boys in the girls’ room, girls in the men’s room

February 22, 2011 § 6 Comments

[Am reposting this as part of the Iranian Film Blogathon taking place at The Sheila Variations from February 21 – 27, 2011. This is a series of meandering observations of the excellent The Circle and pales in comparison to some of the excellent write-ups that are already part of the blogathon, but this is a great opportunity to spread the word about Jafar Panahi, so…]

If Jafar Panahi’s The Circle was about the prison that surrounds women in modern Iranian society, then Offside is a Lysistrata-esque comedy about how the concept of prison can be readily turned in on itself. The Circle left such a potent impact, but its tragedy was the banal, everyday kind. What makes it so tragic is the way in which it shows how thinking, intelligent people can still, somehow, together form an unthinking, flawed society. Offside is playful and reminds me of Lysistrata precisely because it is also interested in dismantling the inherent – and seemingly necessary – hypocrisies and absurdities that sustain a male-dominated society through its endlessly-inventive and creative female characters.

This is shown quite wonderfully through the film’s smart dialogue and idiosyncratic characters. The story begins with the first girl (the characters are nameless) who has disguised herself as a boy and boarded the bus taking spectators to the stadium for a football match between the Iranian and Bahraini national teams. The attempt at disguise is not entirely successful from the start – at most, it is minimal – hair tucked in under a cap, and loose, baggy clothes. Playing on the very idea of gender performance early on, one of the young men who first notices the girl in the bus cannot take his eyes off her. As his friend says, “you always lose it over girls.” This friend, meanwhile, had already noticed this interloper and having seen girls and women do this before, magnanimously tries to avoid paying attention to the girl. He tells his staring friend that looking at the girl will only bring about unwanted attention which is precisely what this girl-unsuccessfully-disguised-as-boy is trying to avert.  A little later, when a minor ruckus causes all the passengers to rush out of the bus in chase of their runaway driver, the girl goes up to this boy and asks him to stop staring at her – or he’ll blow her cover. He’s a tiny bit smitten and puffs up a little to step up to the knight-in-shining armour pedestal, telling her not to worry, he’ll help her get in. She says “I don’t need your help,” and in one of the best lines of the movie, the guy wonders out loud how she could bring herself to say this, since, as he tells her, “You look… like a total girl.”

You would look the same if you had an inept soldier-commentator

Once the girl gets to the stadium, however, her real troubles begin. “I can’t let you go into a crowd of men. I’m no bastard. You could be my sister,” the ticket-scalper tells her. In Panahi’s depictions, there is something gentle and sincere about most of the men in this rigidly patriarchal society. Most of them aren’t out to assert power or dominate; they just don’t want these women to get into trouble. But with a wry wink to the audience, Panahi gives us an overly-concerned ticket scalper who still tries to find a profit where he can – and therefore sells her a ticket at nearly double the price after extending unwanted solicitude about her situation. His only concern, as it turns out, is to assure the Other that he’s done his part to “protect” this girl from whatever insidious harms are out there. As for the girl herself, he could care less, obviously.

Looking ahead at pre-TSA TSA-style patdowns before spectators are allowed to enter the cinema, the girl is agitated. When she gets to the security line, she blurts out “Please don’t check me!” unwittingly outing herself to the security personnel who just moments ago was about to blithely and unthinkingly pat her down. It is inevitable; even in disguise as a boy, or perhaps especially when in disguise as a boy, one’s fact of femaleness must somehow announce itself, almost as if to distinguish itself from a vast sea of maleness that infiltrates the entire venue. She is busted, naturally, and taken by a soldier to the “holding pen” behind the stadium, erected precisely to keep in these errant females, of which there are quite a few. It’s the most awful of punishments, as the girls can still hear the game – every cheer, every shout – whilst having not one clue what’s going on. One of the soldiers – let’s refer to him as commentator-soldier – gamely tries to give the imprisoned girls a play-by-play account of the match, but is soundly mocked when he inserts his favourite player into the game even though this particular playing is, well, not playing in the match. Curiously enough, none of the male soldiers here seem half as interested in football as the girls, and the commentator-soldier’s incompetent grasp of both football and the match that is going on is just another absurd and all-too-real twist to the proceedings. The moment rules are established and trotted out as the Truth about how girls are vis-à-vis how boys are, the universe seems to forget itself and offer up unwanted examples as exceptions. Consistent, constant exceptions, as it turns out.

Another girl turns up, appropriately androgynous looking, with a scratchy voice that could belong to a pubescent male. “This is a girl?” the soldier-in-charge asks, to which she replies, “What would you like me to be?” with just the right amount of insouciance. In one hilarious exchange, another soldier who had to accompany this new girl to the holding pen tells her, “Look jerk, you don’t scare me like you do the other farm boys here,” in reference to the soldier-in-charge, who whines loudly and regularly about the wonderful and peaceful farm life he gave up in order to do this job and guard errant girls who waste his time and say ridiculous things. Despite his very proper adherence to the rules and his duties, former farmboy -soldier is continuously exasperated by the minor crises that crop up, such as when one of the girls needs to use the loo. She wants to use the men’s washroom before half-time, but farmer-soldier can’t conceive of anything as crazy as that. “Men and women are different!” he yells, to which she replies, “I’ll piss all over myself.” After this heated exchange, the commentator-soldier is the unlucky sod burdened with the duty of accompanying this female to the men’s washroom. But there is elaborate artifice, a pageantry of absurdity of Shakesperean proportion even in this simple act. Commentator-soldier takes a poster of an Iranian football player, cuts-out the eyes, and tells the girl wear it as a mask so that “no one will know you’re a girl.” She does so, and off they go to the men’s washroom, this curious pair of poster-face human entity and male soldier.

The only way to have a conversation

Along the way to the washroom, the girl tells commentator-soldier that football to her is more important than food and that she even plays on a women’s team. He asks her if she would like to play in a stadium filled with men and she replies that they only ever let women in when they play. “What if a man came to your game dressed as a woman?” the soldier asks her, to which she replies, “Men would not dare to do such things.” The ludicrousness is only heightened in the washroom – the soldier allows her to pee only after all the men have vacated the area. The only problem is, men are constantly coming in and out of the area – it is, after all, a toilet. He holds them back from going in, and then tells the girl to cover her eyes – so as to not read what’s written on the walls – stuff that is “too dirty for a woman”. Panahi’s gift is the ability to show these men not as monsters but as men with the propensity to be assholes and or illogical and stupid because they’re unthinking. As in any society, it pays for some (i.e. the beneficiaries, the ruling class, the political/social/economic power wielders) to be unthinking, while the only way for the rest to survive is to do the thinking for everyone.

As such, Panahi’s women are always one step ahead of the men because they must be if they want to exercise the same rights or enjoy anything at all.  Their entire day-do-day lives require subterfuge and the ability to get creative and play with rules. But the weight of manhood is also heavy. The soldiers are constantly reminding the girls of the “strange men” who are everywhere and anywhere; as farmboy-soldier tells androgynous girl, “Even if a man is your father, or brother, or husband, to other girls he is a stranger.” How must it feel to constantly know yourself as the source of supposedly unspeakable danger, yet at the same time be the source of protection meant to keep women safe from the very essence of yourself? It must result in a consistent feeling of madness, and work as a most devious socio-cultural device that keeps men split both within themselves and in their relations to women. Perhaps this is how one can become a rapist or abuser on the one hand and still be a devoutly-concerned and protective father/brother/husband on the other.

Because the film runs on a thread of bitter-tinged humour and hope, the ending is suitably vague yet triumphant. The movie was actually shot during the Iran – Bahrain World Cup qualifier in 2005, which certainly puts the viewer in the same role as the imprisoned females. We know there’s a real football match going on, but here we are caught up in this absurd charade of gender roles and performative utterances. There is this rather bare-bones interview with Jafar Panahi by Time magazine which I found of interest for this simple statement: “I regard myself as a social filmmaker, not a political filmmaker. But every social film, at its base, comes into contact with political issues. Because every social problem is clearly due to some political mistake.”

It’s a strain of thought that’s apparent in both Offside and The Circle, presenting people just as they are: people making the most of mistakes, and sometimes simply succumbing to them.

*Title of this post credited to Garbage, naturally.


Noir Urbanisms

February 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

In time-honoured blogging tradition of self-promotion, this is just a post to link to you my Pop Matters review of Noir Urbanisms: Dystopic Images of the Modern City, edited by Gyan Prakash. I learned quite a bit from it, and have pages of my notebook stuffed with more references to follow-up on – which is what all good nonfiction should do. Prakash himself doesn’t have an essay included in it – that’s really too bad – but I definitely look forward to getting my hands on his Mumbai Fables.

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“This is our land [Coconut City]”

February 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

Nikesh Shukla’s Coconut Unlimited invited me in with its very tempting cover of vivid saree-appropriate orange. And not just ordinary saree-orange. Saree-orange speckled with graffiti-ed words and doodles. A cow accompanied by a “no beef” sign hung out next to a cassette tape, and a microphone floated somewhere above it. More important, however, were the blurbs. I would like to consider myself blurb-proof. Apparently, I only am blurb-proof when the blurb reads: “A lyrical portrait of an ordinary American family in the heart of the Midwest rocked to the core by sudden revelations and secrets from the past.” Coconut Unlimited’s blurbs were penned, though, by hip names – Joe Dunthorne of Submarine and Riz MC, star of Four Lions, for one thing – and embellished with choice words. The choicest of them being the phrase, “the Brit-Asian Rotters’ Club”, courtesy of Niven Govinden. What to do? I bought the book. I am not blurb-proof. I am not impervious. Altogether, say it to me: Hubris will be thy fall, etc.

The combined effect of colour + cover + blurbs leads the susceptible-to-covers reader (me) to believe she’s about to read THE BEST NOVEL EVAH. So it’s hardly surprising that Coconut Unlimited did not quite live up to the hype. It had its journey very well-mapped out, and it followed closely to the prescribed path. This was meant to be a warm, comedic, light-hearted yarn about three Indian boys in a posh public school in Harrow banding together to form a rap group as a buffer against the virulent British-strain of public school classism and racism. And so it was a warm, comedic, light-hearted yarn. Yet, interwoven threads of cultural differences and immigrant blues underpinned the yarniness, and it felt like the narrative would have sometimes liked to go down a different a path – a little less slap-your-knee funny, a little more turbulent and chaotic – but it seemed to have been firmly yanked back into warm, comedic, light-hearted yarn territory. Still, it must be acknowledged the flood of acclaim that came out for Coconut Unlimited book probably points towards the need among readers for adolescent school stories featuring less-than-lily white characters, for stories situated outside of the sphere of the white British experience trotted out as being representative or typical.

As far as male friendships go, Coconut Unlimited is a fine tribute to the ties that bind. Amit, the protagonist who presents this tale to us in a narrated flashback, and his two buddies Anand and Nishant, are ready-made outcasts in their posh collegiate environment because of their race and skin colour. The three are intermittently geeky and surprisingly smooth, and the dialogue between the three form some of the best parts of the book. Amit is witty and adept at summing up his social condition in a few well-chosen words:

At private school, the only thing to rebel against was wealth, which made all the white kids turn to angsty guitar music about upset stomachs and parental resentment. We three had no wealth to rebel against. We were the victims of our parents’ desire to ensure we had a good education, meaning all their money was spent on private school. No holidays, no proper nights out, no musical instruments, no frivolity – only austere learning. We rebelled against the stigma of being the three Asians.[i]

Being brown and not black isn’t enough to withstand white contempt, or at the very least it only invites a different kind of contempt that is rooted in unflattering comparisons to curry – and so Amit and his crew decide to go black via rap music and “street” culture. Problem is, neither one of them can rap – and neither one of them has experienced “life on the street”. But where adolescent energy finds its destiny, nothing can stand in its way, and so Amit, Anand, and Nishant are on their way to being Coconut Unlimited by careful and disciplined appropriation of black culture and rap music as gleaned from TV and music magazines.

Coconut Unlimited is set in the 1990s, so for these cash-deprived Indian boys of Harrow, cassette tapes are the medium by which music is discovered and consumed. Hey! Much like it was for cash-deprived Indian girls of Malaysia. Amit and his friends trade mix tapes and record songs off of bought albums and spend hours listening to beats and memorising lyrics. The mix tape is the site in which the self is continuously being remade. This isn’t surprising as music-obsessed adolescents of the 80s and mid-90s attempted to build, demolish, and reconstruct new identities in tandem with their shifting interests and obsessions with newly-discovered music, and the cassette facilitated easy acquisition and dispersal of music to suit rapidly-changing needs. Press play, hit record, or rewind – it’s there one minute or deleted and recorded over the next. The Coconut Unlimited trio also record their self-made music using cassette tapes, figuring out creative ways to layer rapping over vocals and beats in an awkward and adorable attempt at bricolage. But what’s interesting is that Amit’s father does the same, using his cassettes as a way of maintaining ties to a place – in this case, India – by copying Bollywood albums brought over by friends, and then circulating and trading these tapes amongst his friends. In Amit’s father’s case, the mix tape is a means by which he rediscovers what probably constitutes the lost self of a first-generation immigrant to Britain.

Amit’s always-present anger and confusion is often sublimated into crafting rhymes that sound good in his head but also tend to stay in his head – Amit is a failed rapper before he can even begin – which is interesting, of course, and funny. But this aspect of Amit’s character also feels overly-prescribed, as if Shukla’s attempt to rewrite the comic English novel to the key of brown prevents him from exploring (or wanting to) the boundaries between laughter and shame, or laughter and pain. After all, the immigrant experience of being the outsider constantly reminded of one’s “otherness” is not always summed up with a catchy rhyme or deviated with a few laughs. When I think about what is one of the most successful depictions of both vivid pathos and humour as it plays out in the daily lived experience of the immigrant, I think of The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon. The Lonely Londoners tells the story of the working-class, however, and Coconut Unlimited tells the story of young men who aren’t poor but who are trapped within limited economic circumstances that seriously circumscribe their ability to be “pretty cool”.

Perhaps there is never really any true pathos in the experience of the marginalised-yet-pampered second-generation Indian immigrant, only sublimated anger and resentment. Pitching the narrative at one particular emotional note throughout the book doesn’t seem to have done justice to Coconut Unlimited’s scope and imagination. Sometimes the racist bullshit that the boys endure are not so much of a laugh, haha. The familial tensions that arise out inter-generational conflicts are tiny stabs to the heart, and not so much of a laugh, haha. That’s not to say that Shukla shouldn’t have set out to write a comic novel undercut by humiliation and marginalization (two situations ripe for humour), but the comedy faltered at points. From a reader’s perspective, it felt like the comedy faltered at precise points where comedy needed to sit back and allow a little pathos to seep in through the gaps. But those emotions aren’t given permission to expand to fit those gaps, and what remains are absences in the text that don’t so much as engage curiosity as shut it down.

This is partly a problem with Amit, who drops tiny bombs throughout the narrative about his displeasure for Asian and Indian girls. He meets the daughter of his parents’ friends, a girl whom he considers sexy, only to remind us that he only considered her “sexy for an Asian girl.” Amit spends a lot of his time wanting to distance himself from his white male counterparts – and white male culture in general – while generally only desiring white females and holding Indian/Asian girls in contempt. Amit’s dislike and contempt for Indian and Asian girls is constant – he derides his sister’s Indian friends as stupid and giggly, and derides the Indian girls at a Gujarati cultural event he attends as stupid and giggly, and objects to Anand’s first girlfriend on grounds of simple jealousy, but also because she’s Indian. This is interesting, and one wonders if it’s an expected immigrant malaise to sexually reject the people who are most like you and desire those most unlike you as you grow up in a culture that valorises the people most unlike you.  The Lacanian construct of “desire is the desire for the other” seems to bear out most convincingly in immigrant or post-colonial communities. No surprise then that the teenage Amit reveres white girls more than others – except that the grown-up Amit, who narrates this story and comes back to join in the final chapter, has fulfilled teenaged Amit’s dream by marrying a white woman. One can’t help but wonder about the buried subtext of this after an adolescence spent imagining Indian/Asian women to be somehow deficient – capable only of provoking Amit’s disgust and scorn.

Amit’s pretty astute in realising that he’s mocked for appropriating black street culture while living in the comfortable suburbs of Harrow, and is aware enough to feel embarrassed when his mom says unthinking sort-of racist things about black people and black culture. At the same time, it’s a fairly common adolescent rite-of-passage to rebel, strongly and loudly OR subtly and wimpily, against one’s parents and by extension, one’s culture – since most parents tend to fill the role of cultural gatekeepers – and also to rebel against all that undercuts your sense of self and rubs your face in daily misery. In Amit’s case, the latter is realised by his posh white classmate and the entire racialised structure of his private school experience. But Amit also performs some of his own (unconscious, perhaps) cultural gatekeeping when he evaluates his Indian peers, mocking them for their fondness for vacuous R‘n’B music and appropriation of bling-bling culture:

The boys: gelled spiky hair in a variety of angles and shaved sides, jumpers with logos emblazoned near their nipples, Moschino or Ralph Lauren or Armani – s’ all bout da laaaaabels blud – jeans with insignias all over them, gleaming white trainers, gold rings on every finger displaying religious iconography.

The girls: grey or green contact lenses, foundation like pate, catty eye make-up and the rest all in black, their long small fingernails painted golden, their hair straight and middle-parted, small, all under five-foot – all so generic, so exactly the same that there was nothing even remotely attractive about them.

Sure, people might argue that Amit is young – it’s practically a requirement for him to be an ass.[ii] But young or no, one hopes to excavate other character traits that would make him interesting to be with for the duration of the narrative, if not exactly a pleasure to be with. Shukla gives us an Amit with a sparse history and with very few engagements in life beyond this sudden manic obsession with rap music as a means of attaining cool factor and redeeming his social standing. Amit seems intangible, almost a figment of authorial nostalgia and memory, while the people around him – Anand, Nishant, his parents, even Pentil the racist bully in his school – are sketched out in strong, sharp strokes, imbuing them with a stronger presence on the page than Amit ever achieves.

Shukla’s prose, however, provides the rhythm that propels the book’s narrative forward in a fairly entertaining way; the dialogue peppered with the steady and catchy beat of street slang (or at the very least, mimics the attempts of straightlaced good boys trying to speak in slang). There are some hilarious inclusions of Amit’s (misfired) attempts at crafting rhyme for their rap songs, and as expected for a comic novel well-versed and respectful of its tradition, rapid-fire wit and humour are in abundance. Amit’s mother’s constant irritation with her son’s speech style, “What do you mean ‘what’s up?’ Why must something always be up?” got a smile out of me each time. The general tenor of her dialogue is affectionately and tenderly executed; she isn’t framed as being silly or nasty (as some Indian moms appear to be when seen from the perspective of their beloved sons… or yes, daughters), just stolidly and comfortingly present.

So is Coconut Unlimited the Brit-Asian The Rotters’ Club? I remember the latter creating a world of juvenile angst, confusion, lust, desire, and the manic teenage enthusiasm for 70s British punk. It was absorbing; I read it very quickly and without many breaks while I listened to XTC in the background, and came out of it fully-convinced I was a young English male on the cusp of an exciting future. Coconut Unlimited peeled off only very outer layer of its characters’ complicated lives, and as a result I only wanted to give it my very superficial attention. It’s like expecting a lunch of rice and sambar made from scratch, only to be given sambar-from-a-box. You eat it… but there’s some crucial element missing. There’s very little room in Coconut Unlimited for the characters to feel genuinely bad for more than two seconds, and because of that the book is somewhat inadequate. From other reviews I’ve read, I seem to be in the tiny minority. But I can’t say I don’t look forward to see what Shukla will come up with now that he’s exorcised the ghost of his adolescent past with this book.

[i] Note that Amit is British yet refers to his public school as a private school, although I do believe that a public school in Britain is the term used for private school, but perhaps public schoolers in Britain refer to their public schools as private schools in private. I do not know. The alternative explanation is that this was a concession made in the text so as not to confuse non-English readers, who are more likely the easily-confused Americans. Ha! Just kidding. No, not really.

[ii] This definitely leads one to wonder if that’s the reason why there’s been a recent wave of books by adult men for adult audiences – Proper Books, mind you, without brain injury involved – featuring adolescent males as main characters filtering the world through an adolescent male experience.

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february 11, 2011

February 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Picture above stolen shamelessly from A Very Public Sociologist.

No words. Just pictures.

After that – the revolution continues.

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Blink and you still won’t miss it

February 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Our Prime Minister warns us not to stage an Egypt-style revolution in this blessed country. We should, presumably, concentrate more on making more cars, driving more cars, polluting our cities, increasing income disparity, and mindlessly zombie-shopping in malls. In the meantime we take the occassional break to ruminate on The State of the Country Today and blame all of our social ills – from petty theft to baby snatching and baby dumping and incest and rape and sexual harassment and murder – on those damned foreigners. Not all foreigners, though, the clean-looking ones with shiny blonde hair are definitely okay.

In the meantime, he also tells us that the act of “saving” Malaysian students in Egypt was not a political move:

“The Government decided that whatever the circumstances, we would launch a mission to rescue all Malaysians there.

“There was no political interest, as long as they were our people, our mission was to save them.”

Sez our esteemed PM. LOLZ.

This Ops Piramid, then, was a spectacular orgy of self-congratulation designed to boost the Malaysian spirit at the expense of the very real concerns of the Egyptian people – concerns which were hardly given any thought by our government. If there was any commentary, it came from regular folks, journalists, and columnists.

Instead, Malaysians reading the local papers were treated to a stern warning from our Papa PM – “Don’t think that what is happening there must also happen in Malaysia. We will not allow it to happen here,” he tells us – a metaphorical slap on the wrist, as it were, and then soothed with some sugary treats, as below:



Oh, and don’t forget!

The Saudi Arabian government has granted unlimited flight access to Malaysia to airlift its citizens from Egypt to Jeddah – a rare move made possible due to the close personal relationship between Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor with the Saudi Royal House.

Ordinary Malaysians can feel heartened that our country has ties to a repressive, bling-bling regime. They grant us flight access! Unlimited! To save ourselves from those marauding Egyptians!

Many thanks to profit-starved MAS and profit-bloated Air Asia as they weasel their way in to participate in the spectacle; bless ’em, can’t live without ’em.

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some thinggummy

February 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

My noodle brain has been spectacularly limp lately. More limp, if this can be believed, than usual. But somehow all this sounds wrong. I suspect brains should not be compared to noodles, and neither should the word “limp” be involved.

To begin again, I just want to say that I’ve been extremely absent-minded of late. I would like to blame the internet, but…  ah, screw it. You know what, I am going to blame the internet.

So there was this thing Pop Matters did awhile back on the Best Books of 2010, fiction and nonfiction. And I was supposed to link to it here because I say things about one work of fiction and one work of nonfiction, but I completely forgot to do so. Therefore! I now – tadaa! – link to it. Over here. Also, to note that my choices are predictable – to give you a hint, both books I picked showed up on my own list at the start of the year. I have resolved to be less predictable in 2011. But if I forget to blog about it and tell you how it goes then it means I’m still predictable, and that means, you know, gaaahhh… the pointlessness of resolutions and the meaninglessness of existence, etc.

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February 2, 2011 § 3 Comments

Like everyone else, I’ve been glued to my Twitter stream and Al Jazeera over the course of a tumultuous week in Egypt. It seems almost an insult to carry on doing normal-life things like blogging about reading or tweeting about music heard and things watched. But at the same time I’m aware of how easy it is to slide into comfortable, privileged guilt.

The only thing to do is to pay attention and to be present. I do think that Aaron Bady says it best. Although he’s speaking particularly from the point of view of an American citizen, I agree with the overarching message: “It’s selfish. It is for me, because it’s what I need to do as a person whose spiritual body has gotten very hungry. I want to be a part of something hopeful because I find that too much hopelessness has crept too deeply into the person I have no choice but to be.”

Similarly, the only way to honour what’s beyond our immediate petty and serious concerns is to force ourselves to shut up and learn. There’s so much I don’t know. I just shut up and allow myself to be taught. Being open to learning and being present for the duration of it – these seem to be the ways to ameliorate the guilt arising of the uselessness of not being a participant in what we see, only mere observers. But there’s observing, and there’s bearing witness, as Aaron reminds us.

Islamophobes of the world, shut up and listen to the sound of people power. Your artificial Middle East dichotomy – it’s either “our” dictators or jihadism – was never more than a cheap trick. Political repression, mass unemployment and rising food prices are more lethal than an army of suicide bombers. This is the actual way history is written; a country of 80 million – two-thirds of which born after their dictator came to power in 1981, and no less than the heart of the Arab world – finally shatters the Wall of Fear and crosses to the side of self-respect.


We are all Egyptians now. The Latin American virus – bye-bye dictatorships plus arrogant, myopic neo-liberalism – has contaminated the Middle East. First Tunisia. Now Egypt. Next Yemen and possibly Jordan. Soon the House of Saud (no wonder they blamed the Egyptian people for the “riots”). But the Northern African political earthquake of Tunisia 2011 also got its spark from the 2010 mass strikes in Europe – Greece, Italy, France, the United Kingdom. Rage, rage, against political repression, dictatorship, police brutality, out of control food prices, inflation, miserable wages, mass unemployment.

The quotes above from Pepe Escobar’s article in Asia Times.

Juan Cole on Egypt’s class conflict.

“I would also like to emphasize that Egyptian antiquities, as The Onion sharply satirizes, have already been looted.” Sophie Azeb’s ‘The Museum Will Be Open’.

Amardeep Singh on the poetry in the protests, and he leads us to Elliott Cola’s amazing piece on the poetry of revolt.

An interview with Egyptian blogger and journalist Hossam el-Hamalawy.

Dave Zirin on Egypt’s soccer clubs: the “one consistent nexus for anger, organization, and practical experience in the ancient art of street fighting.”

Israel, in short, has been of no use whatsoever to President Obama as he has tried to figure out how to respond to this fast-moving uprising that is far and away the most significant development in the geopolitics of the Middle East since Bush’s invasion of Iraq. But Israel’s situation is now revealed as worse than that. It is not just that it is of no use to Washington. Its actions over the past 40 years, and those of its many cheerleaders inside the U.S. body politic, are now clearly revealed as having undercut our country’s ability to pursue a reasonable, peaceable and rights-based policy throughout the region.

Helena Cobban minces no words on that elephant in the room influencing American foreign policy in the Arab world.

A succinct fact sheet on the numbers behind US aid to Egypt.

Mohammed Hanif on watching other people’s revolutions from Ramallah.

“Remember when I would stand on the steps of the press syndicate to protest? I would stand alone. Now look at everyone. They are all here,” says the uncle of Sharif Abdel Kouddous.

On South/South, ‘Class, Cairo and Catalonia’.

Pictures: 3arabawy’s photostream and in Matthew Cassel’s galleries.

“On this question, there is less than a dime’s worth of difference between “progressive” Democrats and Republican xenophobes, between pinstriped State Department Arabists and flannel-clad Christian fundamentalists, between oil-first “realists” and Israel-first neo-conservatives. There is none.” Dead-Enders on the Potomac.

And an older piece that’s still relevant reading – Asef Bayat’s ‘The “Street” and the Politics of Dissent in the Arab World’.

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