Category Archives: Discussion

Dirty Wars (2013)

Jeremy Scahill gets out of the tank and walks with the locals 

Richard Rowley makes a good documentary – well shot, well narrated,  good storytelling – but there was something that kept nagging me throughout the showing. I finally put my finger on it near the end, when Jeremy Scahill was going over his revelations, his horror at how largely evil the world has become in the last 10 years. I remember being a bit of a smug huff at his crawling out of a tank in Afghanistan to explore the surroundings on his own, his anguish in facing a “boring” life back in Park Slope, all pretty normal for a documentary. Even the bloodied Somali corpses as props for Scahill to express appropriate disgust and horror is pretty par for course in an American documentary against an imperial backdrop. But what really had me was – really? What’s changed? Targeted assassinations,  kill lists, death squads, shadow proxy wars.. none of this is particularly new. Not even the part about extrajudically killing American citizens, either at home or abroad. I even asked the question to the panel at the end, maybe is the change something to do with the executive branch having more concentrated power? But this question was glazed over. Instead, we learn about how Scahill’s book (available for purchase by the concession stand) and this documentary were “piercing the veil” and how the New York Times calls it “riveting”. At one point, it was even compared to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was also credited with starting the Civil War, which is not only strange but a weird way of reading history.

But then, the scope was rather small. Even though the film describes 75 countries as suffering JSOC invasions and drone strikes, we are only presented with the theaters we understand a bit about already: Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. It was strange to me how Pakistan – being the main focus of these attacks – was somehow left out of the story. But either way, we are given “Islamic terrorism” and “drug cartels” as being the main reasons behind these attacks, with no broader scope as to the United State’s geopolitical and strategic capital interests. We get the feeling from the film that America needs to be doing something about these terrorist Muslims and drug lords, but perhaps it could be in a more humane way. After all, there is no dialectical relationship between the Taliban and the women and children slaughtered by Hellfire missiles. The link cannot exist because then we must see it also exists between Scahill, the Hellfire missiles being used to kill, and ourselves safe and sound in the IFC theater.

The finest part of the film is where a Somali general tells Scahill how Americans are the “masters of war” and “great teachers”. But the point is given in such a way where Americans watching have the chance to immediately settle back into the comfortable dichotomy of the Taliban vs. innocent Afghanis. Black and white, good guys and bad guys. No relationship, no history, just the sort of hogwash George Bush would hoot about on the radio. After all, we too must scramble to separate ourselves from responsibility. We too must be able, as Americans, to separate ourselves from our government – after all, we voted for Kerry in 2004 and did our part. In this film, there is no dialectical relationship between the people and power.  Surely there can be no connection between our relatively comfortable lives in the United States and children born without limbs in Fallujah – otherwise we really could do something about the violence done in our names.

It was a good documentary, as I said. It’s important that people know what’s going on, how the United States’s endless lust for war affects human beings all over the world. However it should not be understood as “groundbreaking” or something that will change the tide of politics forever in this country. Whipping out my checkbook or signing a petition is not going to stop America’s ravenous appetite for blood and gold. These sorts of things have always happened in American history, maybe not with so much executive power and technological gadgets, but the idea has remained the same for hundreds of years. The question elicited from the film shouldn’t be “what can I do?” but rather, “how does this happen?” Once we understand how the machine works, we can properly throw a wrench in the gears.

The other questions during the Q&A session were mainly concerned with calls to action, what is it that we can do? The questions sounded rather like the “we” meant a crowd of individuals as opposed to “we” the people. They brought up a journalist jailed in Yemen, petitions for his release as he was arrested while covering this story. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, as well-off citizens nestled on the island of Manhattan, is there nothing more you can do than sign a petition? On your own? I guess not. In the theater, many of those watching the horrific catalog of violence wrecked by the American government probably voted for Barack Obama, the man whose voice on the phone actually demanded the Yemeni journalist’s imprisonment, the man whose order slaughters thousands of unnamed innocents. The viewer does not trust their own ability because she is limited by their view of the world where all one can do is sign a petition and vote the lesser of two villainous warmongers.

left that way is a dead end: a case study in palestine

If history is the alchemy of theory, then communists turned gold into lead in Palestine. When I first arrived in 2009, I was one of those hand-wringing well-meaning comrades who shed tears over the absence of a progressive political left in Palestine. No doubt, there exists in Palestine some of the strongest and bravest leftists in the region, but their work is for naught and their books (printed with French, German, and Canadian money) get used to warm hovels in Askar refugee camp. They are at best tolerated and called in from time to time to answer questions on economy. When the Soviet money dried up, the network of civil supporters did as well, until all that was left were empty storefronts and the staff had moved on to NGOs and ideologies that would catch the foreign dollar, euro, or dinar.

Like most other ideas – democracy, liberal rights fantasies, Wahhabism, western civic models, and open markets – communism was thrown into the trash heap in Palestine because it was presented in an unrealistic and condescending way. Leftists crouched around telefaxes worrying “No, you’re doing it wrong! You need to… There needs to be… This theory is really…” while Israel continued to pummel their neighborhoods. Such disregard was given to the situation on the ground, to the realities of the society, that after the militant wing died down the people themselves shrugged off the theories and put all their efforts into courting money and robbing the donors blind. A handful remained to churn out honest work, but their romance with how “they” did it seemed to only further alienate their efforts.

After all, what does the left really have to offer Palestine save money and a few PFLP t-shirts? Obviously not their unwavering support. The condescending insistence on ideological purity puts leftist organizations in the same boat as USAID. There’s nothing wrong, I suppose, in offering money with ideological strings attached – a business transaction obviously! – but don’t for a second try and fool yourself into assuming you’re helping. Own up to the fact you’re settling the hearts and minds as much as Israelis are.

A prominent leftist organization recently cut funding to civil society NGOs, insisting that their strategy had changed from promoting a “culture of dependence” through NGOs to funding political parties directly, thereby cutting out the middle man (the citizen) I assume! It is, of course, much easier to inject a political program directly into a certain class of people rather than to everyone. And how late the left is to this game! After all, the cafes and imported cars already promote a kind of politik and the imams living the high life in Masyoon can promote yet another. Now, 10 years too late, is when the left decides to try and resuscitate the leftist parties – at least, the ones that are allowed to exist by the powers that be.

Indeed, the left has spent so much time cozying up to the powers that be that no one takes them seriously anymore. With the dissolution of the Soviet paycheck, those left in the cold were simply begging to be invited to summits and dinners and willing to throw just about anything away for inclusion.

So where does this mentality come from? Look no further than the left of today, whether it be Kadima and its JStreet front, the progressives left holding the bag after the election of Obama, or the ineffectual and laughable socialist/communist parties of Europe.

24. While communists have no truck with Zionism and condemn the colonial-settler origins of Israel, we recognise that over the last 50 or 60 years a definite Israeli Jewish nation has come into existence. To call for its abolition is unMarxist. Such a programme is either naive utopianism or genocidal. Both are reactionary. The Israeli Jewish nation is historically constituted. The Israeli Jews speak the same language, inhabit the same territory, have the same culture and sense of identity.

25. The Palestinian national movement has been sustained only because of the existence of and its relationship with the wider Arab nation. Solving the Israel-Palestine question requires a combined Arab and proletarian solution. Communism and nationalism are antithetical. Nevertheless we champion the right of all oppressed nations to self-determination. In the conditions of Israel/Palestine that means supporting the right of the Palestinians where they form a clear majority to form their own state. Such a state is only realistic with a working class-led Arab revolution.

from CPGB Theses on “The Arab Awakening and Israel-Palestine

What fiery words to galvanize the youth of Palestine into direct unified action!

27. The immediate call for a single Palestinian state, within which the Jewish Israeli nationality is given citizenship and religious, but not national rights, is in present circumstances to perpetuate division. Israeli Jews will not accept such a solution – the whole of the 20th century since 1933 militates against that. There is moreover the distinct danger that the poles of oppression would be reversed if such a programme were ever to be put into practice. In all likelihood it would have to involve military conquest. The call for a single-state solution is therefore impractical – Israel is the strong nation – and, more than that, reactionary, anti-working class and profoundly anti-socialist. Liberation and socialism must come from below. It cannot be imposed from the outside.

The thrust of this position is that only a unified working class revolution can solve the problems in the Middle East, and that until then the Palestinians will be left sitting in bulldozed houses. And God forbid they actually achieve a single state solution wherein their Jewish settler neighbors suddenly face a dearth of privilege, where they may in fact be tossed to the curb by the living, rightful inhabitants of the homes they have settled in!

Really, arguing this kind of thing is tedious and only engages those arguing, while those who are left in prison and at checkpoints tap their feet. When the people’s revolution fails to materialize, the leftists snap: “Weren’t you listening? Weren’t you reading your Marx?” Those gross intellectuals abroad typing up policy papers and party positions were the vanguard, why weren’t you jumping to attention? Where are the actual homegrown progressives? Well, if it doesn’t smell like a communist or walk like a communist, I’m not gonna call it a communist!

Beware to those who moan about the rise of “Islamic fundamentalism” in such places! When your books and papers and groups can’t provide the soup, childcare, medical attention, and social services that those caught up in the “barbarity” of Islam can provide, you have a problem. Is there no one to work with, no one to attend your meetings? A Western leftist (centrist! rightist!) is not going to find the “partner” he wants in Palestine – the partner that looks, acts, and talks like he does – unless he molds a group to his pleasure. Rather than work within the parameters offered, rather than ask the Palestinians what they need, or worse – ask them how they think liberation should be achieved, the Westerner wants to dress up a few students and put money in their hands. They perch on a party and gain privilege over the party’s constituents by pumping money into party leaders.

I spoke with aid workers who lamented the state of things – how they had to pay for supporters, offer food or transportation to people in return for participation in their programs. Why would no one take initiative and make sacrifices? A somber walk through the old city of Nablus looking at martyr posters shows such people exist.. or at least once did. They did not die for foreign money, not for the pleasure of foreign political parties, not for a unified Arab proletariat and not for Karl Marx. They died for the people, their land, their memories, and their pride. Forcing people into contortions to fit your mold of “leftist progressive worth supporting” insults this.

I’m not Palestinian nor am I personally affected by this conflict past my experiences, but I have some suggestions for Western leftists who want to call themselves supporters of Palestine:

1. Stay close to the core truths of the conflict. There already is a one-state entity in Palestine and Israel and it is called al-Ihtilel (the occupation). It is racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, imperialist, and reactionary. Do not deviate from this core truth and do not delude yourselves. Visit if you can, and if you cannot, take it from someone who’s been there or who is from there.

2. Support the people. Do leftists really need this lecture? Support the people. Support the people. If the people pray, support them. If the people throw rocks, support them. If the people oppress one another due to colonialism, do not think it is out of “barbarity” or inherent fault with the people and their traditions. It is more possible to fix the ills of social society by supporting the society rather than by shoving your morals down their throats with a spoonful of money to help it go down easier.

3. They do not trust you. You are not their comrade unless you are taking orders from the people. They are not your partners and you will never be on equal footing with them. You do not know the situation. You do not know Arabic. You do not have the right to pretend you know anything more more than the faces on the martyr posters. They are the ones to make the sacrifices, so let them decide what is worth making sacrifices for.

If leftists passionate about the Palestinian cause were as passionate about their own situations in their home countries, there might be change faster than you think. The I/P conflict does not exist in a bubble, it is the result of policies and attitudes worldwide that have nothing to do with the Palestinians… and if you call yourself a leftist this should be clear as day. Accepting that you have little to nothing to do with the Palestinian solution to the occupation (and it is coming) will give you leave to address the attitudes and policies in your own society that contribute to the occupation of Palestine and elsewhere. Involving yourself with what Arabs or Palestinians or Israelis “should do” is a misdirection of your efforts and borderline chauvinistic.

Just as the Palestinians are the winners and inheritors of their own liberation, so too are we responsible for what happens in our own communities. Your position should be to support the liberation and self-determination of oppressed people worldwide, but you should start with what you know best and among people you are affiliated with. Stop planning and criticizing action or positions abroad when you first need to take the log out of your own eye to see anything clearly.

how much tighter does the noose get?

The Debt Ceiling charade was perfect. No need for actual “shock” anymore, just create something. It doesn’t even have to be swallowed by the people, just make it convincing enough to put on television. Tie them up and cover their eyes and yell that a train is coming so they fork over their wallets without much of a fight.

My mother is divorced. Her retirement account was shot up during the last market crash and she is 62 years old. She makes $50,000 per year as a professor teaching college-level writing to students who think “Afghanistanian” is a word. She can’t sell her house because  three houses on her street are in foreclosure and the shoddiness of the property – built as an asset to be swapped out every five years instead of being built as a home – needs leaks fixed, flooring replaced, etc. The next housing bubble is coming in 2012 as the short-term fix to the ARM schemes phase out and interest rates get jacked up again, and her house will once again be worth less. As entitlement plans get hoisted up to be sacrificed on the alter of austerity, the blood of seniors fueling more wealth accumulation at the top 1%, even her modest social security check – $16,000 per year – will be in danger. Healthcare costs continue to rise, and it’s possible my mother might not be able to afford to live as long as her parents did.

I’m 26 years old and I’ve never made more than $25,000 per year – and that peak was in 2007. I’m over $30,000 in debt for school and don’t have health insurance. Since I’ve been able to vote, I’ve seen a number of local and national elections stolen. I was lucky enough to be accepted into a good school overseas for a Masters program, but there is no assurance that my education will land me a job – especially in this economy. It’s a gamble, and my debt will grow. I’m at the age to start considering a family, but who can afford a family nowadays? Two screaming kids, two working parents, a shot-up education system, etc. The prognosis for my generation is grim. The possibilities for any kind of youth action to take back our government are few. I am disenfranchised. I can holler to my corner of the world in a blog online, but what good does that do us? We vent our frustrations but find no solace in it, no succor in complaining.

Yet I have it easy! I have it good! What of those who work in the fields without documents, those who work two jobs in a single parent household, those who are ill and hungry?

Soto is paralyzed from the shoulders down but does not let that keep her from doing advocacy work for people with disabilities at a Los Angeles independent living center. Using her mouth, she can operate a computer trackball and type numbers into a phone with a Popsicle stick. Several times a week, an aide helps her into an electric wheelchair so she can take the train to work.

Most of the $800 she earns a month goes toward work expenses, including paying someone to feed her lunch. She has relied on $723 a month in SSI to cover rent and utilities. In July, the state reduced its portion of the grant for single beneficiaries like Soto to the federal minimum, shaving $15 from her income.

The same month, the state began charging Medi-Cal beneficiaries copayments of $5 for prescriptions, $50 for emergency room visits and up to $200 for hospital stays. Soto has five prescriptions and went to the hospital four times last year. “That can really add up,” she said.

But the cuts that worry her most are those to the In-Home Supportive Services program, which is paying for about nine hours of care a day. The two women who have been assisting Soto for more than a decade have told her they will have to look for other jobs if their hours are cut again. Without them, she fears she would have to go into a nursing home.

“Oh, my gosh. That’s no way to live,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to continue working. I would lose my quality of life…. I think I would rather just die.”

– LA Times

When did America start thinking like Israel? Since when did we decide the most important thing was just making it as far as tomorrow? Was it Reagan and his talk of rapture coming? Will Jesus descend and wipe away our debts and oil spills?

Does anyone have any ideas? There’s a movement from Adbusters of all places to occupy Wall St. on September 17th. Yet Wall St. is more fortified than the White House nowadays. The rich of this Gilded Age are isolated and live in jets and fortresses. They don’t just hire security – they hire media firms and think tanks and create a culture of docile security. Our prisons are overflowing and our heads are empty. We elected a man who ran on “change” and he delivered us more of the same but in the way of a grotesque pornographic minstrel show for the rich. Do we see how tight the noose gets before we start thinking how to get out of this? I’ve been toying with ideas around grassroots democracy at local levels, community (re)building on small scales as the Great American Federal Age fades to a fiery sunset. Youth empowerment, that sort of thing. There needs to be a foundation of civil society for that to work, though, and I fear it’s all been shot to hell by secular self-medicated psychiatry. At least, this is what my mother tells me as she grades papers. It’s what I see in the educated, unemployed, and going-nowheres, the depressed and dejected activists who had to move back home. So, seriously… does anyone have any ideas?

the white convert to Islam

All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.

The Prophet Muhammad, 632 ACE

Despite these famous and remarkable words, in today’s world there is an interest and fetishization of white converts to Islam, especially females. Whether plastered on tabloids such as Lauren Booth or Yvonne Ridley or admired among progressives such as Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) or Shks. Hamza Yusuf and Suhaib Webb, there seems a particular fascination with Muslim converts from white, western backgrounds. This interest is particularly white nationalist in nature, whether positive or negative. White female converts are often exposed to soft accusations of “race traitor” or painted as unstable, recovering from trauma, while male white converts are propped up as “ideal” Muslims for conducting East-West and interfaith dialogue.

Amazingly, the clip above is translated into Arabic and presumably used for dawa (outreach) purposes. Yet the language is laden with prejudices, asking “why” she would convert when she “had it all” – assuming they mean she is white and from a middle-upper class family, beautiful, etc and so why would she choose to convert from this background.

Female converts such as Lauren Booth and Yvonne Ridley are often mentioned as being former alcoholics, Muslim sympathizers, and women without successful love lives. A common assumption within the white community is that these women have met Muslim men and converted only half-willingly, recalling the dizzying spectre of miscegenation which is still an issue both in the Muslim world and in the West – but only when power positions between “races” are assumed to be unfavorable.

On the other hand, male convert figures such as Yusuf Islam, Hamza Yusuf, and Suhaib Webb are singled out to act as bridges between their “new” identities and their former communities. Sheikh Hamza Yusuf acted as advisor to former USA President Bush’s administration and co-founded the “first American madrassa” in California (Zaytuna Institute) while  Sheikh Suhaib Webb is involved with dawa initiatives throughout the United States and runs a wildly popular blog with hundreds of thousands of readers. Besides a hiccup involving the Salman Rushdie scandal in the 1980’s, Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) has been considered an icon of moderate and peaceful Islam, quick to speak out against “Islamic” violence. These men, as white converts, are presented in their work and through the Western media as voices of reason in otherwise “unreasonable” Islamic scholarship.

These presentations of white converts to Islam implies a continued obsession with white nationalism and male patriarchy in the Western countries, but also belies a racial or cultural complex within the Muslim world as well. While white converts from the West certainly have contributions to make to the multicultural-linguistic-racial fabric that is a global community of Muslims, we must take care that they are not being valued for the wrong reasons, as tokens or warnings as such. This is not to say that white western converts have not contributed mightily to the Muslim world. Indeed, Shkhs. Yusuf and Webb are accredited and intelligent scholars of Islam and have helped countless Muslims in the West navigate between worlds. Yet when a white convert – no matter their fame or activism – is asked to discuss matters of Islamic jurisprudence or culture simply because of their skin color or cultural/national background, we must be wary that we are not appropriating or emulating white nationalist motivations. Perhaps a scholar would better answer questions or deliver talks rather than someone who can “speak the language” of the West.

There is no doubt that cross-cultural and interfaith dialogue should take place, but we should choose those who are most qualified rather than who looks the best in front of a camera. Likewise, there should be a serious scholarly examination of the hysteria surrounding the media portrayal of female white converts to Islam.

A Muslim is first and foremost a Muslim, and generally Muslim converts will understand this fact well. I would be interested to see if there are any scholarly papers or serious articles addressing this cross-cultural phenomenon of “the white convert to Islam”.

yad vashem

I never liked being tickled as a child. Someone was eliciting a response from me that was not 100% genuine and was completely beyond my control. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized this happened all the time. When you walk out of a movie crying, you’re feeling something completely manufactured and often cheap. I didn’t like horror movies because it seemed so manipulative. I enjoy film and music that makes me feel something, but I prefer to have control over my emotion. A song might make me feel happy and think of a loved one, or a film might fill me with a kind of dread that I can reflect on in my own life. I hated Passion of the Christ because it took a story so integral to the Western experience – the story of Jesus of Nazareth being crucified – and turned it into a cheap kind of horror film. Without exploring the messages behind Jesus’s life or feeling the impact of the sacrifice (according to Christianity) we were simply disgusted and horrified by CGI chunks of flesh flying off the Roman’s cat-o-nine tails and the seemingly endless rivers of blood pouring down the face of Jesus. It’s like pornography, I thought. I’m just supposed to be feeling something… not for any reason, not to change my mind about something, but just to feel something. I felt like using Jesus as the vehicle for this kind of elicitation was cheap. After all, the Christian story of Jesus is so deep, so laden in mystery and humanity, that to boil it down to weeping audience members, vomiting children… it all seemed so besides the point.

Likewise, when I visited Yad Vashem yesterday I felt that since the presentation of the Holocaust was so manipulated, I should be as critical as possible to do honor to the subject. Nevermind the fact I was aware of the political situation outside of the walls and had just come from a checkpoint with automatic weapons, barbed wire, and endless swaths of concrete. Nothing can compare to the horrifying nature of the Holocaust, as man’s technology finally advanced to the point where we could make killing factories and machines, an entire mechanized industry out of eradicating human life mirroring some sort of industrialized assembly line. Yet what am I supposed to feel when I am walking through Yad Vashem?

The building itself is remarkable – poured concrete and little light – and the exhibits are created so one is forced to step back and look up. Your first introduction to the story is antisemitism. Christianity is blamed for its spiritual creation – complete with quotes from St. Augustine – and its biological and racial roots are traced to the 19th century. We are then told in brief and in passing that Nazi antisemitism was somewhat of an economic thing, that the Europeans were jealous of the Jewish people’s accumulated wealth in a time of poverty. This is the end of explanation and by the time you exit the first room of the museum there is no more explanation necessary and you are instead launched into an orgy of emotion.

When we look at locks of a little girl’s hair, of toothbrushes, family heirlooms, tefillin, and shoes in the floor, what is it we are supposed to feel? Miniature pewter models of death camps Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek… plaster models of the gas chambers at Auschwitz complete with writhing bodies suffocating in agony. Here: stand next to a bunk or walk on cobblestones from the Warsaw ghetto. How does this make you feel? Is it not enough? Perhaps photographs of naked women huddled before a pit of bodies, a wide eyed man sitting on the edge of a pit with a gun to his head. The video display of an old woman describing in broken Hebrew her experience clawing through dead bodies after the bullet missed her. The culmination is a red-cheeked fat American woman sitting down and shouting to her companions that she is going to be sick.

So you’ve elicited the response, now what? Besides the lack of the word “Palestine” anywhere in the Museum, the only outwardly Zionist gesture comes at the end, when you are standing before the placid hills of West Jerusalem, the sun setting behind them in a wonderful way. Perhaps the motive is in the glorification of Jewish resistance fighters near the end, the rehabilitation of the “sheep to the slaughter” image you might have cultivated until this point. Who knows what it is? I walked through taking notes as photography was not allowed, but even I had to put away my notebook eventually as the bile rose in my throat and my cheeks burned pink.

Yet I felt silly. After all, little of this had anything to do with me. That American woman feeling faint and needing to sit down – chances are it had little to nothing to do with her either. Guides took through their American charges, whispering in low tones, “You know, I heard this one story about a man in America who realized he was living next to a Nazi.. did you know Europe and America took in Nazis?”

No one can deny the scale. No one can deny the uniqueness of the Holocaust. Yet the stated cause behind it – the racial motivations of the Nazi party as opposed to capital, war, etc… the thinking part is shelved and the emotional part is coaxed out instead. If the goal is to “never forget” – well, who would be in Israel and forget the Holocaust? If it is a memorial to the victims and their humanity, why the photographs of naked children in medical experiments? So then why Yad Vashem, why in Jerusalem, why such a presentation and display? It was a strange museum to human evil and yet offered little in the way of solutions or even reconciliation. The only real emotions to be felt there were anger and burning shame.

The mass nature of wartime death is useful in many ways. It serves as a spectacle, as diversion from the real movements of the War. It provides raw material to be recorded into History, so that children may be taught History as sequences of violence, battle after battle, and be more prepared for the adult world. Best of all, mass death’s a stimulus to just ordinary folks, little fellows, to try ‘n’ grab a piece of that Pie while they’re still here to gobble it up. The true war is a celebration of markets.

– Thomas Pynchon

Fitrah – part 1.

Fitrah ( فطرة) is an Arabic word meaning nature, disposition, instinct. The root of the word is f-T-r, forming the verbal nouns fatrun, meaning to split, cleave, rend, and fatarahu, meaning “he created it”. According to Islam, all human beings are born with fitrah, as are animals and even non-animate things. Everything has a fitrah, and this fitrah is in perfect obedience to God’s will. This is why in Islamic theology all animals, plants, and earthly objects (such as mountains) are Muslim. A human being is “born Muslim”. Since the word muslim comes from the root S-L-M, meaning to submit, something that does not have the notion of free will can do nothing but submit to its inherent nature, it’s fitrah – and by logical extension, God.

What I seek to explore is the commonalities between creation stories and the nature of evil as it relates to fitrah. All creation stories begin the same way, with a human being’s movement away from fitrah and towards “human-ness”, thereby being subjected to evil and the curse of toil. This is not simply referring to creation stories of a religious nature – though they are included. However, the picture that Chris Harman paints in his creation story included at the beginning of “A People’s History of the World” is incredibly similar to man’s fall from grace in the garden. After roaming the earth for 100,000 years and living in balance with the elements, human beings settled down and began subsistence farming. What followed was the creation of capital, a sharp spike in human population growth and development, formulation of religion, global warming, and the atom bomb.

Jordan Peterson argues that evil (a purely human phenomenon) is as a result of humanity’s distance from God – rather, their exercise of “free will” – or perhaps a lack of fitrah which causes humanity’s decline. After all, who are we to say that going to the moon is worth the kind of wholesale slaughter of innocents that pushed technological advancement along? As we stand at the 21st century, as the West mainly forgets the bloody century that birthed our current situation, the crushing of communism and the enslavement of billions under a standardization of economics, politics, culture, and means of communication under globalization, a new method of standardization must be discovered to counteract this procedure.

Communism, a method attempted mainly in the last century, took the world by storm and was the pinnacle of human achievement thus far. Billions of people rallied under the banner of communism and shot themselves into space without the same brutal methods that were required of capitalism to achieve the same end. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, and classism were addressed in a serious way. Egalitarianism in many cases was little more than a slogan – yet, it was still a goal. However, communism failed to adequately challenge Capital and as a result, failed in its initial efforts less than 100 years after the creation of the Soviet Union.

Harman’s thesis is that the creation of Capital led to the major human miseries and achievements of history. Yet, the focus on economics and Capital as the source of human misery may have been short-sighted. Perhaps we should examine how our lack of fitrah, that which set us apart from the apes of the earth, has delivered us into such a position. War, poverty, famine, global warming, and the atom bomb are symptoms of a disease. Without treating the root cause of these problems, humanity will continue to suffer the symptoms.

Ramallah Syndrome

– Munir:
I wrote an article about Ramallah and Gaza. I said: Gaza is being destroyed form outside and the main tool is the Israeli army, Ramallah is being destroyed from the inside, and the main tool is the World Bank – which is the consumption. The consumption pattern is really getting inside of us, our thinking and our perceptions; and our relationships etc. are decided totally by this pattern.

All the talk about Gaza is about how can we ruin it from the inside. The idea of ‘help’ and paying money and reconstruction and so on, is actually to finish Gaza from the inside. As long as the destruction is only from the outside, Gaza is safe. Ramallah is not safe. Because on the outside it looks like everything is fine and everything is flourishing, so I feel… development projects change the city in ways that are much worse than sometimes destroying a few buildings here and there.

I want to say something about the word resistance. When an army invades you resist the army. When consumption invades you resist consumption. Ramallah is not resisting consumption.

– Manal:
What do you mean by consumption?

– Munir:
The number of workshops in Ramallah is consumption beyond belief, for example. Another one is the rise of the banks – Ramallah it is becoming the hub…

– Manal:
This is happening everywhere…!

– Munir:
We have to resist the pattern of living is being imposed on us but very sweetly … but this is how the world has been conquered.

– Manal:
I see consumption everywhere, not only in Ramallah. It’s the mentality of societies everywhere. In Damascus – an unoccupied place – consumption is everywhere. It is a world plan. I want you not to just collect the issues and see them in Ramallah…don’t just condense everything in Ramallah.

– Nasser:
But what’s interesting in Ramallah, what’s specific about it, is that the creation of a regime of consumption is precisely linked to the occupation by army Munir was talking about. Actually there is not such a split between occupation through consumption and occupation through army, they are two intertwined and interlinked things. It is about the creation of new subjectivities, people think differently, you are reconstituting subjects, reconfiguring people…the radicality of the situation here positions this in a much wider process of fragmentation and bantustanization; it means that here consumption cannot be separated from the colonial regime.

[Extracts from conversation No. 5]

I saw the first sign at Snobar and the second one today at Prontos. “Who is Celebrating Ramallah?” today’s sign asks. The signs are only in English and seem to be geared towards the audience of expats or those blessed to know today’s global lingua franca. I met with a friend in Jerusalem yesterday who is going north to watch checkpoints with EAPPI for a while. She just couldn’t believe what I was telling her about Ramallah. Wait’ll you see, I told her. Wait’ll you see. I tried to find out more about “Ramallah Syndrome”, and though the signs are new, their website hasn’t been updated in nearly a year. It’s delightfully surreal because I feel like I’ve been talking to a brick wall the whole time I’ve been in this city. These signs sit on walls like angels on my shoulders. If anyone knows where I can find them, please let me know.