conducive to economic development.

This is the only hope of long term stability. However, cynicism and the belief that military force can achieve positive future outcomes rule the day.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Specter of the Enemy

An unnamed NATO source, one believed to be involved in day to day operations in Afghanistan, has recently claimed, apparently with some certainty, that Osama Bin Laden is alive and well in Pakistan. Rather than living in a cave, as some have come to believe, the Al-Qaeda number one is resting comfortably somewhere in the northern areas of the Federally Administered Tribal Area of Pakistan, possibly in or near the Kurram Valley.
Great, so we got him, right?
I imagine anyone who has followed the war in Afghanistan – and the war on terror generally – would not be at all surprised by the idea that Bin Laden and Zawahiri are in Pakistan. There have been numerous statements over the past several years to suggest it, and in fact it is one of the few possible scenarios that make any sense. If the rumors concerning Bin Laden’s need for a kidney dialysis machine are true, the “hiding out in a cave” scenario loses credibility.
Richard Holbrooke was quoted in The Guardian as saying that “we hardly have a day go by” without someone claiming to know Bin Laden’s whereabouts. The thing that’s interestingly absent from Holbrooke’s statement is where the US thinks he is. When the news of the NATO official came out, the Washington Post claimed the “mystery” may finally be solved. Mystery? There are only so many places he could be, right?
Clearly, Holbrooke is right about the fact that this isn’t the first time someone has claimed to know where the world’s most wanted man is hiding. In 2003, Indian General KPS Gill claimed that he had firsthand information that the Pakistani ISI knew of Bin Laden’s whereabouts. In 2006, Ahmad Rashid stated unequivocally that Bin Laden was in Pakistan. Yet each one of these claims was met by the same reaction, the latest iteration being Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik stating in Dawn that there is no truth to the NATO official’s claim, and such statements are being used to “malign Pakistan.”
I am not privy to classified information; I am not an intelligence specialist. However, I have been following these events in some detail for years. But I don’t suspect it takes much of an expert to come to the conclusion that Bin Laden and indeed, the leadership of Al Qaeda, is hiding in either the FATA or North or South Waziristan. If anything, the “maligning” of Pakistan is a simple indictment of the fact that these vast Pashtun areas along the Afghani border are completely beyond Pakistani control. Furthermore, knowing where Bin Laden is (even generally) does not mean that the US can simply “go in and get him.” It sounds ironic, considering we just “went in” and got Saddam, and just “went in” and went after the Taliban. However, with Pakistan we are dealing with a very precarious and difficult case. Pakistani sovereignty, the future stability of the state and nuclear weapons all conspire to make any US intervention deep into Pakistani territory a very dangerous tightrope act.
And it is this situation that makes a direct assault on Al Qaeda by US forces impossible at this current moment. However, there may be one other possible perspective here. I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy nut of some kind, but I think it is distinctly possible to view Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda in the context of their propaganda value. There is no question that the American, and indeed global, public were subject to many exaggerations and sometimes outright lies regarding both Al-Qaeda and Iraq in the last several years. Remember the initial descriptions of the caves of Tora Bora by Donald Rumsfeld? It read like something out of an Ian Fleming novel. And let’s not forget the string of dishonesties regarding Iraq. The bottom line, governments have always understood the power of nightmares. Sometimes the threat is in fact real, but the details are blown out of proportion, or simplified to make the image of the enemy stark and easy to understand. This latter dimension is precisely why Bin Laden represents such an effective propaganda tool. Like Orwell’s Goldstein, Bin Laden becomes the repository of all of our projected, collective fears, an agent of chaos, with obscure religious views (though no religious credentials!), a single minded focus on destruction, a deep seated hatred of “civilization” at large. Even his physical appearance in many ways typifies the feared image of the dangerous oriental, dark, swarthy, with a hooked nose and a discordant effeminate quality. And most importantly, he is uncomplicated. Compare Bin Laden to Hassan Nasrallah. The Hezbollah leader has repeated numerous times that his movement is involved in a local struggle. Nasrallah condemned the events of 9/11, he is a savvy, public, and charismatic figure. Indeed, Nasrallah is polarizing, but he is not surrounded by the aura of myth, he is multi-dimensional and arguments can be made that will sympathize with his positions (albeit with great contentiousness). Even the most ardent anti-war leftists risk total ridicule if they attempt to justify Bin Laden’s position. Al Qaeda and its leadership represent the perfect Manichean Devil, an emotionally potent oversimplification that stirs the imagination as much, if not more than, the intellect and thus, has a certain value to the fear machine if he remains elusive and alive.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Chess Anyone?

The recent elections in Iraq have left the country with a dangerous political deadlock. With neither Iyad Allawi’s Iraqqiya bloc nor Maliki’s State of Law bloc pulling a majority in the Parliament, the game of coalition building is in full swing. However, a parallel game is being played out, and it is about regional influence and may well shape the future of Iraq’s role in the Middle East for decades to come.

Since the 2003 invasion, Moqtada al-Sadr has emerged as a major x-factor in Iraqi politics. Commanding the dispossessed, poor, urban Shia population, the young scion emerged as an international figure by openly declaring resistance against the U.S. and coalition presence in Iraq. The Mahdi Army became a force to be reckoned with, and Sadr himself quickly became a figure of national prominence and influence. Perhaps more importantly, he became the most visible conduit of Iranian influence in Iraq. There is little doubt that the Mahdi Army received funding, as well as material and logistical support from Iranian Revolutionary Guard elements. This intimate relationship between the Sadrists and Iran was the natural outcome of co-religiosity, political opportunism, and international gamesmanship. And now, with the election leaving a leadership vacuum, Sadr and Iran again have entered the fray in a significant way.

Maliki has travelled to Tehran, and plans to go to Qom as well. It is clear that in going to Tehran, Maliki is hoping to not only show that he has an open door to both Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, but that he can convince the Iranians to use their influence on Sadr as well. Part of the reason that Sadr has been so quiet the last few years is that he realized that his future success in both Iraq and the region depends on his attaining his religious credentials. Thus, the young mullah has returned to the academies of Qom while his party plots its future political strategy.

Maliki is going to lean on Sadr and hope that he can get the Sadrist seats into a ruling coalition. This will mean a strongly pro-Iranian government in Baghdad. To be sure, the American’s are playing their cards at the moment as well. Statements from Allawi read almost like State Department press releases. Everyone has a horse in this race, and once again, the self-determination of ordinary Iraqis is being sacrificed for political machination and regional gamesmanship.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Gutenberg 2.0, and the Death of the object

Today I want to take a short break from our usual fare and begin a short series on the state of professional media in the age of Web 2.0. So let's jump in.

What is Web 2.0? As Andrew Keen has pointed out, the term itself is not so much an intentional nomenclature that indicates a new set of inventions or practices, but was rather a term developed by media observers to describe a sort of historical moment characterized by the post 2000 NASDAQ crash and the explosion of what we now call "social media," i.e Facebook, Youtube, Digg etc. In general, the idea of Web 2.0centers around the idea of user-generated content, and the potential to liberate media from the "Gatekeepers" of traditional mainstream media.

The above description is loaded with points of interest and potential contention. However, I don't want to engage all of those issues at the outset. I would like to begin (as may be appropriate in Web 2.0) with a personal story.

The two industries seemingly most affected by the rise of digital technology and the information economy are the music industry and journalism. When I was in high school, the Internet was still very, very nascent in its development. I used to mail order vinyl records from a small punk rock outfit in Goleta, California. When the sides arrived from Ebullition records, there were always goodies; sometimes free zines, band stickers, mail order catalogs from other indie labels. Pulling those packages out of the mail and locking myself in my room was a gleeful ritual. I would put the records on, hold the covers in my hands, look at the lyrics and artwork inserts, and while away the hours in angst ridden bliss (I did mention these were punk rock records, right?). Now, before you accuse me of romanticizing the "physical object," keep in mind that from a young age I was a collector. For awhile it was hockey and baseball cards, then comic books, and eventually music. Perhaps there is a pathology associated with "collecting," but for me and my friends, the association with these small, mail order record labels, the bands that they promoted and the scene in which everyone was involved constituted a community. Furthermore, these objects played the role of our communal artifacts.

To be sure, digital technology has killed the physical artifact. Some may point to isolated situations in which a hardcore minority insist on purchasing CD's or vinyl, but in 2010, these are the real New Romantics. I myself have succumbed and surrendered to iTunes, because I want my music with me everywhere I go. And I doubt anyone in the moribund music industry will tell you that there is hope on the horizon. Web 2.0 has destroyed the old business model of the recording industry, that is beyond debate. The question which remains, is whether or not this is a good thing.

It's a complicated question and cannot be answered in a short blog entry, so my goal here is to present a series of interlocking themes to widen the discussion. On the one hand, there are those who argue that with the dinosaur record industry out of the way, the artist can be in complete control of all aspects of the creation and marketing of their music, and can do so at relatively low cost. This is the "democratization" of media that the champions of Web 2.0 espouse as their central ideology. This raises for me two central questions. First, has this leveling of the technological playing field made it any easier for musicians to make a living from their music? Certainly, they have more control, and are not beholden to the infamous "exploitation" of the labels, but they now must operate in an ever widening field of competition, and since digital music can just as often be pirated rather than purchased, does this reduce the resources available for bands to harness their craft and raise their level of ability against an increase of competitors in the field? The second question is related to this, and involves the role that the labels played as "Gatekeepers." Part of the investment in the production of the physical object was an investment in bands that were deemed to have sufficient talent, which was then harnessed and polished by A&R people, professional marketers and the taste makers at the labels. These are all very naughty concepts in Web 2.0, yet is something lost when no one is willing to invest in individuals whose sole purpose is to separate the wheat from the chaff? The flattened media proponents will say that "the people" will decide. In other words, the logic of the free market must operate unhindered by the "regulation" of old media authority.

I don't want to propose a final verdict on any of these questions as much as I want to begin the discussion. Suffice it to say that it seems to me that we are at a point where it cannot be regarded as a zero-sum game, and there will be a place for both taste makers and authority, as well as direct democratic content generation. The issue of authority and the gatekeepers will be extended in the next post, as I think this is a particularly vital issue in the discussion about the future of journalism.

Stay tuned, and leave comments!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Morality of Occupation

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2010/10/201010514447409589.html

A recent video posted to youtube shows an IDF soldier "belly dancing" and gyrating mockingly while a Palestinian woman stands bound and blindfolded against a wall. Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, the darkest and most cynical dehumanization. The ensuing dialogue about the incident will no doubt follow a familiar formula. The Army will declare the offending soldiers "bad apples," why critics and human rights groups will insist that occupation brings out the worst tendencies in otherwise ordinary people.

I suspect that the reality of such incidents isn't explained by one or the other argument alone, but some combination of both. And ultimately, trying to parse out whether the offending soldiers began as "bad apples" or were somehow induced to aberrant behavior by the brutal reality of geopolitics would be futile. However, what this incident reminds us is that often what gets the most attention and generates the most debate are incidents where the crimes involve some level of deviance or salaciousness.

"If it bleeds it leads," so the old saying goes. However, in the U.S. press, the bleeding of some is more news worthy than the bleeding of others. It was clear during the Abu Ghraib incident that this moment of strange and deviant dehumanization emerged as a focal point for opposition to the occupation of Iraq, and a lightning rod for anti-American sentiment in the Islamic World. There is no doubt that such events damage the moral standing of nations that insist that their interventions are either purely defensive or even benevolent, as in Iraq and Afghanistan. To be sure, these are important stories which focus a bright light on occupation and its effects. However, I contend that perhaps these things are just aberrations, and obscure the daily crimes of occupying armies.

As far the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I doubt most Americans know the price paid in the blood of the "natives." In fact, the case of Iraq has been so mired in misinformation that there is significant variation in Iraqi death toll estimates among informed observers. Similarly, the figures for civilian deaths in Afghanistan are difficult to verify. Good records were simply not kept during the opening years of the war, and the reporting of civilian casualties in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand were compromised by the dire security situation. During the decades of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, numerous human rights groups have kept records of Palestinian civilian deaths at the hands of the IDF (links to Al Mezan and B'Tselem can be found in the links section to the right). The deaths of course are not all attributable to American or Israeli military action. What is not accounted for in the statistical data is the daily abuse, the checkpoints, house searches, demolitions, curfews and random arrests and detentions.

So incidents like the belly dancing IDF soldier and Abu Ghraib perhaps ultimately are aberrations. The background events of occupation are more directly and obviously brutal, they lack the color of psychological deviance, and rather embody the logic of empire. If such incidents bring focus to the conditions of occupation, all the better. However, our outrage - and attention - must remain focused on the daily crimes committed in these seemingly endless conflicts.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Darkening Horizon

A perfect storm is brewing in Pakistan, a storm that will have regional and international implications of great consequence. In the immediate, Pakistanis themselves suffer. The war in Afghanistan has not abated, despite 9 years of fighting. In fact, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas have become a particularly dangerous battleground for a war that has now spread into Pakistani territory and threatens a fragile civilian establishment. The Obama administration continues to pursue a policy of measured response to insurgents within Pakistani territory, relying principally on unmanned drones to conduct raids in the tribal regions. However, there are few within Pakistan’s security apparatus that could rightfully deny the presence of US military assets operating from within Pakistan’s borders, fueling deep mistrust and resentment of the rulers in Islamabad. Rather than containing the Taliban to their homeland in the southern provinces of Afghanistan, a new front rages in the FATA that now threatens Pakistani stability. By and large, there has been a concession by the Pakistani security establishment that its long-held strategy of covert support for Islamist groups (including the Taliban) has backfired. The basically institutional view that Islamist proxies could be used by the ISI to exert influence in Afghanistan and thus provide a counter to Indian influence and strength has collapsed.

The floods in Pakistani defy description. The sheer scale (an area the size of England affected) of the tragedy must give us pause. The international community has pledged aid, and this will likely provide a modicum of relief. However, as is so often the case, those affected by this tragedy were among the poorest of Pakistani society, so while international relief may ease the transition from disaster to some semblance of normalcy, ordinary Pakistanis will return to the equilibrium state of an overall lack of development. Even prior to the floods, the amount of spending on education and health was woefully insufficient. Islamabad has not implemented any long term planning strategy for the agriculture or manufacturing sectors, and Pakistan is now importing wheat. The booming IT sector in India – a vital factor in that nation’s rise in global prominence – is all but non-existent in Pakistan. The overall lack of economic activity within Pakistan has resulted in a meager tax base, and continued dependence on foreign aid.

To be sure, these are massive challenges for any government. However, as if adding fuel to long burning fire, Pakistan may soon be faced with a Parliamentary crisis. The ruling PPP-PML(N) coalition shows signs of fragility, and it’s hard to imagine that Nawaz Sharif will expend efforts to repair the breach rather than shore up support for his own coalition should a no-confidence vote be held against Zardari and the PPP. However, the greater threat to Zardari may be from within his own party. There is virtually no debating Zardari’s cronyism, and recent events seem to find Zardari tightening his inner circle while excluding competent and respected senior PPP officials. Naheed Khan was recently quoted as stating that the PPP is becoming a “one man show.” Both she and her husband, Safdar Abbasi are senior officials in the PPP, and its Khan’s assertion that Zardari is closing ranks and surrounding himself with people that lack competence in governance. The PPP’s Executive Committee recently convened to discuss current matters of state, and Abbasi’s absence was conspicuous. Zardari does himself – and ultimately Pakistan – a great disservice by denying capable technocrats access to the levers of power at such a critical time in Pakistan’s history.

Perhaps most alarming is projecting what may happen in the case of a no confidence vote in Parliament. PML-N would emerge as the default ruling party. However, given the current composition of the Parliament, creating a coalition that could withstand a further no-confidence vote poses a significant challenge. In such a case, a general election would be required. The time frame for an election will be crucial, as maintaining security will become an absolute necessity. The announcement of a general election will undoubtedly inspire Taliban action. The worst case scenario is that the security situation deteriorates to the point where a legitimate vote cannot be held, and the military must intercede to provide continuity of governance, a familiar narrative in Pakistani history. While most accounts of General Kayani paint him as a mostly apolitical figure, he did once preside over ISI, an institution that believes that they alone should determine Pakistan’s destiny. Furthermore, military rule in Pakistan may be well received by a US administration desperate for a competent and capable partner in Pakistan. Previous administrations certainly were not squeamish about supporting military rule, and the most cynical view in Washington has long believed that it’s exactly what Pakistan requires.

The stakes are incredibly high. For the poorest Pakistanis, the fragile middle classes in Lahore and Karachi, and for the ruling elites, the moment dances on a knife edge. The dream of Jinnah remains deferred. The only question left is for how much longer?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Voices in the Wilderness

In late 2003, I started working with Professor Elie Chalala at his magazine, Al-Jadid. Having come out of university with a degree in Comparative Literature, a working knowledge of French and a deep interest in post-colonial issues in the Middle East and south Asia, it was the perfect venue for me. I knew it would give me an opportunity to write to edit and to stay in touch with contemporary trends. what I didn't know is how much it would teach me about the importance and power of dissent.

I think we in the West often underestimate the power of a repressive government. After 9/11, many in the West asked "where is the moderate Muslim denunciation of these acts, where are the voices of reason." Many in the West were led to believe that maybe such voices didn't exist. However, the fact that moderate voices didn't make it to the pages of the Times or the Post was less a function of their existence, and more so about the fact that they are under constant threat of severe repression.

In many countries in the Middle East, the most critical voices are academics, artists, journalists and opposition activists. These groups are also among the most heavily scrutinized, harassed and oppressed populations in that part of the world. The fact is quite simple: Moderate and dissenting voices exist and toil arduously throughout Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere. However, we in the West - who often take our freedom of speech for granted - cannot begin to fathom what life must be like for a journalist who must choose between self-censorship or torture, or an artist who must choose between tempering of passion or arrest.

Al Jadid has strived to bring these voices to a wider audience, to prevent them from being drowned in a sea of fundamentalist and statist propaganda. I may be biased by my personal involvement with the magazine, but that cannot detract from the vital role that such content can play in a time when the dialogue about the Middle East suffers from irrational polarization. Al Jadid shows us the possibilities of the Middle East; this region has inherited more than just Islamism, it still has traces of Pan-Arabism, Socialism, as well as artistic and literary traditions descended from one of humanity's great civilizations. This is a vision of the Middle East that must be at the forefront of the discussion, rather than shackled and hidden away.

I will place a description and link to Al-Jadid in the Resources section of this website. Please head over and take a look.

aljadid.com

All best . . .

Monday, September 20, 2010

Working from the Script

Tonight, PBS aired Charlie Rose's annual interview with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I have seen numerous long form interviews with Ahmadinejad, and each occasion proves interesting and certainly worth the time. Charismatic, engaging, these words don't really describe the Iranian President, yet there is a certain subtle affability in the way that he speaks, although at times it devolves into smug self-assuredness.

However, personality aside, what is fascinating is how Ahmadinejad so closely sticks to the playbook. Leaders in the contemporary Middle East follow a very well choreographed script. The importance of the script cannot be underplayed as it achieves multiple aims simultaneously, but more importantly mixes principled positions with broad obfuscation.

The first vital element is Palestine. Every Middle Eastern leader, whether they be Arab or otherwise, will openly and proudly champion the cause of the Palestinians, though few will lift nary a finger to actually bring about a change in their situation. Yet, this is considered a vital public relations position. The masses in the Middle East expect their leaders to take such a principled stand, and more leaders will campaign on their supposed support for the Palestinian struggle. Ahmadinejad can even go one further, as it is basically common knowledge that Iran provides material support for Hamas. However, it is not vital whether the support is real or imagined. What is important is that the stand is considered a principled and moral one. The Palestinians are indeed suffering underneath the boot of an apartheid regime. The leaders who currently claim to represent the Palestinian people in multilateral and bi-lateral talks were not the same people chosen by the Palestinians to represent them in the last national election. Ahmadinejad, like his Arab counterparts present a principled position; the Palestinian struggle is real and requires an approach that holds Israel to account for its continued violations of international law.

Which brings us to the next element of the script. I speak of course about Israel, however, the script is slightly adapted for the Iranian case. When talking about nuclear inspections and the NPT, Ahmadinejad points to the hypocrisy surrounding Israel. This is a fair and legitimate point. Israel has denied IAEA inspectors access to alleged weapon sites, and has not signed nor does it abide by any provisions of the NPT. This, again, is a perfectly legitimate argument that corresponds with the facts, and is well within the accepted discourse of International opinion. You may not like what Ahmadinejad is saying, but its both true and significant. Of course, the argument most heard in defense of Israel's weapons program is that they are beset on all sides by enemies. Israel has also occupied its "enemies" in varying degrees for over 40 years, and continues to operate what amount to open air prisons in Gaza and the West Bank.

Ahmadinejad goes on to say that this is a case of "politicising" the argument against Iran. Which leads us to the third, the neo-colonial/great game argument. Charlie Rose asks an important question: what is the reason for the conflict between Iran and the United States? I say important because I think generally it is taken for granted that there must be good reasons for it. Ostensibly, the conflict has to do with nuclear proliferation, and maybe support for Hezbollah and Hamas (though I doubt the US is really all that concerned about that. The proxies justify endless and unconditional support for Israel). Ahmadinejad points out, again correctly, that when the US armed and encouraged Saddam Hussein to enter into a war with Iran (one of the bloodiest of the 20th century)there was no question of nuclear weapons, there was no Hamas or Hezbollah, so what then? Here, Ahmadinejad tells Rose "Its a game." In so doing he evokes the spectre of imperialism and neo-colonial adventure. If one is willing to keep an open mind at this point, the possibilities of propaganda, misinformation, Manichean Devils and newspeak create a dizzying realm of disturbing possibilities. And again, reasonable doubt enters the fray. Maybe the Iranian regime isn't so bad after all?

Of course, the problem with an actor stuck on the script is the inability to improvise. When Ahmadinejad suggests that the same international standards should apply to Israel as they do to Iran, he is correct. In actions between states, an essentially anarchic international system depends on uniformity of principle. However, when faced with internal human rights violations, one can no longer point fingers. Though Ahmadinejad tried at least once, when suggesting that Secretary Clinton is obsessed with executions in Iran while ignoring certain friendly countries that still behead the damned with swords in the public square (take that Saudi Arabia!). It is on this point that Ahmadinejad as well as his Arab counterparts, lose their place and stumble. To be sure, he has rehearsed, and the answers come off as smooth as can be, but they ring hollow. The Mohammadi case isn't a great one, the Western press ran too far with it. However, any cursory Google search will return numerous cases of journalists, activists, opposition leaders and organizers silenced -often violently - by the Iranian regime. This, like the plight of the Palestinians, is not in doubt.

What is interesting is that while the script becomes fuzzy for the Middle Eastern leader when it comes to human rights, his very obfuscation is integral to the greater narrative: The proud and brave, principled leader, standing up for the Palestinians against the Zionist regime, trying to bring his people out of the darkness of the imperial machinations of the West's Great Game, while not giving his beloved masses the right to choose for themselves.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Matter of Timing

Israeli and Palestinian officials have announced a return to face to face negotiations. These talks will include the quartet, as well as special envoy Tony Blair. The invitation to resume talks was made by the Obama administration, and both Benyamin Netanyahu and Abu Mazen have agreed to resume talks without preconditions.

Ismail Haniya and Hamas have, predictably, shot down the effort, calling instead for a "National Unity" effort to help repair the breach within the PA, and bring Hamas and Fatah to some common ground. Though one may be hesitant to side with Hamas on any matter, it seems that any negotiation that takes would need to include the surety that efforts can be made to enact changes on the ground, in both Gaza and the West Bank. Unless there is reconciliation between the major Palestinian factions, there can be no implementation of a negotiated settlement. Either Abbas and Fatah want to enter into the talks just to see what Israel is offering, or they think they can win the next round of Parliamentary elections, and thus be able to ignore Hamas.

However, the other incongruent aspect of these negotiations is that they will take place with what is effectively one of the most Right-oriented governments in Israeli history. This is the government that right up until recently condoned and even encouraged the building of permanent settlements in East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank that are beyond the '67 line. Netanyahu's government is getting a huge break in being told they can enter talks with no preconditions, and though settlements will come up, as they always do, it will be a trifle to a government which has Avigdor Lieberman as its Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Secretary of State Clinton has been quoted as saying "the enemies of peace will keep trying to defeat us and derail these talks." While its not clear, one assumes she is talking about terrorists. I find it ironic, because frankly I don't think terrorism is a major issue here. Hamas is being basically marginalized by this process, and if anything these talks will embolden its militant wing, as well as the PIJ, to actually raise the stakes with violence in order to highlight the continued and daily oppression under which the Palestinians live.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Drowning in the Tangle

So much going on. I stand in dereliction of duty, and this site stagnates. Consider this remediation. I hope to return to this with posts on recent events in Pakistan, Turkey, Palestine and Lebanon, and hopefully a couple of pieces on energy issues.

Briefly, regarding Pakistan, its near beyond expression. I spent many days and nights following political, cultural and social issues in Pakistan prior to the horrific flooding. To add scenes of disaster, muddy and cold disaster, makes me recoil in such a way as to not feel. In fact, it compels shutdown. I will do my best, in the next few days to say more about it.

Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Re-Aligned Priorities

A few years ago, I took an internship with a boutique literary agency in West LA. At one point during my stint there, the Agent asked us interns to develop a book idea, fiction or non-fiction, that we thought would result in a compelling publication for a major publisher. The United States had at that point been engaged in the war in Iraq for a few years and I had become fascinated with the Turkish issue. At that point in time it seemed that Turkey stood at a crucial crossroads. Ankara had roundly denied US flyover rights through its airspace into northern targets in Iraq, and had been panned by the neocons for its apparent refusal to play along. This signalled to me the increasing importance of Turkey on the global scene. Ankara had taken a bold step in standing up to the neocon agenda and solidified its place as an independent actor. Given its geostrategic location, its increasing influence in both the Eurozone and the Arab states, and its secular, democratic (read: Kemalist) traditions, it seemed to me that a post 9/11 public would be hungry for reading material about this emerging nation.

Well, no book was ever produced, despite some modest efforts on my part. However, my prognostications seem to have been largely accurate. Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the modern nation-state of Turkey, Ankara's natural inclination has been to stay out of the Middle Eastern arena, while trying to convince its Western neighbors that Turkey's rightful place was among the nations of Enlightenment Europe. This, of course, was a project rife with considerable obstacles. Some 90 plus percent of Turks are Muslims, yet the continuously secular character of the nation has always been guaranteed by the dedication of the nation's army to this end. Contrast this with Pakistan, whose military establishment has consistently counted Islamists among its ranks, or Iran whose Revolutionary Guard has been the very arm of Allah himself, promising the continuation of Imam Khomeini's revolution.

Before the commencement of hostilities in Iraq, the Pentagon had asked Ankara to show its support for the war effort by allowing U.S. flyover rights through Turkish airspace and into the northern provinces of Iraq The people of Turkey emerged on the streets in huge numbers, and Ankara responded to Washington by reflecting the will of the people, and denied the Pentagon's request. Despite the fact that the Turkish government seemingly embodied the very democratic ideals that Washington claimed it was spreading to the Middle East, the neocon administration derisively panned Ankara's decision.

It was a turning point for Turkey. Its geostrategic location was highlighted by the fact that war was now on its southern border. It also brought light to the fact that this was a large, complex, and cosmopolitan nation that seemed to have - at least for the moment - achieved some balance between Islam and democratic and free market institutions. To be sure, Turkey had its internal and external issues - in particular the lack of official recognition of the Armenian Genocide and the resulting human rights violations, as well as the persistent and bloody Kurdish issue. Nonetheless, Turkey was emerging on the world stage, the crossroads between Europe and Asia, between the Islamic world and the secular West.

For some time, it seemed that the specific mode by which Turkey would be integrated into the greater global community was through membership in the EU. This has been a subject of contentious debate for decades, with intensely felt opinions on both sides of the Bosporus, often devolving into racism and xenophobia. In Paris and Berlin, the possible inclusion of Turkey into "Europe" seemed to challenge the very meaning of the word. If Turkey, with its 70 million Muslims, its lower standard of living, and its questionable human rights standards became a part of Europe, then what is Europe? The debate continues and significant issues remain, particularly Turkish claims in Cyprus, the jailing of anti-establishment journalists in Turkey, and the rise of a moderate Pan-Islamist movement in the form of the AK Party. It seems for the moment, the Kemalist dream of a European Turkey is a dream deferred.

The entire European Union project met perhaps its greatest challenge with the recent economic struggles of Greece, and the continued worry about the future of the Spanish economy. The idea of a "united" Europe, that lives and dies together, stood naked in a stark light of skepticism when Berlin seemingly tried everything to avoid using its own purse to bailout Athens. A few observers (myself included) wondered out loud: "Maybe Turkey doesn't have as much to gain in the EU as it once thought?" The idea of bailing out smaller, mismanaged and slow developing economies for the sake of collective risk management and strength in the currency market may not be worth the price. The leaders of the AKP began to re-interpret the Kemalist legacy, envisioning Turkey as a dynamic state all its own, with influence in Europe and in the Arab world (and ultimately beyond), which it had never historically considered a major arena of engagement.

The re-alignment of foreign policy priorities owes its emergence to numerous factors, including the war in Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein. However, perhaps the single most important factor is the change within Turkey itself. This historically secular society has begun - even if modestly - to look at its Islamic heritage as part and parcel of its identity. Perhaps the clearest and most significant reflections of this trend is the Justice and Development Party, known in Turkey as the AKP, or AK Party. Moderately Conservative may be the best way to describe the party's spectrum balance. But perhaps what is most significant is the fact that the AKP withstood a judicial challenge that accused the party of engaging in "anti-secular activities" that contravened the Turkish National Constitution. The case revolved around lifting the ban on the hijab, and the AKP was vindicated when the Turkish High Court could not render a verdict against the party.

The AKP brings a vision of Turkey that is deeply engaged in the Middle East and with its Islamic neighbors. This vital shift has resulted in a re-alignment of regional power. Iraq remains an occupied nation. Saudi Arabia perhaps still wields great regional influence, given its oil wealth and custodianship of the pilgrimage sites, yet the threat of its unholy alliance with Wahhabism and the rise of internal threats to the Monarchy place the Saudis in a precarious situation. Iran meanwhile has emerged as state with likely the largest potential to assert more regional influence. However, the recent UN sanctions and woeful economic state within the Islamic Republic may destabilize Tehran and prove a major obstacle to any serious pretensions to regional hegemony. This puts the recent rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus into an even more interesting light. Syria still maintains serious influence in Lebanon, particularly through its regional proxies (read: Hezbollah). Ankara's increasingly frenetic participation in Middle Eastern affairs is evident by its fuel-swap arrangement with Tehran, and its recent vociferous public condemnation of Israel's brutal response to an international aid flotilla attempting to break the Gaza blockade. The new regional alignment seems to run from Ankara to Damascus and then Tehran. Strange bedfellows in many ways, yet these states will likely hold the helm in Middle Eastern affairs in the emerging decade.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

By the Numbers

Quick hit today. Let's look at some figures for the War in Afghanistan to date:

-Total US cost of the war since 2001: Currently estimated at $272 Billion. This is approximately $2,044 per year per taxpayer since 2001. The administration will be asking Congress to approve a further $59 billion in the coming months. Furthermore, many economists, including Joseph Stieglitz, have projected that the final cost of the war, including humanitarian costs, treatment for wounded soldiers and future outlays for equipment and infrastructure could push the figure near $1.5 trillion. this information was taken largely from the National Priorities Project.

- U.S. Military deaths: As of today have passed 1,000. 630 casualties were recorded for the years 2001-2008. 450 casualties have been recorded from all of 2009 and 2010 to date. this increase has been attributed to the resurgence of the Taliban after a period of retreat and re-organization. Figures obtained from Human Rights Watch and icasualties.org.

- Since 2001, 5,725 U.S. soldiers have been wounded in Afghanistan. Taken from icasualties.org.

- Afghan Civilian Death Toll: Estimated for Afghan civilian deaths vary widely. Reliable statistical data has only been recorded since 2006-2007. In 2009 alone, 2,412 Afghan civilian deaths were recorded. Direct and indirect deaths since 2001 are estimated at between 13,372-32,969. Again, the wide range in estimate is due largely to semi-official nature of the statistical data from the year 2001-2006. Further detail can be retrieved from afghanconflictmonitor.org.

Go in peace my friends . . .

-

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Subject of Cinema

Shortly after the beginning of the war in Iraq, as the insurgency emerged as a serious threat to the American war effort, U.S. military commanders started screening The Battle of Algiers to troops in hopes of shedding some light on understanding and successfully waging a counter-insurgency campaign. Gillo Pontecorvo's classic and controversial film reads like documentary and remains to this day one of the most vital records of the battle between French Colonialism and the Algerian resistance movement, despite the fact that it is a fictional piece. But there is something about film that reaches us on a level that often times no other media can achieve. The combination of sight, sound, time and character - when executed well - has an almost immediate and often indelible impact on both our emotions and intellects.

The French Education Ministry has announced a plan to make some 200 films available online for secondary school students throughout France. While cinema is taught in some of the wealthier, elite high schools in France, the cine-lycee project will make these films available through the Internet to all students in France. The initiative hopes to provide students with not only exposure to France's own brilliant and varied cinematic tradition, but also with access to global cinema and thus a greater global perspective.

I think we should implement similar programs here in the U.S. Hollywood hosts the largest and most globally successful film industry in the world. And while it is mostly the blockbusters, screwball comedies and happy-ending romances that make their way to the local and global cineplexes, our own American cinematic canon contains numerous artists whose influence and vision has left deep footprints in our culture.

Film simultaneously reflects who we are as a society, as well as shed light on the marginal and hidden aspects of our culture and what it may become. Charlie Chaplin's tramp in "Modern Times" examined the comic/tragic anxiety of the modern industrial age; The films of the Cohen brothers shed light on the American obsession for personal power and its consequences; even recent films like "The Hangover" and "Knocked Up" speak to the suspended state of adolescence of the contemporary American man child. And thematic investigations aside, innumerable writers, directors, cinematographers and actors have filled our imaginations with beautiful and unique images that have influenced our language, our visual culture, and even our often unconscious aesthetic values.

And that is just America. Exposure to world cinema can provide our students with intimate and complex portraits of the human condition from anywhere on the globe. It has been said that Americans learn geography only after the U.S. military starts the air war, and CNN shows maps of the war zone on the nightly news. Perhaps cinema can provide an opportunity for our students to learn about the people who inhabit all of those distant and opaque places, and lend a new sensitivity to our global understanding.

In this time of economic struggle, as schools across the nation slash budgets for arts and music education, the French cine-lycee project provides an affordable example of cultural education. Math, science and reading are certainly vital in assuring our continued prosperity, and ultimately survival. However, without understanding expressions of culture, beauty and creativity, what good is prosperity?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Long Goodbye

It was in 1995 that I first heard Wonderwall by Oasis. It was a Rock and Roll road to Damascus moment. I grew up with English pop music, despite growing up 7,000 miles from Albion. My sisters owned (and I inherited) records by New Order, Madness, Depeche Mode, the Smiths. However, as much as I loved those bands, and many others, they always inhabited a place of latent nostalgia and disconnection; what pop music could be, once was, somewhere far away.

Wonderwall was now. Britpop was now. My friend Ryan and I mined the record stores for all the latest imports. Pulp, Blur, Elastica, Suede. The new crop of British bands traded on their quintessential “Englishness,” sometimes with self-conscious derision, often with unabashed cheek. I’m not sure what attracted me to Britpop. Probably no single thing, but I always felt as if American music at the time lacked humor, wit and irony. Nirvana, and grunge generally, was far too solipsistic in its dour lamenting. Britpop exploded with a compelling alchemy of optimism and self-parody, and opened up avenues for the exploration of sexuality, class, and the possibilities of the coming millennium.

There were reasons to be optimistic. The guy in the White House played the sax, and this thing called the internet promised to connect everyone in the great global village. Rave culture was emerging and promised love and spirituality for any who could hitch out to the desert and drop ecstasy. And for the first time in my life, I found a politician to believe in.

Tony Blair was young, dynamic, and seemed to embody the enthusiasm and hope that accelerated “Cool Britannia” into the global mainstream. I knew fuck all about British politics, but who cares? Blair made it a point to bring his Fender to Number 10, and even invited Noel Gallagher to Downing Street for champagne. A strange feeling of excitement and confrontation surrounded the whole thing. Maybe there was nothing left to rebel against, maybe the world was moving in the right direction, and maybe England was at the forefront.

In 1998, Pulp released This is Hardcore. Something had changed. things got darker. I had become immersed in drum and bass, as well as the Bristol sound, Tricky, Massive Attack. As the world moved closer to the millennium, the optimism started to wane. Oasis declared victory in the battle of English rock supremacy, and the lads had triumphed. The music of the Rave culture both in the States and the UK increasingly reflected the darker side of heavy drug use and ill directed liberation. This is Hardcore spoke of regrets, of pain and the attempt to heal while simultaneously facing the possibility of “growing up.” Twilight had arrived. The reign of Cool Britannia passed with a whimper.

America’s first great act of the 21st century was to elect George W. Bush as President. It was clear to me even then, that the dark days were upon us. Of course, I held out some hope - as misguided and unfounded as it may be - in Tony Blair. Britpop had passed into the annals of pop history, but Blair and New Labour remained.

The deathblow came in 2003, when the United States attacked and occupied Iraq, with the Prime Minister standing shoulder to shoulder with our chicken hawk President. I was definitely upset by my country’s decision to go to war, but I also harbored a strangely particular feeling of betrayal and disappointment. Blair? Really? How did this come to pass?

Its seven years on, and today Gordon Brown has resigned the premiership, effectively ending the era of New Labour. Damon Albarn finally crashed America, albeit as a cartoon character, and I can’t imagine David Cameron inviting him to cocktails at Number 10. Britpop occupies that place of nostalgia and disconnection that reminds me of the good old days, and I am still contemplating “growing up.”

I wonder if Nick Clegg ever played the guitar during his University days?
Changes

A quick post to announce some changes to the blog. Obviously, the look and feel has changed. Lately I have been feeling like the "Walking Narcoleptic" moniker is best used for more theory-based presentations and explorations that I have had in mind for some time now, but have gotten pushed to the wayside, because I mostly ended up using the blog space for journalistic/editorial ventures.

Thus, I would like to inaugurate the "new" site, hopefully with an expanded mission and message, and a straightforward presentation and feel.

More to come . . .

Monday, April 19, 2010

Revolution, 2.0

Of course the regime in Iran would blame foreigners for the agitation in the streets. They have to. Sure, they could admit to a modicum of legitimate disharmony after contentious elections, but in Iran appearances are everything.. If the mullahs owned up to the discontented streets, they would appear weak. No, better to scapegoat unknown alien agents from satanic, godless lands.

Yet, maybe the beards had something else on their minds. It isn’t just the agents of infiltration in public spaces. Virtual space has emerged as a new, increasingly dangerous battlefield, a battlefield strewn with the latest weapons of war: Web 2.0, personal communication technologies and internet monitoring software.

Jim Sciutto, having recently returned to Iran writes:

“The protest movement has lost momentum, suffering from a lack of
leadership and exhaustion after ten months of an often brutal crackdown.”

Part of this crackdown has been on information. Social networking technologies like facebook and twitter acted as a force multiplier in emerging protest movement that erupted after the contentious elections of June 2009. It was a cell phone video bearing witness to the murder of Neda Agha-Soltan that gave the movement a tangible human element. And bloggers continue to challenge the Iranian censors and information police to tell their stories to the rest of the world. The regime’s response to these threats has indeed been brutal, as evidenced by the recent death of Omid Reza Misayafi. Omid, a blogger and journalist, was sentenced to two and half years in prison for allegedly insulting religious leaders and engaging in propaganda against the regime. He died on March 18th while serving his sentence in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. Omid was being held with actual convicted criminals, and some believe this may have led to his death. However, if nothing else, Omid’s story - that of a known intellectual expressing his natural right to free speech and being persecuted by a religious tyranny - betrays the boundless audacity of the Iranian government. Furthermore, both the events that shook Iran 10 months ago and the subsequent crackdown on a nascent civil rights movement prove the power of information and the potential for effective organizing through Web 2.0 and related interfacing technologies. If they are shooting at you, it means you’re doing something right, and the mullahs have bloggers and the web in their sights.

Friday, April 16, 2010

No need for toothless allies

A report in Ha'aretz today quotes sources as saying that Hezbollah has acquired SCUD missiles from Syria. These weapons would provide a significant boost in Hezbollah's firepower. In fact, the report says that Israeli officials have suggested that SCUD's could "alter the strategic balance." SCUD's pack significantly more explosive capacity, and greater range, than the Katyusha rockets used extensively by Hezbollah in the 2006 war.

For its part, Syria has denied any such deal and claims that Israeli is manufacturing the story in order to deflect from recent criticisms of its own purported nuclear weapons capabilities.

It makes sense that Syria would provide all the help it can to Hezbollah. The regime of Al-Assad isn't particularly strong, and Hezbollah provides a useful ally, as they can wage a continuous, low-level intensity conflict with Israel. Meanwhile, Syria will align itself with the plight of the South Lebanese and the Palestinians and restate its claims to the Golan Heights. Syria could never hope to confront Israel directly, and by using a non-state proxy Assad gains the ability to influence the conflict and further a Syrian agenda, while simultaneously gaining legitimacy and prestige in terms of Syria's regional profile.

For Israel, the possibility of SCUD missiles in Hezbollah hands is highly problematic. The danger is obvious. However, this may move President Obama to rethink his current strained relationship with Israel and Netanyahu. In as much as Israel plays the role of an American client state, it's security will remain a singular priority, as the U.S. President has stated on numerous occasions. It is no good to have a toothless ally, and increased Hezbollah strategic and military capacity means that the IDF Garrisons must be fully supported.

It bodes badly fore Palestinian aspirations hoping to see a halting of settlement activity in East Jerusalem. If Hezbollah makes moves along the border, Israel will most likely raise the red flag, and while international heads are turned, the settlers will be quietly encouraged to take the backdoor out to the West Bank.

Monday, January 11, 2010

In Solidarity

This post is mostly as a shout out to other Sikhs involved in activism, and those who are not, but may want to reconsider . . .

Amanda, my partner, and I had been dating for a few months. My cousin asked me where we had met. I told him that it was at an activist meeting. I knew going into detail would elicit ridicule. He chortled back, "What? Activist for what?" Derision as veiled as a tiger tooth about to bleed a deer. If I told him it was a meeting of local Pro-Palestinian Rights group, a terminal argument would be set ablaze and I would go blue in the face trying to make someone think it was worth the time.

In retrospect, I wonder . .. Perhaps had I taken a different approach from the beginning. It's just that these days, there are not so many Sikhs that I know who really think much about activism or social justice. Forgive the generality, I know about those wonderful groups out there, mostly students and young professionals, engaged in social and political struggles to ensure not just the rights of Sikhs but others as well. Maybe its just the older generation, my parent's generation, some of whom lived through Partition, and almost all of whom were touched by 1984. Maybe they want to forget, and shield themselves from the fact that when Sikhs enter history, its often bloody and tearful. I don't know.

One thing I do know, Sikhi impels me to act. Our history of political and social struggles mirrors our own internal struggle. Spirituality in Sikhi is not some exoteric 'given,' it must to worked for, cultivated. In working to better ourselves, we must recognize the rights of others to pursue peace and growth and happiness, and this leads to abundant compassion. The martial concept in Sikhism may have sprung from self-preservation, but reached perhaps its spiritual zenith with the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur. He died bravely, with warrior spirit, so that others - non-Sikhs - could know freedom. If Miri-Piri means anything, it means this; going to battle and putting one's own life in the breach, to serve the compassion that flows from spirit. It means knowing that protecting others is self-preservation, as only such a sacrifice can truly honor the teachings of Sikhi and the lives of our Gurus.

One can turn in just about any direction, there is work to be done. Find what resonates with you, whether it is down the street or across the sea. Sewa should be more than helping to serve a meal once a week (though its always good to do that too!). Hopefully, we can recognize that the our own struggle as Sikhs mimics the struggle of so many others on this planet, and in this way, find a path forward together.