Thursday, November 10, 2016

Barcelona to Gaza

This is Itaca Band. This past September, Jenny and I saw them perform this song at a free concert in Barcelona. More than 3,000 people danced through the night. Young fans sang every lyric along with the band, word for word. But, this wasn't any concert. It was an event to send off a women's boat to Gaza.

Amidst what could have been just another pop music moment, event organizers put together a show infused with anti Apartheid messaging, colored with the beauty of a free Palestine. Instead, consciousness was being built, the notion of commercializing public space was being disrupted, and solidarity was being sent across the seas.
In the same spirit of events like the The Toronto Palestine Film Festival which work hard to create platforms for cultural resistance, this event was not an insular ideological orgy where Facebook activists spend the night attacking each other's revolutionary credentials, splitting any semblance of a movement.
It was something powerful and meaningful.
Stay strong!

This is Hip Hop.

As immigrant teens, battling the cold, hip hop spoke to us in a language we understood, telling tales of misfits with big dreams, we were inspired by the warrior mentality it paid tribute to. Delivered cryptically to the sounds of rhythmic booms and baps, it invoked the dance and poetry of our erased heritage. For me personally, my family and I immigrated to Toronto in the early nineties, during a time that would prove to be a definitive era for emceeing. Against the backdrop of diaspora, we built lyrical bridges with other migrant communities, opening up our eyes and ears to struggles many of us were privileged to avoid, or too sheltered to connect to our own trials and tribulations. Hip hop enabled us to remix our experiences in a way that gave us life, filling our lungs with dignity, and enriching our minds with the dreams that drive us to this day.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Iraq: always on the rise.

Written to the sounds of this live set by Karim Sultan, and in response to questions posed by Common Dreams.

On the protests in Baghdad's Tahrir Square.

As many people know, civil society in Iraq has been under a sustained attack for several decades. Dictatorship, wars, sanctions and occupation have created intolerable conditions for citizens to organize within their communities or on a national level around the issues that mean the most to them, those issues revolving around the provision of the basic means of sustenance.

Despite these undemocratic conditions, rife with sectarianism and violence, corruption and theft, the people of Iraq have always remained outspoken in their opposition to the systemic destruction of their country, whether it is on social media, in coffee shops, or in the public squares of Iraq, protesting and demanding better living conditions for themselves and their families.

Therefore, when the call came from a group of media personalities and academics to gather in Baghdad's Tahrir Square on July 31 to protest the unbearable and inexcusable shortages of electricity, the response was undoubtedly going to be hotter than the relentless summer eating away at Baghdad, dubbed by many "the city of resilience." Young people, thirsty for an opportunity to gather outside the rhetoric of political parties, and their sectarian criminal agenda, rushed to the city's main square to demand better living conditions, chanting, "In the name of religion, the thieves robbed us."

At a moment when Iraqis are bearing the weight of the world on their shoulders, staring at the prospect of the country's complete collapse, surviving with little to no electricity, clean water, healthcare, education and security, for them to gather on the streets, unarmed, free from petty political alliances, to reject the sectarian division of the country, its theft, and ultimate destruction, is a tremendously significant moment for Iraq and its people.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Iraq 2.0

Written to the sounds of this song, with Baghdad on the mind.

When I speak about Iraq, and defend the dignity of its people vociferously, it is not an exercise in petty nationalism. Flags and maps mean nothing on their own. Especially when those flags and maps are the weapons that are used to kill us.

When I speak about Iraq, I am not discussing some abstract political development that is unfolding on the pages of a newspaper, or dancing slowly in a ticker across the bottom of a TV screen. I am engaging in a conversation about the conditions that have shaped the conditions of my life, and that continue to do so.

Throughout my childhood, and even to this day, being Iraqi determined all the details of my life. From the cultural expressions that colored my home to more inescapable facts such as where I was permitted to live, Iraq was there, like a beautiful painting etched across the width of my face.

A few months ago, I buried my father in Canada, thousands of miles away from where he grew up, shaped his dreams, fell in love, and fought for a better future for his community. All his life, he struggled with the perverted realities that have consumed his beloved Baghdad. Eventually, the death that consumed Iraq, consumed him.

We are in exile, privileged to live in air conditioned bubbles that we now call our homes. But never for a moment, will I let my comfort suffocate the realities that make me who I am. And all of these realities are Iraq, whatever that means today, no matter how muted or brilliant they are manifested. How can I stay silent when Iraq shapes my tongue and molds my heart, sets my mind alight and holds my spirits in the company of the gods at night?

Forgive me if I am angry, unforgiving, and even crazy at times. But, I'm watching everything that I am disintegrate before my own eyes. I don't want to live off the fumes of nostalgia, and move through this world with my eyes wide shut. I want to play an active role in telling stories, sharing memories, highlighting brilliance in the face of utter destruction, and starting uncomfortable conversations no matter the suitability of the time and place.

I am not perfect. I am still learning to create the inclusive spaces that we deserve so we can share our tragedies and celebrate our achievements without breaking apart the ground that we stand on. Sectarianism is a poisonous tree that waters itself. Iraq is for everyone, and it is many different things for different people, and we must respect and cherish that.

I hope that through the humble steps I take in spaces such as shakomakoNET, and other future projects, I can give something back to Iraq, seeing that it has given me everything that I have today.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A bit of speak.

A poem I wrote on a noisy day. I wish to perform it one day.

Every/day, manic attack from the panic in Iraq, killing manufactured by the world’s poorest to kill the global poor, a non-stop world tour, satisfying an unstoppable appetite, racism, greed with tons of fucking dynamite, ready to be used, millions abused, and life is something that you lose, and not live, we end up reflecting a world that wants to take and never give back or give in. That is the state of the world we’re in.

That is the state of the world we’re in. Any form of resistance is either categorized as a crime or a sin, the questioning of authority is either the work of the jinn, or a crime that will get you imprisoned or killed, but you fight to win, because you know cops and religion are working within the same system that controls the state of the world we’re in.

That is the state of the world we’re in, not everyone is human, different people have more worth, either as a result of a privilege from birth, or from the exploitation of the earth, still birth, dead the day you were born, because you come from cities war torn, respect to the dead from the African Horn, to Rock of the Dome, to Cairo, Damascus, Beirut to Tyendanaga and everything within, solidarity is the only way we can change the state of the world we’re in.

That is the state of the world we’re in, murdered and missing women, killing between kin, and mass murder at the hands of Israelis and Americans, numbed minds and analytical remission, keeps the capitalists wishing for more war, and death, ownership of everything even the air in our every breath, and everything is determined by someone’s acquisition of wealth and their desire to stay living, and that is the state of the world we’re in.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A familiar state of mind.

He stands at the concrete shore: air conditioned. Thick lifeless waves pet his legs to sleep. A tired boat, starving to death, crawls towards him at a deafening pace. Toxic fumes mold his thoughts into a mindless freeze. The muted distress of explosions remains in the distance, respectful of not disturbing his Technicolor dreams. He eats.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Smoking in August

There was never enough room on the bus for me to start with. The twelve empty seats couldn't accommodate the guilt that I was carrying with me in my pockets. I knew that stealing the last pack of cigarettes from under my dad's table would drive him crazy, but I did it anyway.

I hate cigarettes, but I love making smoke come out of my mouth. I find it to be an apt representation of my anger. I just wish I didn't have to depend on cancer ridden sticks, carefully packaged for my hidden desires. In Canada, cigarettes and smoke represent a tarnished and mutilated history of native culture. Stolen from the wisdom of elders, and turned into the deadliest of tools, cigarettes embody the theft of Turtle Island.

Despite the blood stained carton packs decorating my room, I crave the fire in my hands. Like a fool, I mistake pettiness for power. Around the world, there is more readily available access to cigarettes than clean water. For the poor, cigarettes replace food for fuel. Flicking away the facts, I recluse to my red bubble, and hold up my smokes in radical rejoice of my so called resistance.

It would be unfair to step on the truth in my limited lopsided lashing of lighting cigarettes. As such, I must openly embrace those memories spent in Baghdad smoking the night away. The stench of despair in the air coupled with the coughs of burning lungs captures the dying days of Iraq in a way nothing else can. For that, I hate and love cigarettes the same.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What's next?

It took a fleeting glimpse into my eyes by a passerby, from a million miles away, for me to remember that I used to write.

He spoke of letters lying in a pool of their own shit, holding on to each other for hope. He described how he saw words giving up on their lives, crumbling one by one into an abyss of meaningless strife.

He was unable to focus on the reasons for the decrepit state of affairs, although he mentioned that a wide selection of explanations hung neatly from the rotten rooftops of the restless room. An incessant noise made it impossible for him to stay beyond the eternal second he spent peeking through rusted shields, and right into my soul, but his story shook my heart.

I told him that sketching stories into the sky is a godly talent bastardized by the diarrhetic stunts of fragmented minds. I described how easily erected essays about nothing and everything decorate our worlds with warning signs of the way in which our minds are heading: nowhere; and that amidst these corrupted clouds, I have quietly wrapped myself with a comfortable cocoon of shame and closed all roads leading into my world.

Elsewhere in the world, history forces itself onto helpless hoards of unsung heroes everyday.

Instead of putting words into sentences to disturb the sentences which we are forced to serve, I draw circles around myself and dance to the drunken sounds of greedy waves eating away at our broken shores.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Amman, Libya, and the Arabian Sea.

I visited Amman for the first time in 1992, on my way out of the Gulf, destination unknown. That year, my family had packed as much of their lives as possible into a dozen tired suitcases and said goodbye to Abu Dhabi, their home away from home for the better part of a decade. Operation Desert Storm ushered in a new era of American imperialism for the region, and a new lifetime of exile for Iraqis like me. From the outside, Amman looked confused, tired, and beat down, a lot like the scores of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees that make up most of its population. Tribalism, monarchy, and its proximity to Israel and Iraq have never given the city a chance to develop its own irrelevant and narcissistic identity, like most cities around the world strive to do. In fact, Amman, as capital city of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, despite its sparse offerings, has played a very critical role in supporting an important and international project: the colonization of the Arab world. Their list of achievements in this area is surprisingly quite extensive: peace treaties and economic agreements with Apartheid Israel, denial of citizenship rights to Palestinians, support of Iraqi dictatorship and then American occupation, and of course the subjugation of the rights of its own citizens are just some of its contributions. Therefore, recent news that Amman would become another city enclosed by the protectorate of the Gulf Cooperation Council, comes as no surprise at all.

During our stay in Amman, my father ventured out to Libya, by taking a boat from Malta, and visited oil companies operating in Tripoli, in the hopes of finding employment. He was one of tens of thousands of Iraqis that had been to the North African state to find economic sustenance for their families. His trip was not fruitful, and in many ways, I am thankful for that. As many of us know, Libya is currently undergoing a painful and mandatory imperialist exercise: the undermining of efforts by grassroots revolutionary movements in favor of maintaining steady oil supplies to the West. As an Iraqi, I know a thing or two about that. A recent visit by American senator and war monger John McCain to so-called revolutionaries in Libya allowed Gaddafi’s dictatorship to breathe a huge sigh of relief. The cooption of the Libyan revolution by America was a step in ensuring that no revolutionary movements would entertain the thought of disrupting, or more audaciously, controlling, the export of the country’s natural resources. And as gatekeeper for Libya’s oil for many decades, Gaddafi’s henchmen knew that their presence would be maintained, even for a little longer, as long as oil ran beneath their feet and NATO jet fighters hovered above their sky.

From the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Sea, American intelligence units and diplomatic missions are struggling to contain continued defiance by Arabs against imperialism, and their locally hired goons. Because, beneath the fake smiles of Obama and Sarkozy, Pennsylvania Avenue and Paris both know that Arab dictators will not be the only beasts scouring for shelter from the relentless rains of blossoming dreams this summer. Pieces from shattering statues in Tunis and Cairo will be felt a million miles beyond our liberation squares. They will find their way back to the glass mansions that built them. For decades, so called Western Democracies forced millions of workers, farmers, and students in the Arab world to live under the merciless boots of their merciless regimes. So when news broke of Osama Bin Laden’s death and his burial at sea, America positioned itself to make a shift from the War on Terror, to a return of more tried and tested colonial tactics: containing our struggles to be free.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A spoken word piece never to be spoken.

Written on the eighth anniversary of the American occupation of Iraq, to the sounds of Naseer Shamma, and the memories of a lifetime gone by.

Our anniversaries pass us by more quickly every year.

The destruction of a people broadcast in Technicolor for consumption by shattered eyes and wasteful minds. Scripted lines of hypocrisies and lies carve their trickery into my brother’s chest. The era of democracy by theft has its foot firmly rooted in the back of my mother’s neck. Those ballot boxes are bleeding to death, with every breath fighting against the diagnosis of silence. Violence in the contaminated breasts, rotten vegetables, polluted nests, and disfigured skies of Baghdad knows no rest. Delivered from the West, fighter jets drop fishing nets filled with hate and disrespect. A people broken into sects brings joy to the appetite of uninvited guests. The fate of hungry children scribbled on a contract bringing wealth to a Wall Street desk with no test or tribulation. How many more years of occupation? Rivers of tears and sweat flood our cities with devastation, while money flows back into the pockets of those who ordered my father’s assassination. This is Iraq. A country laid out flatly on its back by rolling tanks and decades of suffocation.

Our anniversaries pass by us more quickly every year.

Refugees sell their dignity at the nearest gas station. Girls sold on the streets of neighboring nations. Death by penetration for an entire generation. Patience is the religion for those who sleep under clouds of eternal frustration. Lost in the equation of oil, blood, and colonization. In search of government issued identification to stop their creation from turning into broken bones and dust. Their skin color is rust. Everything they eat brings disgust to mouths filled with distrust for every drop of rain and wind gust. The sun refuses to share its light on a nation whose exodus was shoved through the windows of the nearest bus. Out of Iraq. A country under attack. The lack of choices. The only voices we hear whisper that our anniversaries pass by us more quickly every year.

And that is my greatest fear.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Gulf Cup: Much More than Football

For the Iraqi men's national football team, the road to Aden has been long. After landing in Manama around 7am on a short flight from nearby Dubai, the Iraqi team spend the better half of the day sleeping on the floors of the Bahraini airport, in between chairs, hiding in the prayer room, exhausted, trying to escape the aggressive attitude of air-conditioning and indifference in the Gulf. The Asian champions were waiting to board a connecting to flight to Yemen, where teams from the Gulf are gathering to contest the 20th edition of the Gulf Cup, due to start tomorrow.

The experiences of these Iraqi passport holders traveling at the expense of their corrupt government are in stark contrast to those of their richer counterparts who arrived in the Yemeni capital on chartered flights that flew nonstop from their respective capitals. If the Iraqi government can't organize a direct flight from Dubai to Yemen for a few dozen of the most important people in the country, then Iraqis have a better chance of seeing snow in July than witnessing any improvements on the ground.

Nonetheless, these kinds of trials and tribulations are no stranger to athletes from Iraq. A history of dehumanization at the hands of the own government, whether it was corporal punishment under a maniacal Uday Saddam Hussein, or utter disregard complements of a stubborn and incompetent Hussain Saeed, both of whom have had their ways with misgoverning the beautiful game in Iraq, the country's performance has been nothing short of miraculous.

Only months after the horrors of American occupation, the Iraqi Olympic team took the 2004 Athens games by storm by reaching the bronze medal match only to lose narrowly to a star studded Italian side. This set the Iraqi football machine in motion and drove it to arguably its highest achievement yet: winning the Asian Cup of Nations in 2007.

Since then, however, the Lions of Mesopotamia, as they are commonly known on the streets of Iraq, have had their share of setbacks. An early exit in World Cup qualifications and a string of bad showings at the Gulf Cup have embodied the demise of the game in a country obsessed with everything that is football. This fall from glory has also been accentuated by an anemic domestic league where games are played on rotten pitches to the tunes of fan violence.

As Iraq endeavors to win its fourth Gulf Cup over the next two weeks, the fact that the tournament is being held in Yemen must be somewhat of a relief to a soccer team struggling to hold itself together. In many ways, Aden is very similar to Baghdad. In addition to both cities enjoying a rich history, the two capitals are similar in terms of their political instability. Although matters in Iraq can not be compared to the relative stability in Yemen, the Gulf Cup has been met with protest, violence, and a massive security crackdown.

The hosts are desperate to promote a facade of unity between the North and South of the country which came together in a manufactured merger in 1990 after a tumultuous history of struggle between communist and nationalist elements. Since their unification, a brief civil war in 1994 and a growing movement of discontent from the South have left the country on the brink of complete collapse.

In the weeks leading up to the tournament, rocket propelled grenades have visited the May 22 stadium in Aden twice while thousands of protesters have battled police officers in opposition to any public relations benefits that the Gulf Cup might bring to the governments off the backs of the oppressed. The Yemeni government is also obsessed with proving itself to its richer colleagues in the Gulf and thus taking a concrete step towards greater regional integration.

The security of southern Yemen tells only part of the political saga unfolding ahead of the Gulf Cup. To the north, separatist Houthis have once again flared up their demands by battling with Yemeni and Saudi security forces in what has been an ongoing conflict with regional and international consequences.

Despite a colossal security presence, several players have refused to join their squads, and the sensationalist Arabic media continues to cast its doubts over the safety of the tournament. In many ways, the concerns are legitimate, but ultimately, talk of security or a lack thereof usually stems from a problematic discourse surrounding a country's placement within the American plan for the Middle East. In the diseased spirit of anti-Black racism in the lead up to the World Cup in South Africa, anti-Yemeni stereotyping is also never far from the fear mongering campaign being waged against the tournament being staged in Aden.

This is not in defense of the Yemeni government which has reportedly spent $600 million of the public's money on stadiums and hotels at a time when the population are suffering from chronic failures in health care, education, and all aspects of the country's infrastructure. This is also the same government that is emerging as a new base for America's war on terror.

Nonetheless, Yemenis have historically been regarded as second class citizens in the Gulf. This is particularly true in Saudi Arabia, where tens of thousands of Yemenis live and work for considerably less pay than their affluent employers. In that sense, Yemenis are desperate to reverse a sense of lost dignity through a positive showing from their football team. Therefore, the opening match scheduled between Saudi Arabia and Yemen seems to be the ideal way to set the tournament on fire, figuratively speaking of course.

For the other countries participating in the regional tournament, unrecognized by FIFA, a win in the Gulf Cup is a much needed boost for Football Associations failing to impress their local audiences, even in instances where millions of dollars are spent on soccer. For Oman, the defending champions, a growing generation of gifted players wants to continue a recently found tradition of winning by successful defending their title. In Kuwait, a renaissance of might on the pitch is set to revive historic dominance of the tournament. For the Emaratis, a sleepy decade and a half has passed since the magic of the country's golden generation, and fans will surely look to this tournament to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Bahraini disappointment in the final stages of World Cup qualifications for the last eight years seems to still cast its powerful shadow over a gifted bunch, and a tough tournament is waiting for the island team. Finally, Qatar, with an army of naturalized foreigners, is still unable to find that elusive moment on the pitch to gain some momentum for a country vying to host the World Cup in 2022.

Despite the incentives dangled in front of all the participating teams, there is no greater joy than that which is in store for Iraq if they lift the trophy, coincidentally designed by an Iraqi artist as well. The Iraqi team must overcome tremendous obstacles on and off the pitch to come near any sense of accomplishment in Yemen. However, with the presence of a new German coach, Wolfgang Sidka, who led SV Werder Bremen to victory in the UEFA Intertoto Cup in 1998, and a collection of young hungry players battling for a spot in the squad ahead of the Asian Cup in January 2011 could prove the necessary boost to claim victory.

Younis Mahmoud, the Iraqi captain who has been continuously accused of underachieving against Gulf teams who offer the striker tremendous earning potential, recently told a gathering of Iraqis in Doha that Iraq will indeed win the Gulf Cup.

As Iraqi fans across the world hold their breath in anticipation to see if Mahmoud's words come true, the tournament in Yemen brings with it a slew of added elements that will undoubtedly mean that the real story of the Gulf Cup will be determined off the pitch. This is a trend that is going nowhere anytime soon as the next tournament is set to take place in none other than occupied Iraq itself.

A brief history of Iraqi Football:

1948: Iraqi Football Association established.
1951: Dhia Habib takes charge as first full time coach.
1957: Iraq's first international match played against Morocco in Lebanon, drawing 3-3
1964: Win the first of four consecutive Arab Nations Cups.
1966: Opening of Shaab Stadium in Baghdad against Eusebio's Portugal.
1986: First and only appearance in the World Cup in Mexico, losing 1-0 to Paraguay, 2-1 to Belgium and 1-0 to Mexico.
1991: Iraq banned from the Gulf Cup and Asian Games for more than a decade after the Gulf War.
2004: Storm to fourth place in the Athens Olympics, beating Portugal 4-2, Costa Rica 2-0 and Australia 1-0, before losing 1-0 to Italy in the bronze match.
2007: Jorvan Vieira leads Iraq to first Asian Cup, beating Saudia Arabia 1-0 in the final.
2008: Fail to qualify for 2010 World Cup.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Victims to the Vote

"It has been almost a million months since Iraqis ran to the polls, to fill holes in their souls with bloodstained ballots. Hundreds of candidates dressed up as maggots coloured the liberal lining in occupied skies, and perpetuated the lies that there is democracy. Hypocrisy of the highest order, politicians blaming their failure on porous borders, while blindly following American orders on everything from defence to education. The death of a nation, systematic assassination, and relentless dehumanization of millions of people. The burning of mosques, schools, hospitals and steeples for crumbs of rotten bread. Iraq is dead, shot in the heart and stabbed in the head." ~ Unfinished Letters from Iraq, broken part of a new spoken word piece.

Prior to the vote on March 7th of this year, all the major political factions running in the nationwide elections declared the entire affair to be corrupt and not representative of the people's will. They were preemptively cooking an excuse for any unwanted results that might emerge out of the charade. Independent reports corroborated their suggestions with testimonies of fake registration forms and leaky ballot boxes. However, the elections went through, and the results were applauded by other fake democracies around the world. Since then a constipated coalition building process has left Iraq with no government for more than eight months.

In spite of the satirical sadness of it all, the liberal media, and Iraq's desperate population continue to hold on to the electoral proceedings with religious fervour. From outside Iraq, those who politically organized the occupation see the elections as justification for their complicity in mass murder; while those inside the country try to cope with the immense loss of life by pinning their misguided hopes on the empty promises of one politician or the other.

The inaccuracy of the results and the subsequent drama only tell part of the story. An elections process cleverly diverts all attention from the colossal incompetency of the government, and spins the tall tale of a young fledgling born again country instead. The reality is that democracy in Iraq does not exist beyond the show business of sham elections.

In the absence of food, electricity, water, education, health, safety and dignity, the vote exists merely as a tool to stretch the life expectancy of the occupation and ironically works to quell any grassroots movements that would build genuine democratic institutions in the country. Students, workers, community organizations, women, single mothers, the disabled, orphans, the poor, and all other marginalized sectors of society continue to watch democracy from a painful distance while bearing the brunt of its epic failures.

Some Background

The emergence of a sovereign, self sustained, secular, progressive, economically powerful country in the region was a worrisome possibility for an oil hungry United States, obsessed with growing Soviet expansionism at the time. As such, the last 40 years have witnessed a program of pillaging and exploitation that has eaten its way through some of the most fertile land in the world.

Under Saddam's Ba'ath party, civil society in Iraq was destroyed, personal freedoms exterminated, and the majority of the country's resources were wasted on a paranoid dictatorship and an American proxy war with Iran. Under the sanctions, Iraq's infrastructure was annihilated, millions of people were killed, and theft and corruption took a stronghold in the mismanagement of the country's affairs. Since the occupation, millions more have had their lives destroyed, the greatest systematic extortion of a country's resources successfully executed, and the language of sectarianism has choked the aspirations of many generations to come. Throughout this time, America also unleashed the most violent warfare in the history of mankind.

The elections are just another part of this death sentence issued to Iraq.

In 1963, the CIA backed coup that deposed the populist left leaning government of Brigadier General Abdul Karim Qassim, and eventually brought Saddam's Ba'ath party to power, seems to be only a day away. During the bloody hijack, lists of progressive activists were provided to Ba'athist henchmen by the USA to be murdered in campuses and other public spaces. One of the men touting a gun, terrorizing the University of Baghdad was none other than the esteemed Dr. Ayad Allawi himself, one of the main contestants in the recent Iraqi elections. He is the leader of the Iraqi National Movement (Al Iraqiya), the political party which won the greatest number of seats.

His rival, Nouri Al Maliki, is secretary general of the Islamic Da'wa (Preaching) Party which was established by a collection of clerics in the 1960s to build an Islamic state in Iraq. Although it was not secular like its Ba'athist counterpart, it also saw socialism as its main enemy. From its inception, Al Maliki's party enjoyed an incestuous relationship with the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and lived under its protection throughout the entirety of Saddam's regime. Both the party's history and sectarian outlook make it a perfect compliment to the complete destruction of Iraq, and thus has enjoyed great success in occupied Iraq. Currently, the Da'wa Party operates under the guise of the State of Law Coalition which received the second greatest number of seats in the 2010 elections.

Now and Beyond

Both parties are self avowed friends of America and employ a strategy of completely burning Iraq so they can rebuild it according to their own perverted US-endorsed visions of democracy. While Allawi prefers a nationalist leaning neo-liberal death for the country, Al Maliki prefers to bury Baghdad and other cities under the rubble of sectarian strife. In both cases, tyranny, corruption, and mass murder are required elements to complete the task. To that end, America is ecstatic, and is satisfied with playing a role of a divisive dictator from a distance.

From Al Maliki and Allawi, one can also get a sense of the entire Iraqi political spectrum that is killing its way to power. Different variations of religious fundamentalism, ultranationalism, hyperactive capitalism, and incompetency define democracy in the country. And despite their differences in delivery, the outcome is still the same: greater suffering for the people of Iraq. Al Sadr, Al Chalabi, Talibani, Al Dulaimi, Al Hakim, Al Alousi and Al Jaafari are just some of the crooks that have terrorized Iraq for the better part of the last decade.

The solution to Iraq's woes goes beyond its borders, stretching from the impoverished streets of Cairo, over the Apartheid wall in Palestine, and all the way to the coalition killing fields near Kabul. Without an internationalist and radical awakening in the fields and factories of Iraq, the people will continue to be victims to the vote. Without a concerted central effort to rebuild the country's infrastructure, Iraqis will continue to live in near apocalyptic conditions, waiting hopelessly for their imminent death. Without control of the country's resources, Iraq will operate infinitely as a one stop shop for vultures vying for easy profits.

One could argue that choosing a government is a necessary precursor for all these things to take place, but the mechanisms that govern Iraq are far away from the hands of the government. Elected officials are nothing more than glorified pimps that are holding down Iraq's head while it is being violated by dozens of dollar driven demons. In the absence of a progressive, radical, grassroots political program, the death of Iraq will continue to evolve from one election booth to the next.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Posters on a Wall.

I am infested with memories. They hang from my face like an oily unwashed beard. They refuse to speak. Instead, they dance to the muffled sounds of creaky tables overloaded with the weight of dying dreams.

Trying to arrange my recollections into neatly marked cubbyholes has never worked. There are no childhood memories that can be contained separately from the awkward recollections of adolescence. There is no separation between last year and the one before. Despite their natural state of interconnectedness, the incalculable size of experiences gives me the impression that I have lived thousands of distinctly separate lifetimes.

The earliest memories I have are of my older sister's room in Abu Dhabi, decorated with the excitement of an emerging pop culture in the Eighties that was shaping the mindsets of people around the world. Although later I would learn that many of these images and attached meanings would become an effective weapon in shifting power to societies obsessed with merciless capitalism, at the time, they were glossy windows into a world of colourful imagination and limitless beauty. Exiled, we carry hybrid, sometimes fragmented, identity cards around our necks.

Memories are carried in vessels, charting the seas of subconsciousness, occasionally stopping at islands of recollection, only to set sail again. Sometimes, they are forced ashore by powerful storms fueled by sudden shifts in destiny filled skies. These powerful boats which are entrusted with carrying the substance of lifetimes are the carriers of existence itself. Smell, taste, colour, sound, location, are just some of the ways in which they navigate themselves from one port to the other.

To this day, there are songs loaded with memory that break me into a thousand pieces like a windshield smashed by the impact of a drunk driver. The smell of homes cooked by the searing heat of a family's tales picks me up from my tired hair and drags me to a specific time and place where recollection rolls over me like an angry airplane tearing up the tarmac.

A refugee's suitcase is never big enough. Images that are too large to capture digitally, pixelated by a violent flash of the lights, are just too heavy to be lugged around. Instead, they are quietly buried along the way, near the scene of the crime, with the hopes that the oncoming flock of vultures would find them irrelevant to their endless appetite for death.

Sometimes, music can be stuffed into hungry pockets, and snuck across heartless borders. Once there, on the most foreign of days, the smallest of utterances will shift the ground beneath one's feet, bringing the heat of a playful street to replace the cold concrete. It is only from the memories of stolen lands and destroyed destinies that a radical consciousness will arise to bring back what can never be forever lost.

Although the memory shared in this story is of a little boy sitting on the carpeted floor of a poster plastered playground of a teenage girl; me and my older sister, it speaks to the strength of memories in building analytic tools to take hold of the world around us. The life my parents fought hard to give me emerges from a set of mostly comfortable memories to become a perfect study of how their escape from Iraq narrates the story of a destroyed people.

A journey through the mechanisms that form and kill memories doesn't have to be a painfully selfish and existential exercise where someone masturbates in a cesspool of their own personal plasma. It can be a celebration of the ability of memories to hold together communities, peoples, and their struggles.

From Abu Dhabi to Toronto to Doha, and forever Baghdad, the trail of memories left behind will always embody the ability of the mind to replace the fatal effects of exile with a journey towards justice.

I yearn for a day when I can sit on that same floor, and layout every single story, like a child with his or her favourite toys, and build a world that contains all of my memories into one coherent and durable structure. But when the most fundamental meanings of life change to the tune of fighting for survival, chronology and logic fizzle under the acidic feet of diaspora.

We are always buried with the fear that memories are not our own, but in fact are the sum of other people's lives. Ultimately, nobody owns the creative means to their own story, and in many ways, that is a good thing.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

On Art, Hipsters, and Cultural Production.

"Israel is luring international artists to Tel Aviv to advance a false claim to being a civilized democracy." Desmond Tutu

In the absence of social movements, critical masses, and revolutionary struggles, culture emerges as one of the most effective tools of silencing dissent.

The monopolization of cultural spaces such as film festivals, concerts, art galleries, and publications by an social economic class obsessed with maintaing the status quo produces art branded in a particular way.

Irrelevant, self obsessed, isolated works are heralded as masterful creations while more poignant and powerful pieces are dismissed as being too literal and immature. The existential elite love to wade in a cesspool of abstract asthma, where concepts touch each other for the sole purpose of sensual stimulation. At times, when questioning tyranny is trendy and safe, glimpses into counter culture are allowed, but not long enough to invoke a consciousness that would threaten the existing establishment.

In the world of contemporary cultural production, money is the most popularly used colour, the most recognized musical chord, and the most dominant writing style. The death sentence issued by capitalism to free thinkers, determined to use art as a vehicle for change, means that the sell out train is overcrowded with greedy talent. It also means that the means of producing and distributing art are painfully beyond the reach of those who need to express themselves the most.

From Hip Hop to Cinema, the consumption of historically radical content by apathetic racist youth over the years has caught the eye of large corporations bent on reaping profit off anything. The appropriation of critical art by the same companies that sell everything from cookies to cars has seen the emergence of sound posing as music and movements mistaken for film.

To support this newly found industry, two things have had to open. The systematic breeding of horrible artists, many of whom we are guilty of liking in the same way we like our favourite soft drug; numbing, neatly packaged, and conveniently found everywhere. Secondly, the culture industry has had to ensure the reproduction of infinite generations to consume all this horrendous art.

A particularly painful product has been the emergence of a relatively affluent consumerist bloc that is obsessed with romanticizing poverty and other people's struggles through their patterns of buying material goods. They are hipsters. First seen in the 1940s in the United States, young educated white Americans grabbed the radical might of Jazz and strangled it until it was nothing more than a whitewashed cocktail of cymbals, high hats, and trumpet blasts.

Today, hipsters pose as Kaffiyah clad vegan vultures that have the honour of being the single most important sector of society that has maintained the dominant system of manufacturing and selling culture as a means of oppression. And this applies to all the wealthy parts of the world. From the dehumanized neighbourhoods of Manhattan to the bourgeoisie bubbles of Beirut, mobs of privileged sheltered youth masquerade as militant minds, holding up images of Bob Marley and Chairman Mao on overpriced T Shirts as part of their comfortable part time resistance.

Their presence is specifically excruciating because of their take on and role in worldly affairs. To hipsters, East African food is good, but the colonization of Africa is none of their business, and in fact, might have never happened. In Hipsterville, the Sitar is a beautiful instrument, but any knowledge of it beyond how it looks from a distance, is just too much to handle in their busy schedule of consuming watered down Buddhism and other post colonial kitsch.

But, with hipsters, their racism is not just a passive byproduct of their ignorance. In the Arab world, messy haired maggots with differently branded shoes will regularly be caught in double speak between flowery praise for the rights of women and talking down to South Asian workers on the streets of the Gulf.

In the end, being cultured means being able to buy other people's culture and use it to uphold a system that oppresses those from which they appropriated their latest fad. In turn, most cultural institutions emerge as shopping centers that service this psychopathic derivative of colonialism.

Until next time, find a wall and write on it, and locate some canvas, and start a fight on it.