2017-05-12

 Colin Kaepernick’s Message to Chicago Youth: ‘Know Your Rights’

by Dave Zirin
The Nation

NFL quarterback took his Know Your Rights Camp to the South Side of Chicago. Here is an exclusive look inside.

Colin Kaepernick
It starts with Colin Kaepernick. The free-agent NFL quarterback came to the South Side of Chicago last Saturday to hold one of his Know Your Rights Camps: full-day youth seminars that Kaepernick organizes, funds, and emcees. Already staged in New York City and the Bay Area, with more cities to come, these are not open events for sports fans, the press, or random people. Their aim is to speak directly to black, brown, and economically disadvantaged youth, invited through local community organizations, about history, nutrition, legal rights, and financial literacy. As Kaepernick said to me, “Every city has grassroots resources. Our goal is to raise awareness about those resources and help young people access them to empower themselves and the people around them.”

It might start with Colin Kaepernick, but it doesn’t end with him. There is a young multiracial network of roughly 50 Know Your Rights volunteers. They have flown in from all over country to handle logistics at the event’s site, the DuSable Museum of African American History in Hyde Park. These are people like Kerem from Orange County who said, “This message is about equal rights. Often people in underserved communities don’t understand that they have these rights and they need to claim them…. Colin has sacrificed a lot to get to this point. It shows he is passionate about this and we all feed from that.”

Another volunteer, someone just hanging out in a Know Your Rights T-shirt, was Kaepernick’s San Francisco 49ers teammate Eric Reid. “I came here to support Colin,” he said to me. “I want to show these kids that there are people who want them to succeed despite how they may feel when they go to school. But I also came here to learn.”

Reid also spoke about the last season of anthem protests, where he kneeled alongside Kaepernick. He explained in a quiet but proud voice, “All we wanted to do was expand the discussion. People were being killed by police and we wanted that recognized and discussed. And I think we accomplished that.”

The day started with breakfast: eggs, yogurt, biscuits, and fruit for the 200 young people who were at the door by 9:00 am. A 12-year-old named Daymien gave up the opening game of his baseball season to attend. “I wanted to play today, but I think this is more important,” he said. “I wanted to come here for knowledge and learn my history.” In addition to the breakfasts and lunches provided, young people were given T-shirts that read “Know Your Rights” on the front. On the back, the shirts listed the following 10 points:

YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE FREE.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE HEALTHY.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE BRILLIANT.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE SAFE.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE LOVED.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE COURAGEOUS.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE ALIVE.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE TRUSTED.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE EDUCATED.
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW YOUR RIGHTS.

The free breakfasts and the 10 points both derive, intentionally, from the political legacy of the Black Panthers. I spoke with Ameer Loggins, a young writer and PhD candidate at Cal-Berkeley who helped develop the Know Your Rights curriculum as well as the ten-point plan. “This is an extension of the Freedom Schools of the civil-rights movement, the Panther schools, and all non-institutional educational programs that go out into the communities. The only difference is that we are mobile and we are associated with Colin, and that puts it on a different kind of platform.” As this camp was in Chicago, the particulars of the city’s history and policing were central to the agenda.

After breakfast Kaepernick introduced the day, saying, “We are here to uplift each other. We also have great speakers and guests who are here for no other reason than that they love you and they want to support you.”

He then brought out “one of the great men of Chicago,” hip-hop icon Common, who flew in just for the camp and stayed the entire six-hour day. Common said, “I’m honored to be here. I’m here because last September I saw Colin Kaepernick standing up for us as a people. I thought, ‘Man that’s one of the most courageous acts I’ve seen by someone in the spotlight since Muhammad Ali.’ I’ve always said that Muhammad Ali was one of my heroes, so now I have to say that Colin Kaepernick is one of my heroes. But it’s not just Colin now. He has a team. We have a team: The Know Your Rights team speaking about how we can exist not only to fight but to elevate and reach our goals and dreams…to go out there and be the kings and queens we were created to be. I want each and every one of you to know that we care and I want you to listen, ask questions and take notes today, and as then go out onto our city and spread the message for people who aren’t here.”

The first speaker was the aforementioned Ameer Loggins, who gave a college-level seminar on Chicago history, segregation, and structural racism. Loggins said, “Chicago is the most segregated city in the United States and no one talks about the effects of that in 2017. We talk about Selma and Jim Crow and the harm of segregation in the past but not the present. It’s not just segregation of space. It’s a segregation of resources and economics, food access, and property ownership…. Even if you say, ‘We had a black mayor, and Barack lives in Chicago,’ it doesn’t trickle down. People say we made it, but if our community doesn’t collectively benefit with resources, what the hell did we make it for?”

After going through the effects of 21st-century segregation?how it puts a person in a penned-in environment where they can be policed, subjected to violence, and denied resources?he made the argument that “young people just like you” made the civil-rights movement by “contesting segregated space,” and said, “You have the same power. Turn your segregated space into contested space. Don’t just sit there and take it. You don’t need to break windows. Arm yourself with enough knowledge and you can whip ass with your brain.”

It was rousing and, by my informal polling, a highlight for the students in attendance. One young woman said to me, “I wish my social-studies teacher was here taking notes.”

After Loggins, Kaepernick returned to the stage to underline the message, saying, “We are trying to show you what you are dealing with so you can combat it.” Then he introduced the next speakers. “We are now bringing out the legal defense team so you can protect yourselves, protect your family, protect your communities.”

Out came Guillermo Gutierrez and Charles Jones from First Defense Legal Aid, with the message that “Chicago is the false-confession capital of world.” To drive the point home, these “street attorneys” educated the students about Jon Burge, the South Side police officer and now convicted felon who tortured confessions out of more than 200 suspects between 1972 and 1991.

They said that the future of some people in the room could depend on knowing their rights when approached by law enforcement, and hammered home what to say if stopped by police. “First and foremost, you always have the right to ask, ‘Am I free to go?’ That is your constitutional right. If they say ‘no,’ you have the right to say, ‘I do not consent to be searched.’ If you don’t say those words, they can and will search you.”

Then they stressed, “Always remain silent. Call us. Have an attorney present. That is your right.”

Gutierrez and Jones made the students repeat their hotline number?1 (800) Law-Rep4?as well as promise to distribute cards with the number to family and friends.

Students asked about retaliation from police if they invoked these rights, concerned that they would be pegged as uncooperative. The First Defense Legal Aid performed skits to show not only how to resist any police coercion but also how to articulate their rights to minimize conflict.

Kaepernick came out and reinforced the point, saying, “So if an officer stops you, what do you say?” The students all said as one, “Am I free to go?’”

Then Kaepernick became an organizer?or the world’s chillest public-school administrator?dividing the students into breakout sessions that would cover “holistic health” and “financial literacy,” directing them into what rooms to go to by colored wrist-bands they received upon registration. He also said, “Remember, we have snacks that you can grab between sessions. But please, no eating in the auditorium.”

Yareli Quintana, a food consultant and spirited speaker, then took the stage to speak about making intelligent eating choices and how to take “baby steps” for healthier living. She made the case that food is self-determination and to integrate fruits and vegetables into their diets to better develop their minds. She even did a PowerPoint presentation about how different foods affect the brain. Kaepernick came up afterward and said, “we will have a resource map for you so you can find community gardens that grow their own healthy foods.”

The emphasis on healthy choices was evident throughout the day. One of the more harrowing moments came when radio host Ebro Darden asked the students, “How many of you have eaten fast food three times this week?” Almost the entire room raised their hands. Then he asked, “How many of you have members of your family with cancer or diabetes?” Again, almost the entire room raised their hands.

The talk of community gardens and, in the financial-literacy section, the importance of dressing and speaking in a professional manner, also produced a robust debate about whether it was realistic for these students to even find healthy food, save money, or dress a certain way, and whether those kinds of personal choices could beat back oppression. It was the century-old debate about what is known as “respectability politics”?whether racism needs to be fought systemically or by changing individual habits. Different speakers articulated different sides of this, with the students chiming in as well.

The substance of this discussion was perhaps less important than the fact that the dialogue was open, intense, but also friendly: a display for the young people in the audience of what debate looks like and how adults can disagree without being disagreeable. The students shaped this debate by speaking about their own experiences, what was realistic for them and what was not.

Kaepernick ended the day by speaking to the students about his own journey. He talked about growing up as the adopted son in an all-white home. He said, “I love my family to death. They’re the most amazing people I know. But when I looked in the mirror, I knew I was different. Learning what it meant to be an African man in America, not a black man but an African man, was critical for me. Through this knowledge, I was able to identify myself and my community differently…

“I thought I was from Milwaukee. I thought my ancestry started at slavery and I was taught in school that we were all supposed to be grateful just because we aren’t slaves. But what I was able to do was trace my ancestry and DNA lineage back to Ghana, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, and saw my existence was more than just being a slave. It was as an African man. We had our own civilizations, and I want you to know how high the ceiling is for our people. I want you to know that our existence now is not normal. It’s oppressive. For me, identifying with Africa gave me a higher sense of who I was, knowing that we have a proud history and are all in this together.”

Then he took a deep breath and said, “This was so important for me and I want to share it with you. So when you leave, you are all getting backpacks, and inside of them are Ancestry DNA kits so you can trace your ancestry and connect with your lost relatives who may have taken this test as well.”

The students exploded with joy upon hearing this. I was told there was a similar reaction in Oakland and New York.

Then he said, “I love you guys. I appreciate you. Build with each other. Because you will be this community moving forward.”

Afterwards, I spoke to Kaepernick at some length. He is training every day for the 2017 season and, optimistic that his hard work and stellar 2016 season will be rewarded, believes that he will find an NFL home. But we kept the conversation focused on the camp.

“I thought it was amazing,” he said. “Every time we do an event, leading up to it, I’m always a little bit nervous. ‘Do we have everything in line? Are the Ts crossed and the Is dotted?’ But once the program starts running, you see the kids having fun and and absorbing what we are saying. That’s the win for us…to see them get the tools to navigate an oppressive society.”

He compared the Know Your Rights team to a football squad: “It’s the same sense of camaraderie. Building toward a common goal. And in this space we are trying to help communities that are oppressed. That’s what we want. We want to show that we can build with each other and love each other because in oppressed communities no one is going to help them but themselves. It’s so exciting to see it come together.” He then smiled so wide and looked so relaxed, I thought he would float to the ceiling. “It’s a very liberating thing to feel. It’s hard to explain.”

One thing we did not talk about was whether he was being politically blackballed by the league for his political ideas and activism. There was no need. After spending the day with Colin Kaepernick, all I could think about was a quote from Bill Russell in 1967 when he was asked about how Muhammad Ali was coping with being stripped of the heavyweight title. Russell said, “I’m not worried about Muhammad Ali. I’m worried about the rest of us.”

I’m not worried about Colin Kaepernick. As for “the rest of us,” we’ve got work to do.   

2017-03-06

Noam Chomsky, from an interview at the University of Arizona on February 2, 2017.

from Information Clearing House

INTERVIEWER: "Let us turn to the role of the media in reporting alleged Russian interference in the US electoral process. Mainstream journalists have called Trump a puppet of Russia, a modern version of the Manchurian Candidate. Others have criticized the media for accepting unsubstantiated claims about Russian influence, and reporting such claims as facts. Normon Soloman and Serge Halimi, for example, stated that press reporting on this issue amounts to a mass hysteria reminiscent of the McCarthy era, while Seymour Hersh called the media reporting on Russia “outrageous.”3 What is your view of this situation? "

CHOMSKY: "My guess is that most of the world is just collapsing in laughter. Suppose all the charges are true, I mean every single one, it is so amateurish by US standards that you can hardly even laugh. What the US does is the kind of thing I described in Italy in 1948. Case after case like that, not hacking or spreading rumors in the media; but saying look, we’re going to starve you to death or kill you or destroy you unless you vote the way we want. I mean that’s what we do.

"Take the famous 9/11, let’s think about it for a minute. It was a pretty awful terrorist act. It could have been a lot worse. Now let’s suppose that instead of the plane being downed in Pennsylvania by passengers, suppose it had hit its target, which was probably the White House. Now suppose it had killed the president. Suppose that plans had been set for a military coup to take over the government. And right away, immediately 50,000 people were killed, 700,000 tortured. A bunch of economists were brought in from Afghanistan, let’s call them the “Kandahar Boys,” who very quickly destroyed the economy, and established a dictatorship which devastated the country. That would have been a lot worse than 9/11. It happened: the first 9/11, it happened on September 11, 1973, in Chile. We did it. Was that interfering or hacking a party? This record is all over the world, constantly overthrowing governments, invading, forcing people to follow what we call democracy, as in the cases I mentioned. As I say, if every charge is accurate, it’s a joke, and I’m sure half the world is collapsing in laughter about this, because people outside the United States know it. You don’t have to tell people in Chile about the first 9/11."

2017-02-20

James Baldwin and the Meaning of Whiteness

Chris Hedges - Truthdig


Raoul Peck’s “I Am Not Your Negro” is one of the finest documentaries I have ever seen

I would have stayed in the theater in New York to see the film again if the next showing had not been sold out. The newly released film powerfully illustrates, through James Baldwin’s prophetic work, that the insanity now gripping the United States is an inevitable consequence of white Americans’ steadfast failure to confront where they came from, who they are and the lies and myths they use to mask past and present crimes. Baldwin’s only equal as a 20th century essayist is George Orwell. If you have not read Baldwin you probably do not fully understand America. Especially now.

History “is not the past,” the film quotes Baldwin as saying. “History is the present. We carry our history with us. To think otherwise is criminal.”

The script is taken from Baldwin’s notes, essays, interviews and letters, with some of the words delivered in Baldwin’s voice from audio recordings and televised footage, some of them in readings by actor Samuel L. Jackson. But it is not, finally, the poetry and lyricism of Baldwin that make the film so moving. It is Peck’s understanding of the core of Baldwin’s message to the white race, a message that is vital to grasp as we struggle with an overt racist as president, mass incarceration, poverty gripping half the country and militarized police murdering unarmed black men and women in the streets of our cities.

Whiteness is a dangerous concept. It is not about skin color. It is not even about race. It is about the willful blindness used to justify white supremacy. It is about using moral rhetoric to defend exploitation, racism, mass murder, reigns of terror and the crimes of empire.

“The American Negro has the great advantage of having never believed the collection of myths to which white Americans cling: that their ancestors were all freedom-loving heroes, that they were born in the greatest country the world has ever seen, or that Americans are invincible in battle and wise in peace, that Americans have always dealt honorably with Mexicans and Indians and all other neighbors or inferiors, that American men are the world’s most direct and virile, that American women are pure,” Baldwin wrote. “Negroes know far more about white Americans than that; it can almost be said, in fact, that they know about white Americans what parents?or, anyway, mothers?know about their children, and that they very often regard white Americans that way. And perhaps this attitude, held in spite of what they know and have endured, helps to explain why Negroes, on the whole, and until lately, have allowed themselves to feel so little hatred. The tendency has really been, insofar as this was possible, to dismiss white people as the slightly mad victims of their own brainwashing.”

America was founded on the genocidal slaughter of indigenous people and the holocaust of slavery. It was also founded on an imagined moral superiority and purity. The fact that dominance of others came, and still comes, from unrestrained acts of violence is washed out of the national narrative. The steadfast failure to face the truth, Baldwin warned, perpetuates a kind of collective psychosis. Unable to face the truth, white Americans stunt and destroy their capacity for self-reflection and self-criticism. They construct a world of dangerous, self-serving fantasy. Those who imbibe the myth of whiteness externalize evil?their own evil?onto their victims. Racism, Baldwin understood, is driven by moral bankruptcy, narcissism, an inner loneliness and latent guilt. Donald Trump and most of those around him exhibit all of these characteristics.

“If Americans were not so terrified of their private selves, they would never have needed to invent and could never have become so dependent on what they still call ‘the Negro problem,’ ” Baldwin wrote. “This problem, which they invented in order to safeguard their purity, has made of them criminals and monsters, and it is destroying them; and this not from anything blacks may or may not be doing but because of the role a guilty and constricted white imagination has assigned to the blacks.”

“People pay for what they do, and, still more for what they allowed themselves to become,” Baldwin went on. “And they pay for it very simply by the lives they lead. The crucial thing, here, is that the sum of these individual abdications menaces life all over the world. For, in the generality, as social and moral and political and sexual entities, white Americans are probably the sickest and certainly the most dangerous people, of any color, to be found in the world today.”

Footage in the Peck documentary of past murder cases including the 1955 lynching of the 14-year-old Emmett Till is interspersed with the modern-day lynching of young black men such as Michael Brown and Freddie Gray. Images of white supremacist parades from the 1960s, with young men carrying signs proclaiming “Keep America White,” shift directly to footage of Ferguson, Mo. This juxtaposition is almost too much to bear. If it does not shake you to the core you have no heart and no understanding of who we are in America.

The film begins with Baldwin’s 1957 return from France, where he had been living for almost a decade. He comes back to join the nascent civil rights movement. He was deeply disturbed by a photograph of Dorothy Counts, 15, surrounded by a mob of whites spitting and screaming racial slurs as she walked into a newly desegregated high school in Charlotte, N.C.

“I could simply no longer sit around Paris discussing the Algerian and the black American problem,” he said. “Everybody was paying their dues, and it was time I went home and paid mine.”

In short, he returned to the United States so that black children like Dorothy Counts would not have to walk alone through a sea of racial hatred.

He spoke and participated in hundreds of events for the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, however, largely held him at arm’s length. Baldwin was too independent and outspoken about the truth. His words made King’s Northern white liberal supporters uncomfortable. Baldwin was supposed to speak at the 1963 March on Washington, but King and the other leaders of the march replaced him with the actor Burt Lancaster. Baldwin steadfastly refused to be anyone’s “negro.”

Baldwin was, like Orwell, an astute critic of modern culture and how it justifies the crimes of racism and imperialism. In his book “The Devil Finds Work” he pits Hollywood’s vision of race against the reality. The Peck documentary shows clips from films Baldwin critiqued in the book including “The Birth of a Nation” (a 1915 movie Baldwin called “an elaborate justification of mass murder”), “Dance, Fools, Dance” (1931), “The Monster Walks” (1932), “King Kong” (1933), “Imitation of Life” (1934), “They Won’t Forget” (1937), “Stagecoach” (1939), “The Defiant Ones” (1958), “Lover Come Back” (1961), “A Raisin in the Sun” (1961) and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967). In film after film Baldwin pointed to the ingrained racial stereotypes of African-Americans in popular culture that sustain the lie of whiteness.

Blacks were, and often still are, portrayed by mass culture as lazy and childlike, therefore needing white parental supervision and domination, or as menacing and violent sexual predators who needed to be eliminated. These Hollywood stereotypes, Baldwin knew, existed as foils for an imagined white purity, decency and innocence. They buttressed the myth of a nation devoted to the ideals of justice, liberty and democracy. The oppressed, because of their supposed character defects, were the architects of their own oppression. Oppression was for their own good. Racism was a form of benevolence. Baldwin warned that not facing these lies would see America consume itself.

In “The Devil Finds Work” Baldwin also wrote about the film “A Tale of Two Cities” (1935). He had read the novel by Charles Dickens “obsessively” as a boy to understand “the question of what it meant to be a nigger.” This novel and other novels he consumed, such as “Crime and Punishment,” spoke of the oppressed. He knew that the oppression of the characters in these stories had “something to do with my own.” The books “had something to tell me.” He wrote:

I was haunted, for example, by Alexandre Manette’s document, in A Tale of Two Cities, describing the murder of a peasant boy?who, dying, speaks: “I say, we were so robbed, and hunted, and were made so poor, that our father told us it was a dreadful thing to bring a child into this world, and that what we should most pray for was that our women might be barren and our miserable race die out!” (“I had never before,” observes Dr. Manette, “seen the sense of being oppressed, bursting forth like a fire.”)

Dickens has not seen it all. The wretched of the earth do not decide to become extinct, they resolve, on the contrary, to multiply: life is their only weapon against life, life is all that they have. This is why the dispossessed and starving will never be convinced (though some may be coerced) by the population-control programs of the civilized. I have watched the dispossessed and starving laboring in the fields which others own with their transistor radios at their ear, all day long: so they learn, for example, along with equally weighty matters, that the Pope, one of the heads of the civilized world, forbids to the civilized that abortion which is being, literally, forced on them, the wretched. The civilized have created the wretched quite coldly, and deliberately, and do not intend to change the status quo; are responsible for their slaughter and enslavement; rain down bombs on defenseless children whenever and wherever they decide that their “vital interests” are menaced, and think nothing of torturing a man to death; these people are not to be taken seriously when they speak of the “sanctity” of human life, or the “conscience” of the civilized world. There is a “sanctity” involved with bringing a child into this world: it is better than bombing one out of it. Dreadful indeed it is to see a starving child, but the answer to that is not to prevent the child’s arrival but to restructure the world so that the child can live in it: so that the “vital interest” of the world becomes nothing less than the life of the child.

Nearly all African-Americans carry within them white blood, usually the result of white rape. White slaveholders routinely sold mixed-race children?their own children?into slavery. Baldwin knew the failure to acknowledge the melding of the black and white races that can be seen in nearly every African-American face, a melding that makes African-Americans literally the brothers and sisters of whites. African-Americans, Baldwin wrote, are the “bastard” children of white America. They constitute a peculiarly and uniquely American race.

“The truth is this country does not know what to do with its black population,” he said. “Americans can’t face the fact that I am flesh of their flesh.”

White supremacy is not defined, he wrote, by intelligence or virtue. The white race continues to dominate other races because it has always controlled the most efficient killing mechanisms on the planet. It used, and uses, its industrial weapons to carry out mass murder, genocide, subjugation and exploitation, whether on slave plantations, on the Trail of Tears, at Wounded Knee, in the Philippines and Vietnam, in cities such as Baltimore and Ferguson or in our endless wars across the Middle East.

The true credo of the white race is we have everything, and if you try to take any of it from us we will kill you. This is the essential meaning of whiteness. As the white race turns on itself in an age of diminishing resources it is in the vital interest of the white underclass to understand what its elites and its empire are actually about. These lies, Baldwin warned, will ultimately have fatal consequences for America.

“There are days, this is one of them, when you wonder what your role is in this country and what your future is in it,” Baldwin said. “How precisely you’re going to reconcile yourself to your situation here and how you are going to communicate to the vast, heedless, unthinking, cruel white majority that you are here. I’m terrified at the moral apathy?the death of the heart?which is happening in my country. These people have deluded themselves for so long that they really don’t think I’m human.”

2017-02-18

Joy and fear: a mother’s lot in Gaza

Nesma Seyam - The Electronic Intifada

The doctor studied the test results, raised her head and smiled.
“Pregnant,” she said. “Congratulations, you are pregnant!”
All I could muster in response was: “Why?”
Joy, excitement and fear knotted inside me. My husband and I would soon have a baby, filling our life with love and noise.
But a storm of questions raged in my head. I immediately began to fear that Israel would bomb us again.
How would we run away if that happened? How would we survive?
I was scared and nervous. The memories of all the wars I had lived through came alive and overpowered me.

Terror

Even though I am a media worker, I try to avoid watching the news when Israel is bombing us, to spare myself the sight of shredded bodies, of mothers weeping for their sons.
When Israel bombed Gaza in November 2012, the television showed a mother running right and left in a hospital after she saw the bodies of three of her children, looking for the fourth, asking everyone around her if they knew where the child was.
Is this what it means to be a mother in Gaza?
Two years later, during Israel’s 51-day onslaught in the summer of 2014, most of my family, including my sister and her four children, slept on the floor of the living room on the western side of our apartment.
The eastern side of the home is situated above an apartment which belonged to a man who was wanted by Israel. My bedroom was located on that side of the apartment.
I slept in it throughout the war, even though it was directly above a likely target. I was never afraid, because I believed that I would not hear or feel the missile that would end up killing me.
One night, the shelling and bombings intensified terribly, and my mother insisted that I sleep in the living room with everyone else. She rejected my efforts to convince her that the missile has no intellectual capacity to recognize that it is approaching our living room and change its path.
As we sat in silence, my sister Walaa started to frantically separate her children on opposite sides of our home.
Her entire body shaking with fear, she said, “I’ll put one girl and one boy on my right and the other boy and girl on my left. If they bomb one side of the apartment, then two of them will likely survive. I don’t want all of them to die at once.”
It took me a while to process what she had said. I forced a smile while tears gathered in my eyes. Slowly, I slid under my sheets, pretending to sleep, and cried all night.
My ears were alert throughout the night. Walaa didn’t sleep as her eldest daughter, Shahd, who was 6 years old at the time, kept waking up, frightened, and would run to the corridor. Walaa would bring her back, calm her down and put her back to sleep again.

Alive but not unharmed

We were not bombed in the end. But that does not mean we were unharmed.
Two years have now passed. I’ve since gotten married and gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby girl with black hair and two deep dimples on her cheeks. She’s 6 months old now.
I am happy I am a mother and I love my daughter beyond words. But I am also afraid. I can’t bear the thought that because I am a Palestinian in Gaza, I may have to guess where in our home my baby is least likely to be killed.
Whenever I hear a loud sound, I run to my child and hug her. Every night I hear thunder, I bend over and cover her to try and protect her.
The havoc the last war wrought on my soul is immense, the sound of the bombing and shelling traumatize me to this day.
I carry my baby daughter with me everywhere, to meetings with officials and notables, not caring what they think of it, not caring when I hear her crying on the audio recordings when I am transcribing my interviews.
The only thing I care about is that she is with me, and whatever our fate, we will receive it together.
Nesma Seyam is an interpreter, journalist and fixer based in Gaza. Twitter: @Nesma_Seyam

2017-01-29

Trump’s Muslim Ban Is Culmination of War on Terror Mentality but Still Uniquely Shameful

Glenn Greenwald - The Intercept

IT IS NOT difficult for any decent human being to immediately apprehend why and how Donald Trump’s ban on immigrants from seven Muslim countries is inhumane, bigoted, and shameful. During the campaign, the evil of the policy was recognized even by Mike Pence (“offensive and unconstitutional”) and Paul Ryan (violative of America’s “fundamental values”), who are far too craven and cowardly to object now.
Trump’s own defense secretary, Gen. James Mattis, said when Trump first advocated his Muslim ban back in August that “we have lost faith in reason,” adding: “This kind of thing is causing us great damage right now, and it’s sending shock waves through this international system.”
The sole ostensible rationale for this ban — it is necessary to keep out Muslim extremists — collapses upon the most minimal scrutiny. The countries that have produced and supported the greatest number of anti-U.S. terrorists — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, UAE — are excluded from the ban list because the tyrannical regimes that run those countries are close U.S. allies. Conversely, the countries that are included — Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Iran, Sudan, and Yemen — have produced virtually no such terrorists; as the Cato Institute documented on Friday night: “Foreigners from those seven nations have killed zero Americans in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and the end of 2015.” Indeed, as of a 2015 study by the New America research center, deaths caused by terrorism from right-wing nationalists since 9/11 have significantly exceeded those from Muslim extremists.
Trump’s pledge last night to a Christian broadcasting network to prioritize Christian refugees over all others is just profane: The very idea of determining who merits refuge on the basis of religious belief is bigotry in its purest sense. Beyond the morality, it is almost also certainly unconstitutional in a country predicated on the “free exercise of religion.” In the New York Times this morning, Cato analyst David Bier also convincingly argues that the policy is illegal on statutory grounds as well.
Making this worse still is the central role the U.S. government played in the horrors from which many of these now-banned people are fleeing. The suggestion that Trump protected the countries with which he does business is preposterous. The reality is that his highly selective list reflects longstanding U.S. policy: Indeed, Obama restricted visa rights for these same seven countries, and the regimes in Riyadh and Cairo have received special U.S. protection for decades, long before Trump.
Beyond U.S. support for the world’s worst regimes, what primarily shapes Trump’s list is U.S. aggression: Five of the seven predominantly Muslim countries on Trump’s list were ones bombed by Obama, while the other two (Iran and Sudan) were punished with heavy sanctions. Thus, Trump is banning immigrants from the very countries that the U.S. government — under both Republicans and Democrats — has played a key role in destabilizing and destroying, as Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, with surprising candor, noted this week:
It is critical to recognize and fight against the unique elements of Trump’s extremism, but also to acknowledge that a substantial portion of it has roots in political and cultural developments that long precede him. Immigration horror stories — including families being torn apart — are nothing new. As ABC News noted last August, “The Obama administration has deported more people than any other president’s administration in history. In fact, they have deported more than the sum of all the presidents of the 20th century.”
And the reason Trump is able so easily to tap into a groundswell of anti-Muslim fears and bigotry is because they have been cultivated for 16 years as the central fuel driving the war on terror. There are factions on both the center-left and right that are primarily devoted to demonizing Muslims and Islam. A government can get away with bombing, invading, and droning the same group of people for more than 15 years only by constantly demonizing and dehumanizing that group and maintaining high fear levels, which is exactly what the U.S. has done under two successive administrations. Both the Bush and Obama administrations ushered in all-new and quite extreme civil liberties erosions aimed primarily if not exclusively at Muslims.
Trump did not appear out of nowhere. He is the logical and most grotesque expression of a variety of trends we have allowed to fester: endless war, a virtually omnipotent presidency, unlimited war powers from spying to due process-free imprisonment to torture to assassinations, repeated civil liberties erosions in the name of illusory guarantees of security, and the sustained demonization of Muslims as scary, primitive, uniquely violent Others.
A country that engages in endless war against multiple countries not only kills a lot of people but degrades its own citizenry. Trump is the rotted fruit that inevitably sprouts from such fetid roots.
Trump is not a Russian phenomenon, nor an Italian one, nor Latin American: He is distinctly and consummately American, merely the most extreme face yet from America’s endless war on terror and its post-2008 lurch toward oligarchy. Pretending that Trump is some grand aberration, some radical departure from U.S. history and values, is simply a deceitful way of whitewashing what we have collectively endorsed and allowed.
Thus did we witness the spectacle last week of many acting as though Trump’s plans for CIA black sites, torture, and rendition were shocking Trumpian aberrations even though many of those denouncing the plans were the ones who advocated or implemented those policies in the first place or protected those who did from criminal prosecution. Denouncing and opposing Trump should not serve to obscure sins of the recent past or whitewash the seeds planted before him that have allowed him to sprout. Opposing Trump’s assault on basic liberties requires a clear understanding of the framework that gave rise to it.

BUT THIS MUSLIM ban — and that, in effect and by design, is what it is — is nonetheless different in significant degree if not in kind. Despite what came before it, there is no denying that Trump is now taking the U.S. to dark and foreboding places that are a step beyond what even recent presidents, in the name of protection against Muslims, have ushered in. A formal and absolute codification of this anti-Muslim premise is inherently dangerous, as it is likely to further indoctrinate millions of Americans to regard Muslims as uniquely menacing and threatening.
Beyond that, the humanitarian horrors instantly produced by Trump’s immigration ban are impossible to overstate. That countless war refugees fleeing the ravages the U.S. helped create are now banned from refuge, many consigned to their deaths, is self-evident. The parallels with how Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution were treated in the 1930s and 1940s are obvious. This new Twitter account has been describing individual Jews whose ship was refused entry by the Roosevelt administration in 1939 as they were fleeing Nazis, only to end up dying in Auschwitz and other camps.
As my colleague Lee Fang documented in 2015, the prevailing rhetoric about Muslim refugees is identical to that used to demonize Jews during the World War II era. Indeed, the right-wing rag Daily Mail’s 2015 cartoon showing Muslim refugees as rats (top cartoon, below) perfectly tracked a 1939 cartoon in a Viennese newspaper depicting Jews the same way (bottom, below):
The Daily Mail, 2015.
Das Kleine Blatt, 1939.
But as I’ve noted before, it is often the more pedestrian, less dramatic injustices that resonate when it comes to civil liberties abuses. This McClatchy article from yesterday, for instance, tells the story of Murtadha Al-Tameemi, a 24-year-old Iraqi-born software developer at Facebook who had to urgently leave Canada, where he was visiting his family this week, in order to rush back into the U.S. before Trump’s ban took effect, and he is now barred from visiting them due to (rational) fear that he will not be able to return. In that article, Al-Tameemi describes the hideous abuses and indignities he has long faced as a Muslim immigrant in the U.S., but he now faces a full and absolute ban from entering.
Meanwhile, the New York Daily News reports this morning that many Muslims and Arabs who have long carried visas to the U.S. are being stranded in airports and barred from entry to their planes. Even more significant, albeit harder to quantify, is the extreme fear that Muslim Americans and immigrants quite rationally harbor about what this will all spawn, both in terms of cultural norms and additional policies. Just as attitudes toward LGBT Americans changed as their personal stories became more known, these kinds of stories of how ordinary Muslims are having their basic rights trampled on with no justification are critical for highlighting how abusive these policies are.

ONE OF THE greatest dangers of these trends is the ongoing ability of groups devoted to protecting Muslim Americans’ civil rights to function freely and effectively. The largest such group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), has long been the target of the U.S. government. The Bush administration branded the group an un-indicted “co-conspirator” in a terrorism case, ensuring it would be smeared but remain without the ability to defend itself in a court. As we reported in 2014, the group’s executive director was targeted with invasive, highly personalized electronic surveillance by the NSA.
CAIR now plays a critical role in defending American Muslims and immigrants from these civil liberties assaults. The group already announced that it would file suit challenging the constitutionality and legality of Trump’s ban. Muslims who have nowhere else to turn are often defended by CAIR as their basic rights are assaulted, and that will be even truer now.
But the group has long been in the cross-hairs of the worst anti-Muslim extremists, such as Peter King, along with even worse radicals who now exert significant influence in the Trump administration. Breitbart, whose former chief Steve Bannon is now one of the most powerful individuals in the White House, has long had an intense fixation with the group.
There is a serious risk that CAIR will be targeted, as it has been in the past by less extreme officials. The group is a critical bulwark protecting Muslim Americans and Muslim immigrants from serious civil liberties abuses, and needs and deserves support from anyone able to provide it, which one can do here (as disclosure: I have spoken several times at CAIR events and to various affiliates and intend, in solidarity, to do so even more this year).
It is often the case that extremists on both sides of a protracted conflict end up mirroring one another’s attributes, mentality, and tactics. That is precisely what we are now witnessing as anti-Muslim crusaders in the U.S. adopt the same premises as ISIS and its allies: that the West and Muslims are inherently and irreconcilably adverse. As my colleague Murtaza Hussain described in 2015, the ultimate strategic and propaganda goal of ISIS is to eliminate the “gray zone” for Western Muslims, “generating hostility between domestic Muslim populations and the broader societies that they live in” so as to convince both sides that they should be at war rather than striving for harmony and assimilation.
It is difficult to envision anything that helps ISIS’s overarching objective, its central narrative, more than Trump’s immigration ban aimed at Muslims while privileging Christian refugees. But it’s not impossible to imagine policies that could be worse in this regard. The danger now is that this immigration ban is merely the first step on this heinous path, not the last. That’s why it’s urgent that everything be done to denounce it, battle it, and defeat it now.

2017-01-27

Braving Israeli bullets in Gaza’s sea


Nesma Seyam - The Electronic Intifada
Gaza’s fishermen have already endured regular Israeli attacks during the first few weeks of 2017.
On 4 January, Muhammad al-Hissi went missing after the Israeli navy sunk the vessel on which he worked. Although his body has not been recovered, members of his family have resigned themselves to the probability that al-Hissi was killed.
A memorial service was organized for al-Hissi a few days after he went missing, while his family issued a statement describing him as a “martyr for God’s reward.” Aged 33, he was the father of three children.
“He is an excellent swimmer – like all fishermen,” said Muhammad’s brother Wael. “He would have made it to the shore if he was alive.”
The incident occurred off Sudaniya Beach in northern Gaza. An Israeli navy gunboat rammed directly into the fishing vessel, which belongs to Rashad al-Hissi, Muhammad’s cousin, causing it to capsize. No warning was issued before the attack.
An Israeli army spokesperson told the Ma’an News Agency that “naval forces were escorting a Palestinian fishing boat which had deviated from the Israeli-designated fishing zone to a port … when ‘the Israeli vessel collided with another Palestinian vessel which was not visible.’”

Safe area?

Jamal al-Hissi, also a cousin of Muhammad, was in another vessel a few hundred meters away at the time. He said that the vessel carrying Muhammad was shot at by live ammunition and flooded by water cannons.
“We were fishing around five nautical miles offshore, which is supposed to be a safe area,” Jamal said. “In the blink of an eye, the vessel vanished and Muhammad disappeared.”
Nizar Ayyash, head of the Gaza fishing union, accused the Israeli authorities of deception.
“The Israeli gunboat drowned the vessel,” he said. “Then the Israelis lit flares, claiming to look for the missing fisherman.”
A number of other attacks against fishermen have taken place since then.
On 12 January, Israeli naval ships opened fire at fishermen working off Khan Younis in southern Gaza.
Four days later, Israel shot at fishermen in the northern Gaza area. Five fishermen were taken into detention.
Anas Siyam and his father, Imad, were among those arrested. They were held until the following day.
“We were operating within the permitted fishing area,” Anas said. “Yet they still arrested us and confiscated our net, power generator and the boat itself.”
On 17 January, a fisherman was injured after the Israeli navy fired rubber-coated steel bullets at him. That incident, too, occurred in the northern Gaza area.
Another fisherman was shot in the head with a rubber-coated steel bullet six days later. The fisherman in question, Auranus al-Sultan, was one of those who had been detained by Israel the previous week.
Under the 1993 Oslo accords signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, Israel is supposed to allow fishermen to work freely within 20 nautical miles of the Gaza coastline.
Israel has, however, used the tightened siege it imposed on Gaza in 2007 as a pretext to launch frequent – sometimes daily – attacks on the 4,000 fishermen living and working in the strip. Over the past decade, Israel has only allowed fishing within three to six nautical miles and has repeatedly changed the official limits.
On many occasions, Israel has attacked fishermen working inside the limits it has set.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights recorded a total of 126 incidents in which fishing vessels were fired upon by Israel during 2016. More than 130 people were detained by Israeli forces while they were on fishing vessels last year, five of whom were children. Twelve of Gaza’s fishermen were injured as a result of Israeli attacks.

Drop in earnings

Fayez al-Amoudi, a resident of Beach refugee camp in Gaza City, began his fishing career in the 1990s.
“I still remember the sudden drop in our earnings after the limit was shrunk to six nautical miles,” he said. “Besides the physical harassment, we are continuously subjected to verbal and psychological harassment. The Israeli navy has flooded us with sewage water while we are on board our vessels.”
Marwan al-Saidi has been working as a fisherman for more than four decades.
“The last 10 years have been the worst,” he said. “I have no idea why the Israeli authorities designate fishing limits if they are intent on harassing fishermen working within the limits. They know that fishing is the only source of living for us. Our belongings are constantly confiscated and we are expected to stay silent about this treatment and take it.”
Nesma Seyam is an interpreter, journalist and fixer based in Gaza. Twitter: @Nesma_Seyam