Wednesday, March 11, 2009

So much more to say.

It has been a while since my fingers roamed the tops of this keyboard and unleashed another chapter into the memoirs of this pissed off Iraqi. I am angry, and reserve the right to be angry, and refuse to put on a smile so the majority of talking heads can feel more comfortable in their slow uninspiring lives, or deaths.

My anger doesn't mitigate my love, however. They are two kisses on the same eye. Nor does my anger detract from the beauty of being the son of an Iraqi mother, who needs more than one day or lifetime to celebrate or be thankful for.

Unfortunately, it has not been an extended fit of rage that has kept me away from this writing exercise. It has been work related stress of the sort that is irrelevant to the aims of the blog, and as such will remain on the design boards and rough drafts of my day to day drama.

The Weather and Saron

The tinted windows can no longer fight the sun. Sandstorms and thunder bring with them the vengeance of thousands of silent souls to beat up the baking beauty of nothingness. Things are heating up. Those are the weather conditions here in Doha.

Since when was the climate just the aggregate sum of all matters meteorological. The sunniest and sweetest of Sundays could not brighten up the gloom glazing over Gaza, nor can the most beautiful bravest bounties of color hide the red, white, and blue mural suffocating Baghdad.

Weather is inherently politicized. From the mismanagement of temperature readings in the Gulf that keep workers wilting away under the sun to the running joke called Canadian culture, where conversations are cracked into "It's too cold," or "It's too hot."

For me, my active internal life usually allows me to see and feel the weather the way I want. Although I must admit that I have spent the better half of my life being overwhelmed by the cold calculated cut throat coup of diasporic winters. Those are moments that I don't miss.

I continue to miss Saron, however, more desperately and through a greater multiplicity of ways. I follow her news like a drop of rain moving down the grooves of a leaf to its edge, before falling. I need the strength of her achievements to carry me through obstacles of which I grow more wary of everyday. To see and dream of Saron moving forward with so much strength, beauty, and wisdom through her daily life leaves me humbed, ready to fight.

From combating racism to getting accepted into a Ph.D program, Saron reasserts two undeniable and universal truths: women are much smarter than men, and without great women in our world, men would rot, cigarettes in hand.

Mighty Manama

I recently made the mistake of taking another flight out of the Doha International Airport, leading contender for the world's most anti-access airhub in the world. But it was the best mistake I ever made, as the destination of my flight was Manama.

After a heated discussion with an Air Bahrain ground crew member about the fact that I had to pay twice as much for my ticket in order to take my wheelchair on board, my friends and I quickly lept over the Gulf in the region's newest budget conscious carrier.

I have been to Manama before, once, five years ago, as a soccer fan thirsty to see the Iraqi football team, a dying symbol of Iraqi unity in the face of gunfire and money. I remember seeing Baghdad in the streets of Bahrain, in the soccer fields of dirt, the proud nakhal (Iraqi-Arabic for date palm trees), but mostly in the wisdom and strength of its people.

My second visit, which came days ago, sealed the deal, a festering love affair with a quiet island, easy to forget, unless you are the 5th US Naval Fleet, which likes to make Manama its home. Despite the struggle waged by Bahrainis for more human rights, higher standards of living, and for a constitutional end to their much wealthier monarchy, Bahrain still suffers from the ills of greed and apathy, although with much less intensity.

I like Manama, capital of Bahrain. I like a place in the Gulf where tires and the rest are burnt to light the streets. I like a place in the Gulf where the site of a citizenship yielding local brings comfort to your heart and not a painful reminder of who and what you are. I like Bahrain, and want to move there. I am grateful to all those that were a part of my trip, despite many of them moaning and groaning along the way.

Home is where the art is.

Here in Doha, there is much of the same lame mind game. The long standing quest for the mighty dollar leaves little room for any mental activity outside of making and showing off your money. However, there are pockets of hope that peep through like light fighting its way past perferated clothing.

To the credit of some of this country's leadership, there are tremendous efforts being made in the areas of culture and education. Last week, I attended a global art forum at the Museum of Islamic Art, based on an invite that I received from a close friend, W. W-asan is a dedicated and energetic curator of Qatar's Museum of Modern Art. Her talent status and stature often have her confused via patriarchy for a man by those that haven't met her.

I am wary of Art, when it is detached from the harsh realities dancing outside the gallery door, or when Art is no more than decorations trying to cover up faces of misery. But, the discussion at hand, at the Global Art Forum, was honest, provoking, and necessary in a world where Arab art is sold faster and cheaper than recently-thawed hamburgers under golden gates.

Coming to life from the calm seaside shores of Doha, the Museum emerges and introduces itself as uninviting monumentally square building devoid of life and culture. From the distance, that is. My visit last week, however, made me realize that the Museum was in fact a delicately designed treasure box holding on to glories and stories of the past, and offering the people in Qatar, a chance to create for the future.

The museum might have been built by large institutions with larger budgets, but it is being kept alive by the passion of young Arabs, mostly women, and their drive to show the world Arab Art with no strings attached.

I have to confess that my initial interaction with the Doha Art/Museum scene was heavily influenced by my skepticism regarding cultural activies in the Gulf, although I have always been a fan of the Doha Song Festival, and the attempts it makes to perserve traditional music. However, fallic flops like the Louvre in Abu Dhabi seem to be grounded in the same race to fame that relentlessly factors in to decision making, as opposed to considerations like relevance, accessibility, originality, or sustainability.

The efforts being brought forward by these young people, and the energy in their eyes go a long way in making Doha a liveable city for all. The Museum is open 6 days a week, except Tuesdays, and offers free admission to all.

Other matters on the mind.

There is much to say about media, in all its forms, but I will hold off on making comments that could seal my fate as the world's most unsuccessful journalist. I did manage, with the help of those that I interviewed, to get another article on Al Jazeera's website. This time, my coverage focuses on the supposed withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

There is much to say about football, the people's sport, but I will hold off until my first article in Arabic is published about the Death of Iraqi Football. Iraq's exit from the 2010 World Cup has left a taste in my mouth more bitter than dirty dinars dripping with oil and blood. In the meantime, my football fix will come in the form of watching European giants stutter along their quest to merchandising greatness. Man U's latest loss to not-s0-Egyptian owned Fulham was described accurately by my friend Hani as "a spoiled kid throwing an anihilist tantrum."

There is much to say about love, but I will pour my emotions into the sea of sorrow that I swim in everyday, everynight, and about all other times that I can think of. Saron recently lambasted me for my mopey masquerade, and she told me to stop it. So I have stopped, I think.

There is much to say about Iraq, but I will wait until I visit it next month, and bury my face into its worries. I yearn for the tastes, smells, sounds and sights of Baghdad, with all its magic and might.

There is much to say about Palestine, but I will let the actions of fellow anti-Apartheid activists set the tone for Israel's demise. My open invitation to Bethlehem won't last forever, and neither will my separation from the land that has given me the most.

In the end, whatever I say, and how ever I say it, will mean nothing unless it reverbates into the consciousness of those that read.

Fancy words are just sugar melting in tea, what matters is the cleanliness of the water.

Tiffin with love.

NOTE: In my response, I mention Frank Cappadocia as the sexist in question, near the end of the letter. That was a mistake, it was Brian Poser.

Hello, here's Tiffin's response, and then my reply. Enjoy
Dear Mr. Habib:

Of course I remember you! I also want to congratulate you on your new career with Al Jazeera. It is always great to hear how York alumni are advancing in their careers and how York may have played some part.

With regard to the latest event in Vari Hall you are incorrect in your assumptions. As an alumnus, and a former participant in many rallys, you know that the noise from demonstrations can have a deleterious effect on classes on the perimeter of Vari Hall.

You should also recognize that York is a strong believer in upholding the rights of freedom of expression, as evidenced by your personal experience last year when the usual business of Senate was disrupted by a demonstration. You and your group were invited to speak with the President immediately following the Senate meeting and there were no negative consequences for you or any other participant.

York University's Senate has affirmed that no individual or group of individuals shall cause by action, threat or otherwise, a disturbance that obstructs any academic activity organized by the university or its units. The Senate Policy on Disruptive/Harassing Behaviour goes on to state:

York is committed to policies that support the teaching and learning of controversial subject matter. Students and instructors are, however, expected to maintain a teaching and learning environment that is physically safe and conducive to effective teaching and learning for all concerned, and to be civil and respectful at all times within the learning environment, including within classrooms, laboratories, libraries, study halls and other places where academic activities are conducted and in areas proximate to those where academic activities are taking place.

Following the rally in Vari Hall I and others received numerous complaints from both faculty and students whose classes were disrupted by the level of noise. As I'm sure you are aware, this is a very stressful time for undergraduate students as they attempt to complete their fall term courses and prepare for examinations during the remediation period. It is essential that the academic mission of the university proceed without disruption in fairness to all students.

I should also note that prior to the rally I and the President specifically requested in a meeting with organizing representatives that those involved make every effort possible to avoid amplification devices and noise in order to show respect for their fellow students attending class on the perimeter of Vari Hall.

From the tone of your note to me I feel that you may not believe me, but the decisions communicated to those involved in the rally are based solely on the abrogation of the Senate policy on academic disruption caused by the noise generated by the rally participants. The purpose of the rally had no bearing on my decisions regarding the SAIA organization.

Once again congratulations on your new career in journalism and I look forward to seeing your fair and balanced reporting.

Yours truly,

Robert Tiffin
Vice-President Students


Dear VP Tiffin,

I am glad that you took time to respond to my letter so quickly. Getting a same day response and not through some system of generic response created on the 9th floor is quite uncharacteristic for York's administration.

Your reply could have helped to break the popular belief held by most that York is entirely run by robotic registrars responding readily to the whims of corporate donors and the political elite, including the mighty Israeli lobby of course. However, the content of your letter, and your evasiveness only reassures students and alumni of such notions held against you.

On my end, I have waited a few days to reply to you to see if the overwhelming support that Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) has received from faculty and community members would have an impact on your shameful decision. However, to my dismay, and on the eve of Israeli Apartheid Week, you still cling on to your draconian and unilateral verdict against SAIA.

I assure you, however, that the 5th Annual Israeli Apartheid Week, taking place in 25 cities across the world, will make its way to York. This year, Toronto will host notable speakers including Naomi Klein, Omar Barghouti, and Ronnie Kasrils, a former minister in the post-Apartheid South African government.

I wonder if you also consider Mr. Kasrils a radical anti-Semite, the view held by Israeli supporters against all those that criticize its Apartheid practices? And your support for one system of Apartheid begs the question if you were sympathetic to the brutal system of Apartheid in South Africa as well?

There will also be members of the York community, both students and faculty, participating in the Week. These are brave individuals refusing to bow down to the climate of fear and repression that you and your administration have carefully fostered throughout the years.

The letter you sent me does nothing to address the issue at hand, which is your persecution of anti-Apartheid activists and how this relates to the systematic process of defending Israeli Apartheid by University administrators across the province.

I would like to refer you, for example, to a meeting that was arranged between Frank Cappadocia, Director of Student Community & Leadership Development at York, and Phil Wood and Jim Delaney, his colleagues at McMaster University and University of Toronto respectively. The trio, in addition to other experts on student affairs from across the province, were meeting, in the words of Mr. Wood, "to have some discussion about these groups and the plans they have for holding Israeli Apartheid Week next March."

In the email, which I have attached as a .pdf file,York's own Mr. Capadoccia was asked to lead the discussion, I assume, because of his intimate knowledge on repressing student activism. The campuses that were set to be hosting the Week were described as, "targets", in the aforementioned correspondence.

Why is it that universities need to meet and coordinate responses to Israeli Apartheid Week? Have members from your office met with other universities to see why most automatic door openers on campus don't work or why more and more students won't be able to go to university due to increasing tuition fees? The reasons behind the inter-campus collusion are clear.

Since the alleged meeting, held several months ago, campuses across the province, have all taken coordinated steps to try and stop Israeli Apartheid Week from taking place on their campus. The University of Ottawa and Carleton took the easy and cowardly route of banning the poster used to advertise for the Week.

The banned poster is a creative and accurate depiction of the latest Israeli massacre in Gaza. It shows an assault helicopter, labelled Israel, firing a rocket at a Palestinian child. During Israel's assault, more than 480 children were killed, out of 1,300 Palestinians. Schools and hospitals were also targeted. Your administration, of course, shamefully refused to condemn any of Israel's violence. Nonetheless, I have attached a copy of the poster and with it a small step towards redemption, only if you choose to hang it in your office of course.

At York, instead of banning the poster, I understand that caretakers have been instructed by your office to take it down immediately, sometimes minutes after students put them up in designated postering areas. Forcing poor people working under your mercy to be part of the oppression of other poor people around the world must give you a particular sense of achievement and satisfaction. Shame on you.

Shame on you for trying to use the Student Code of Conduct, a laughable and bankrupt policy, to politically persecute student activists.

Your use of the Student Code of Conduct for such purposes is in line with the efforts of pro-Israel groups to pressure York to do so.

As early as December 2008, the University Outreach Committee, an arm of the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy was providing resources and pressure to help students and administrators in, what they called it, "upholding the code."

And only days ago, B'nai Brith, a pro-Israel group in Canada, issued a triumphant press release, on February 27, after meeting with York administrators to encourage the University to use the Code to ban SAIA prior to the launch of Israeli Apartheid Week.

I'm sure you were at the meeting, all nods and smiles, ready to serve.

However, I am afraid that your latest attempt to silence anti-Apartheid activists, is in itself, a violation of the Code. There were no copies of the alleged complaints forwarded to SAIA, nor was there a meeting held to discuss the incident.

In essence, SAIA was found guilty with no judicial process whatsoever and without being given an opportunity to defend itself. By denying your own students these fundamental rights, it seems that you want York to get close to Israeli Apartheid in ways even more hurtful than I anticipated. Shame on you.

You imposed the maximum penalty, a $1,000 fine and a 30-day suspension, on a grassroots student driven group with no operating budget, in the hopes of breaking its back.

As for the $250 fine against Hala Farah, a Palestinian refugee from Gaza, she is still waiting to hear your apology and immediate retraction of the intimidation you have subjected her to.

I also understand that other students are now being targeted by the police for their involvement in anti-Apartheid activism on campus. It is your responsibility to immediately contact the Toronto Police Services and let them know that they are not welcome to go on campus and criminalize free speech and dissent at the university, even if the points of view expressed are contradictory to those held by you or the police.

In 2005, almost 35 police chiefs went on a mission to Israel a few years ago at the expense of the Israel lobby, and they have been intimidating Palestinians and their supporters more intensely ever since. This is the same police force your administration called on January 20, 2004 to beat up your own students at a peaceful rally against York's role in the destruction of another society, my native Iraq.

I am also becoming aware of the plans being made by the Jewish Defense League, a recognized hate group convicted of orchestrating terrorist attacks against Arabs in the United States and Palestine, to come and intimidate anti-Apartheid activists at York.

There is no doubt that you will afford them all the space and comfort to do so. However, it is unacceptable for the University to allow racist thugs like the JDL to come and bully your own students, especially when several complaints have been made by female activists about the sexual harassment they are subjected to, on a daily basis, by supporters of Israel. As with regards to those complaints made by several young women, I have yet to see one fine or press release issued by your office condemning those despicable acts.

The connections between you or your office and the suppression of anti-Apartheid activism are many and well documented. And all you could do in your response, was talk to me about how classes were disturbed for one hour or less.

In your response, you also patronized me and congratulated me for my new career with Al Jazeera, which I have yet to start. I am skeptical about the genuineness of your comments, since I remember how you and your administrative puppets, particularly Mr. Capadoccia tried to brand me as a radical, which I consider a compliment in times of great complacency, and as someone whom you couldn't wait to see leave the confines of the campus.

I remember Mr. Capadoccia very well from my time in the student union. In particular, I recall when he was summoned to our office to discuss his behavior at a meeting regarding postering on campus, early in our term. A female member of our executive found his conduct quite sexist and offensive, forcing him to apologize in front of executive members from the student union and Cynthia Summers, ironically the infamous author of the Code herself.

There is still a chance for you to avoid the trash can of history. You can retract the fines and suspension, and admit that they were made under duress from pro-Israel groups. Everyone around the world knows about the ruthlessness of Israel and its supporters, and, as such, everyone will believe you.

However, I suspect that you will continue on your path of racism and repression, two characteristics most desired by the State of Israel and its supporters. In that sense, you are heading in the right direction.

As for millions of students of color, women, persons with disabilities, refugees, and marginalized people from all over the world who are watching the debacle at York unfold, or have the misfortune of being victims of your actions themselves, they will always see York as a place not befitting of their attendance or respect.

Peace, Ahmed Habib