The party goes global...

Free counters!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Uzee's speech

Below is a speech by Uzma Aslam Khan, which she wrote for the Day of Resistance rally here in Honolulu last week. I thought it was a pretty good speech and deserved to be more widely heard, so here it is. You can also find it and her other writings at .

"In 1977, native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko wrote a book called CEREMONY. This is a quote from the book, in which a World War II veteran is reflecting on why he cannot explain the war to an elder of his tribe:

"‘In the old ways of warfare, you couldn’t kill another human being in battle without knowing it, without seeing the result. But the old man would not have believed white warfare – killing across great distances without knowing who or how many had died. It was all too alien to comprehend, the mortars and big guns; and even if he could have taken the old man to see the target areas, even if he could have led him through the craters of torn earth to show him the dead, the old man would not have believed anything so monstrous.’

"Killing across great distances without knowing who or how many had died. Silko was speaking about a war sixty years ago. Now we have become so used to this kind of warfare that killing across great distances without knowing who or how many have died is perfectly ordinary. Neither US presidential candidate has indicated anything other than a complete endorsement of continuing with such killing. One of them may want an end to the war in Iraq, but he has said repeatedly that he believes in shifting the war to Pakistan ‘to get Al Qaida’, as if Al Qaida rests on the shoulders of 160 million Pakistanis. It does not. And if 160 million Pakistanis fail to find and hand over the bogey man Al Qaida, he has threatened repeatedly to take ‘direct action,’ including direct military action. When this action is taken – it is not a question of if this action is taken but when – whether by McCain or Obama, it will be yet more killing across great distances without you knowing who or how many have died.

"I would like you to know the cost of this war to Pakistan so far.

"Since 2001, the Bush administration has regularly been launching missile strikes across the Afghan border and into Pakistan. This particular year, this election year, the US strikes in Pakistan have increased alarmingly. There was one just yesterday. Eleven people died. As with all the other strikes, this one was ostensibly to take out a Taliban leader, but the leader got away, while innocent people died. The American missile strike in Pakistan last month killed 23 innocent men, women, and children. Between August 23 and October 10, at least eleven missile strikes killed more than a hundred people. This is according to Fox News, by the way. So if Fox can acknowledge it, the numbers must be even higher. This is in addition to the thirteen people killed on January 29. The twelve people killed on February 28. The eighteen people killed on March 17. The twelve killed on May 14. The eleven killed on June 10. And the numerous faceless, uncounted others killed this year, because as I’m sure you know, this is only a very partial list.

"Aside from the bombing of villages and the killing of innocent civilians, there are other ways in which this war is ruining the lives of ordinary people you are not meant to see. It is estimated that around 5,000 Pakistanis suspected of being 'terrorists' have been illegally detained in military torture cells both inside and outside the country. Any one in Pakistan will tell you that most of those who've disappeared have nothing to do with Al Qaida. They are being held either for no reason other than as evidence of 'peformance' for the US Empire, or because they threaten the internal interests of Pakistan’s rulers.­ Most of those who’ve been illegally detained come from poor, rural areas that are rich in natural resources, particularly in minerals and natural gas. Among those who’ve gone missing are journalists, poets, political activists and their families, and students and their families. Only 200 have been taken to court. None are proven terrorists. A few are released: all tell horrific stories of torture.

"What happens when you routinely see US drones flying over your home and watch entire villages being bombed and your families killed and your siblings kidnapped and tortured?

"Well, when I left Pakistan a few months ago, I knew peace-loving folks who didn’t even know any Taliban but who were beginning to gradually and grudgingly suppport them. That is in the cities. In the rural areas, more and more young angry men and women are taking up arms. Many of them had never even held a gun till the US ‘war on terror’ began. As one Pakistani recently put it. "This is the biggest gift of George Bush to al-Qaida." A country that as a child I knew as ethnically and intellectually dynamic, spirited and for the most part, peace-loving, now has a suicide-bombing just about every day, resulting in more deaths in Pakistan this year than in Afghanistan or Iraq. There were no suicide bombings in Pakistan till this war began.

"If we want change, shifting the war to Pakistan is not going to accomplish it. Peaceful, democratic, secular, tolerant societies never grew from intimidation, missile strikes, kidnappings, torture. Change will only come when the United States acknowledges who and how many Iraqis, Afghans and Pakistanis it has killed since this war began and commits itself to engaging with our countries as partners not targets."

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pats move to 5-2

Even without Tom Brady, the New England Patriots moved to 5-2 yesterday with a squeaky win over the Rams. Woo-hoo! Interim quarterback Matt Cassell is doing okay, third-string running backs are doing their best, the defense is bending without breaking. Next week come the hard-luck Colts, so let's see what happens. But seven weeks after Brady went down for the season, the team is rising to the challenge better than I had expected.

For what it's worth, I had predicted a 10-6 season and a first round exit in the playoffs. That could still happen but, this assessment now seems a little harsh. Given the relatively easy schedule down the road, 11-5 or even 12-4 seems possible.

Of course, this season, everything is going bonkers, so who knows. My original picks for Super Bowl XLIII (after Brady got hurt) were Dallas and Pittsburgh, which is looking increasingly unlikely, at least insofar as Dallas goes. Pittsburgh, hmm, maybe...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Remakes and Retreads

I've been watching a lot of old sci-fi movies lately. (Actually, that's not strictly true. I watch a lot of old sci-fi movies more or less all the time.) For a while now time I've been watching reakes of old classics from the '50s--The Thing From Another World (1951) remade as The Thing (1982), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) remade in 1978 and 1993 and 2007, It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958) remade as Alien (1979), Earth Vs the Flying Saucers (1956) remade as Independence Day (1996), and The Fly (1958) remade in 1986. There are plenty of others--The Blob, attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Cat People, War of the Worlds, and on and on.

Now they've redone one of the absolute landmarks, The Day the Earth Stood Still, from 1951. It's due out in December and stars--agggghhh!--Keanue Reeves, of all people.

I'm not opposed to remakes on principle--astute readers will notice that, for my first three books, remakes are pretty much what I did. But when watching the new movies, a number of ideas come to mind. Apart from obvious improvements in technology and technique, it's interesting to see how the conception of characters has advanced. For example, the role of women in most of the 1950s versions was laughable, and non-whites was nonexistent. Women were, in general, wives and secretaries and not much else; blacks and other minorities were absent. In the remakes, you would think, things would have gotten somewhat more interesting. Right?...

Well, for non-whites, the answer is yes, at least some of the time. Alien featured a black ship's engineer, Independence Day has Will Smith as a fighter pilot who saves humanity, The Thing features a couple of black characters who are as integral to the plot as anyone else. The outlook for women, though, is more problematic. Yes, Ripley in Alien is the classic icon of a powerful woman who overcomes odds, keeps a cool head, uses her brains to outwit a threat that kills everyone else. Fine. But Independence Day features three women, one of whom is a stripper who stands by her man, while another fails to stand by her man and dies, and the third has left her man but returns to him (and so doesn't die). The men, meanwhile, solve the mystery of the alien ships, figure out their weakness, destroy them and save humanity, while the girls look on. It's a lot like the 1950s.

1982's Cat People is, if anything, even worse than the original, in which the central female character dies because she can't control her animal nature; in the newer version, Nastassia Kinski is tied up and ravished, then locked in a cage as a panther and patted on the head by the guy who put her there. Ouch. The remake of The Thing eliminated women from the story altogether (there was a fairly interesting character in the 1951 version), and Spielberg's War of the Worlds did virtually the same (women are onscreen for something like 6 minutes of a 110-minute film).

I haven't seen the 2007 version of Body Snatchers yet (called The Invasion), but I'm curious to see what they've done with it. The 1978 version had a couple of reasonably interesting and thoughtful women characters, although Donald Sutherland was pretty much the center of the movie. The new version stars Nicole Kidman, who's been trying to be taken seriously as an actress ever since The Hours. So let's see what this one looks like.

And Keanu? As Klaatu? We'll see. The earth standing still indeed...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Susan Nathan

Last night I heard a talk given by Susan Nathan, author of The Other Side of Israel. Nathan is an Israeli Jew who, upon growing increasingly concerned about the treatment of Israeli citizens of Arab descent, moved from Tel Aviv to a small Palestinian-Israeli village called Tamra in 2003. (I say "village" but it's got 30,000 people crammed into a tiny allocation of land.) There she lives, as an Arab citizen of Israel lives; it's not an easy life. I won't try to paraphrase her talk, because I think her book should speak for itself. I will say, however, that conditions are appalling. You can read about it on Amazon, here:

Nathan was an ardent Zionist originally from Britain, who lived for a time in apartheid South Africa before moving to Israel. (In South Africa she was a member of the ANC, Mandela's party, and served jail time for her activism.) She's not someone who had an ax to grind or who set out to prove something about the country, which, I believe, makes her ultimate disillusionment with it that much more powerful. She was a true believer, until she got there and experienced what was happening.

Last night's talk was, predictably, interrupted by a loud, angry outburst, as an elderly couple stormed out in the middle of the lecture, hollering about "one-sided bias" and "hate speech." I guess hate speech, in this case, is defined as questioning the policies of the Israeli government towards its own minorities. But given that Nathan has lived in Israel for years, while the people who noisily interrupted the presentation last night were residents of a quite comfortable Hawaiian island, I think I will accept Nathan's observations over theirs.

She did have some good news, hinting that social pressure is building within Israel itself, from both Jewish groups and Palestinian ones, to try to redress what she calls the "second-class citizenship" of the Arabs. We'll see what happens.

IN ENTIRELY UNRELATED NEWS, today is my nephew and godson Paul's birthday. Happy birthday, Paul!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Ayatollah Begs to Differ... the name of the book I'm currently reading. I first heard about it on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (hooray!) and it's pretty great. It's written Hooman Majd, an Iranian who grew up in the States but who has retained ties with Iran and visits often. This book is, more or less, his attempt to de-mystify the country for the many Americans (and other Westerners) who view the place, and its president, with feelings of alarm, if not horror.

And there's plenty to be horrified about, but there's also plenty to appreciate. Iran (as Persia) is a culture that goes back a couple thousand years, has its own aesthetics and traditions, a lively social life, and a government which, although not a democracy in the western sense, nonetheless contains elements of representative democracy. This is all interesting. It also contains plenty of dissenters, atheists, opium smokers, free love advocates and diehard true believers. These groups are not mutually exclusive.

Majd doesn't try to whitewash Ahmadenijad's silly denial of the Holocaust, nor does he defend his threats to destroy Israel. On the other hand, he makes the point over and over that these comments carry far more weight in the west than with Iranians, who are mainly concerned with economic issues. Most Iranians, he points out, learn little European history in school (about as much as the average American learns about Iranian history, heh heh) and so cares little about WWII or the events surrounding it, except insofar as those events somehow led to the creation of Israel and the displacement of Palestinians. So barking about israel gets Ahmadenijad points on the street, while denying the Holocaust doesn't particularly resonate (but annoys the west, which he enjoys doing). Nuclear power, meanwhile, is seen by most Iranians as an example of haq, which can be translated loosely as "rights." Given that the west, and the States in particular, has literally thousands of nuclear warheads--and Israel has a couple hundred, too--it strikes Iranians as hypocritical that they are being pressured, under threat of sanctions and war, to drop their program.

Whatever your thoughts on Iran may be--good, bad or indifferent--this is an interesting and engaging book to pick up. Majd's style is anecdotal and conversational; he's not out to belabor his points or pile on the statistics, and he is just as likely to make snide remarks about government ministers or religious zeal as he is to take a stand that some would describe as "apologist." Given that Iran is very likely the next country that we will bomb (if you take it, as I do, that Pakistan is already being bombed), it seems like the least we can do is learn something about these people before we proceed with killing them.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

New book finished

Okay, so that's my excuse for not posting anything new, exciting, or even marginally intriguing for the past oh month or so. Been busy beavering away at the new book, which I have recently (tentatively) finished and sent off to mein uber-agent, Scott. So we will see what he has to say, and then think about it a while, and go from there. In the meantime I will try to be a better human by posting more blog entries.