Today is the last day of Nowruz (Iranian New Year), called “13 Bedar” which means something like “getting rid of the 13th”. I wrote a poem for you, in 13 parts:
1. my grandparents live in Khorasan their marriage was arranged they grow sour cherries in their garden when we visit they make meatless dishes
2. in Iran you have to step into traffic that looks like it will hit you and if you don’t then you will never cross the street
3. when I smell gasoline I think of Tehran
4. my parents met in Berkeley at meetings of leftist expats hoping for the revolution that never came to Iran
5. my mom was Rafiq Niloofar that means comrade my dad was the consummate liberal he kept them honest and had good taste in socialists
6. my family moved to Illinois instead of LA figuring they’d rather be around white people than Persians turns out there are LA Persians everywhere
7. in elementary school I was embarrassed to invite my friends over bc I knew my mom would bring out fruit and not fruit rollups
8. when that South Park about the Persians came out I was grateful just to be depicted as tacky effeminate buffoons and not terrorists
9. after 3 seasons of Shahs of Sunset I have changed my mind
10. when I was 14 my grandparents gave me a gold Iran shaped necklace I don’t wear it anymore I don’t like to reinforce the stereotype that Iranians love gold
11. “I am Persian” means “I am distancing myself from the government of Iran” “I’m Iranian” means “don’t bomb it”
12. my mom loses friends over politics she’s ok with it I think I turned out a little more like her than she intended
13. we got fish for Nowruz it broke her heart to throw them in the lake on 13 bedar thinking it’s too bad they won’t live but then again who does
I spent much of winter break working on an analysis of the UAW 2865 BDS vote, where the movement in the US stands today, and how it’s already succeeded in shifting the terms of debate on Israel-Palestine – that article is now up on the Berkeley Journal of Sociology website!
A new Pew poll says Americans approve of CIA torture by 51%-29%, so bringing this out again:
Not just politicians, but also the media are responsible for selling Americans on torture. During the Bush years, there was the series 24, whose very premise – Jack Bauer only has 24 hours to stop the terrorists and save America – made the case that torture can be justified in an emergency. Last year, the film Zero Dark Thirty revived the argument by erroneously depicting torture as instrumental to finding (and killing) Osama Bin Laden. The order of events shown implies a connection between the torture of a detainee and what most Americans think is the most significant foreign policy achievement of the last decade. In other words, the plot exploits the jingoism of US audiences to convince them that while the CIA did some ugly things, it was all worth it in the end.
This kind of ideological manipulation is especially worrying in light of the filmmakers’ heavy collaboration with the CIA. The hacks behind Zero Dark Thirty got exclusive access to information about Bin Laden’s murder that was denied to the public. In return, the CIA got Oscar-nominated, chest-thumping propaganda. While some haveclaimed that the interrogation scenes are actually critical of torture, the camerawork and editing are careful to show us everything from the point of view of the CIA officers – not the detainee. For example, when he is stuffed into a box too small for his body, terrified and in pain, we don’t go in there with him. Our perspective stays outside. We’re invited to identify not with the tortured, but the torturers.
As Glenn Greenwald pointed out on MSNBC, “Americans know that torture is brutal – That’s why they think it works. They have supported torture because they believe that the people that we’re doing it to are primitive, violent, horrible savages who need to be treated brutally, because that’s the only way we can get information, and that’s the way we stay safe.”
US Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning turns 27 in prison today, serving 35 years for leaking proof of torture and other US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. On the eve of her show trial in summer 2013, I wrote this poem for Chelsea (then known as Bradley).
As I explained in that post, I’d been reading a lot of Adorno: The title is a reference to his infamous dictum that “to write a poem after Auschwitz would be barbaric”, while the epigraph is a quote from a poignant passage in Dialectic of Enlightenment about the knowing resignation with which Americans accept their powerlessness in the capitalist economy.
We’ve let Chelsea down, and we’ll let her down every day of our lives until we honor her actions by our own courage to seek justice.
“No poems after Auschwitz”
It’s a free country
But freedom has rules:
You can say what you want about the Market
but if you don’t play ball
you’re not one of us.
We don’t leak the wrong footage
of the wrong Apache helicopters
swarming over Baghdad
picking off civilians like flies.
And on a rainy Tuesday in November
every four years
we pick Dear Leader
like free people do.
You’ll never change the world.
But to those who will try –
The risk you bear is
I am a failure, sagt der Amerikaner. – And that is that.
I checked back in with Nora Barrows-Friedman the morning after the UAW 2865 BDS resolution passed by an overwhelming 65%-35%. That interview is now up on the Electronic Intifada podcast.
I’d recommend listening to the whole podcast – it’s not just about activism; Nora and the rest of the EI crew consistently amplify the voices of solidarity activists while never decentering what’s going on in Israel-Palestine. They do amazing work.
Tomorrow, members of UAW 2865 (the union for 13,000 graduate student workers in the University of California system) will vote on a resolution calling on UAW International and the UC to divest from companies complicit in Israeli occupation and human rights abuses.
I debated the opposition to the resolution yesterday on KPFA – listen here!
I stopped by the Electronic Intifada podcast to talk Block the Boat and the UC grad student union’s historic upcoming BDS vote with the delightful Nora Barrows-Friedman – listen here!