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10 things you should know about the crisis in Iraq

By Yousef K.B.

The current crisis in Iraq has been 11 years in the making and it is the legacy of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. The arrogance, self-delusion, paternalism, and poorly informed nature of American policy makers, military officials, and pseudo intellectual cannot be understated. They want to have us believe that everything that occurs in Iraq is due to the incapacity of the Iraqi government and political elite, all of which is rooted in their cultural deficiencies. Sen. John McCain and others talk as if the problem is the withdrawal of Americans.  They argue that if only we allowed the American mission to succeed we wouldn’t be in this mess.

Events in Iraq are fast moving. Rather than try to explain exactly what is happening on the ground, I put forward 10 points that should be considered in any analysis of Iraq. Continue reading

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A brief reflection after completing “The Wire”

By Mohammad T.

Is injustice inevitable? Is structure indestructible?

In my pessimistic moments, I fear that my parents were right all along: don’t worry about that goodie stuff, they control too much and are too powerful; just take yours and be happy with what you have. You may accuse them of being too simple, or too Cold War, or maybe even conspiratorial. But it’s hard sometimes to disagree with them.

I just finished watching the last episode of ‘The Wire’, and I’ve come away surprised by my own reaction to the series. Like every character in this incredibly well-crafted, incredibly powerful series, I thought I would leave its world of make-believe Baltimore profoundly upset at the recycled detritus of contemporary American life — so much so that it would push me away from the dirty and inglorious work of invisible righteousness that I see among my many radical colleagues and friends, working hard every day to keep their spirit from pining away. Why keep at it, I should have thought? I will end, but the system survives. It creates many more of them, but sometimes it will malfunction and create a few of me. Why bother, no? I can snatch a few shiny trinkets from that same system, stay quiet, and live comfortably knowing that I took mine.

The cast of characters of this tragedy.

That’s probably what I should have thought, after completing this last episode. But I am reminded what the series’ creator, David Simon, in response to the many commentators ruffled at the apparent cynicism of the series: “It’s a love letter to Baltimore,” he said. So here’s to hoping that, with the support of my friends and family, that I don’t become so cynical as to think I’m above putting, as a wise man once urged, my body “upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, and upon all the apparatus of that machine.” Here’s to hoping that I can, after a long wait, reflect upon my work as a kind of broken love letter.

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Pilgrims of a new Arab order

By Mohammad T.

Today, my parents are leaving to Saudi Arabia for a 10-day trip on the hajj, the obligatory Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. This will be their third (and likely final) hajj. In the course of their three trips — all within the past 10 years — they will have witnessed the transformation of the pilgrimage from an awe-inspiring religious journey to a somewhat-less-inspiring Vegas-esque festival of greed and capitalism.

The last time they visited, they performed the tawaf (the circumambulation of the ka’aba, Islam’s holiest site) under the watchful gaze not just of God, but of the skeleton of Abraj al-Bait. It was under construction then, but is now completed and magnificent. Constructed on the site of the now-demolished Ajyad Fortress — an Ottoman castle built in 1781 to protect the historic Islamic site from vandals — the Abraj al-Bait is now the third-tallest building in the world. With the globe’s largest clock face, it sits in the heart of a massive complex of seven towers, and features within its bowels a five-star hotel operated by Canadian mega-hotel firm Fairmont and a 20-story luxury mall. Continue reading

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In Brief: Still doubt that Egypt didn’t have a reactionary coup?

By Yousef K.B. 

The Egyptian army chief called for country wide protests to come and out and “give me the mandate and order that I confront violence and potential terrorism.” Then Tamarod, the folks who supposedly mobilized the June 30th protests, announced “We call on the Egyptian people to rally in squares on Friday to officially demand the trial of [former President] Mohamed Morsi and support [the] armed forces in its coming war against terrorism,” They have called for a “cleansing” of Egypt.

If you were still pondering about the situation in Egypt, let me put your mind to rest: it was a brilliant and sophisticated coup. It was a counter-rebellion against the January 25th movement that drove out Mubarak. Regardless of opinion on Morsi, these are old Mubarak era elites and the “deep state” taking control once again. This is no revolution, it is a passive revolution, where old elites neutralize and/or co-opt revolutionary leaders and sentiments to retain their control. It is a political reform, that retains the social formation, but with renewed legitimacy and hegemony.

The liberal and leftists supporting this are either intentionally supporting the military and the old elites (making them culpable), or are clue-less as to how politics functions (making them naive).

Are secular, liberal, and “leftists” so diluted by their reactionary itch of the hint of anything smelling like “Islamism” or “Islam” that they’re willing to throw their lot with the likes of the Egyptian military?

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How did the situation in Egypt get to this point?

By Yousef K.B. 

On January 25th 2011 an unprecedented mass movement in the making for some time in Egypt, erupted in Tahrir Square. Within 18 memorable days this protest movement removed Hosni Mubarak, the long time dictator of Egypt from office. But it was not the people in Tahrir Square that replaced Mubarak. On February 11,2011 the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), aka the Egyptian military, took over the reign of power. The military attempted to demobilize the protests by threatening protestors of economic calamity if they didn’t go back to work, by breaking up strikes, beating protestors, and imprisoning a countless number – all while professing to be the “guardian of the nation.”

Mubarak was ousted from power and taken to court to symbolically show the end of an era, but the state that governed under Mubarak was still in place. It is doubtful that the Egyptian military wanted to rule Egypt publicly, because the Egyptian population would not have accepted that. But the military wanted to control the outcome of the political process to ensure its position both politically and economically remains intact. Continue reading

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The “War on Terror” and Undefeated Despair

By Yousef K.B.

I heard the news when my brother called me as I was getting home after a long drive, “are you watching the news? Obama is about to announce that they killed Bin Laden.” Surprised, I told him I’ll call him back, and hurried to unpack my luggage from my car, turn my computer on and search for streaming coverage of Obama’s statement online.  My heart started to beat faster, and I was filled with emotions, but I couldn’t understand them. I kept asking myself how I was feeling, but I couldn’t make it out. Was I sad? No, I despised Bin Laden and what he stood for. Was I happy? No. I sure wasn’t indifferent to the news. As always my mind had to work hard to catch up to my heart. I listened attentively to Obama’s speech. His detailing of the mission, his effort to take credit for the operation in anticipation of his electoral bid, the invocation of the 9/11 attacks, remembering the sacrifices of American military, their families, and the families of those who died in 9/11, and his complete silence on the misery felt by the rest of humanity that had suffered as his government waged the “war on terror.” After the speech, the coverage turned to pictures of a thousand or so, mostly young people who had gathered outside the White House enthusiastically jumping up and down, shouting “USA! USA! USA!” I sat back on my chair, and realized that what I had been feeling was undefeated despair.

I had been here before. Continue reading

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Songs of Protest: A Collection of Songs Written About the Uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia

By Mohammad T.


Over the past couple of weeks, artists worldwide have composed and recorded songs in solidarity with protesters in Egypt. After listening to them all, I thought it might be nice to have a comprehensive list of them in one place. I find many of them quite moving, so I thought I’d throw them up here for those to listen. If you don’t have the time to listen to all of them, make sure to listen to the very first one – featuring a cross section of the protesters themselves.

If you’ve heard any other songs that I’ve missed here, please do comment on this post, and I’ll update it accordingly. Updates:

*First Update* I’ve included a song coming out of Tunisia by a Tunisian hip-hop artist, and a song by an Egyptian rapper.

*Second Update* Amidst the rubble of a fallen dictator, a new song has been recorded by a group of young Egyptians – with contributions by a host of those who were on the streets in Cairo – to celebrate the occasion.

*Third Update – 2/13/2011* Included seven more songs – one from Alexandria, one from famous singer/actor Mohamed Mounir, two more written by Egyptian artists, two by Tunisian artists (including one sung in the middle of protests), one by Sami Yusuf, and the last by Wycleaf Jean in tribute to the protesters. This list is getting to be mildly unwieldy, but semi-comprehensive. Keep them coming.

*Fourth Update – 2/14/2011* Added a new one by artists Mustafa Najjar and Mohamed Abbas.

Here they are:

Continue reading

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