Archive for the ‘September 11’ Category

18 days.

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Click on CC for English subtitles
The graffiti behind the father and daughter reads "The streets belong to us"

My daughter was seven years old on September 11. For the past decade – i.e. the entirety of her childhood, the only one she'll ever get – she has had to endure taunts and slurs and snickers, or at best pinched "tolerance," about her ethnicity and her religion. She's handled it well and is actually quite articulate in countering the bias. But it's fatiguing, and over time she has distanced herself from her Arab Muslim background. I can't tell you how much this saddens me, but I know she's not alone in this reaction, I know her life needs to be more than an ongoing argument with other people's ignorance, and I've tried to give her space to work out who she is and how she identifies.

She turned seventeen this week, and it's a milestone. For the first time ever, I have seen her beaming, in that I told you guys all along way, whenever some only-sorta-follows-the-news American asks her, "Wait… aren't you Egyptian?"

شكرا يا مصر

9/11 curriculum

Monday, September 14th, 2009

New program will teach students about 9/11

The 9/11 curriculum, believed to be the first comprehensive educational plan focusing on the attacks, is expected to be tested this year at schools in New York City, California, New Jersey, Alabama, Indiana, Illinois and Kansas.

It was developed with the help of educators by the Brick, N.J.-based Sept. 11 Education Trust, and was based on primary sources, archival footage and more than 70 interviews with witnesses, family members of victims and politicians, including Giuliani and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a New York senator at the time of the attacks.

The curriculum is taught through videos, lessons and interactive exercises, including one that requires students to use Google Earth software to map global terrorist activity.

Teaching Students About 9/11

At a press conference on Tuesday at a hotel blocks from the World Trade Center site, Giuliani said the program can help students think critically about the attacks as both a historic event and one that shapes the present, noting the continued threat of terrorism and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Teachers say that today's middle and high school students might be too young to have strong memories of the attacks, so the program can help them develop insight into what actually happened.

"Students are getting progressively younger as we move further and further away from the events," says Torres. In a few years, students who are taught about the attacks will not even have been alive when they occurred, adds Anthony Gardner, executive director of the Education Trust, whose brother died in the World Trade Center.

9/11 as a Lesson, Not a Memory

Eight years later, this is an example of what Sept. 11, 2001, has become for a generation that's too young to remember much, if anything, about that day: It is an educational DVD, a 167-page textbook, a black binder of class handouts titled "A National Interdisciplinary Curriculum." In Room C215 at Lincoln High School, images of the collapsing Manhattan skyline are now a classroom "warm-up exercise." "Militant," "imploding" and "rubble" are boldfaced vocabulary words for students to memorize. Homework assignments and essay questions ensure that Sept. 11 will indeed be remembered by millions of schoolchildren, if with a new sense of detachment.

The September 11 Education Program
The September 11 Education Trust

Two movie reviews.

Monday, February 19th, 2007

1. I finally saw Out of Africa, 22 years after it came out. In the past, this was one of the few movies guaranteed to put me to sleep. I've tried to watch it at least three times and could never stay awake. This time I soldiered on because it came on tv, coincidentally, just as I was finishing the book.

The book was published in 1937 and is as racist and colonialist as one would expect. There is much talk of the Natives, and their charming Native habits, etc. What it wasn't, though, was sexist, and watching the movie I was up in arms at little things I wouldn't even have noticed had I not read the book (for the first time) and watched the movie (for the first time) both in the same week.

I am not one of those people who needs a perfect match between the book and the screenplay, and even if I were, Out of Africa wouldn't be one of the darlings I felt obligated to protect. I also realize that a movie is dependent on dialogue in a way a book is not, and having Meryl Streep sitting alone in her kitchen saying "I am observing something about the Maasai…" just wouldn't work.

BUT, the way they chose to handle this was to turn the movie into a romance between Streep and Robert Redford, and put the author's words into his mouth. That's right, he explaaains Kenya to her, in his rugged, been-there-done-that way, and she, the sheltered woman, nods sagely at his wisdom, with just enough intelligence (this being Streep, not Paris Hilton) for the viewer to think, "my, what a good, almost-equal partner she makes! he's so independent, but she's smart enough to appreciate him! what a well-matched couple!" — when in reality the things he's explaaaining, about Gikuyu history and big game hunting, are taken almost verbatim from the book, i.e. stolen from the female narrator. Those should have been Streep's lines, with Redford, if he had to be there at all, being the one to do all the intent listening, all the thoughtful nodding.

Moreover! Because they made it into a romance above all else, the movie was actually more racist than the book was, even though it was made 50 years later. Because they'd turned Streep into a woman who primarily pined for her man, alone out on the sweeping African hills (how poetic!), the myriad relationships Isak Dinesen had with Kenyans were written out. It's true she did have this lover who would come and stay with her every now and then, and I'm sure that was hot and everything, but most of her energy was spent trying to make her farm work and on interacting with people who weren't out on safari ten months a year. Although her relationships with Kenyans were deeply problematic in a colonial context, at least those relationships _existed_, and took up a good portion of her attention and thus a good portion of her ink.

In the movie, however, she's got a couple of African servants or something, whatever — cut to a shot of her on her porch! wind in her hair! wishing her white boyfriend would come home and kiss her on the mouth. Both of them are portrayed as outsiders among the other colonials, which was true in the memoir as well, but making Redford the leading man (as opposed to occasional visitor) forces whatever knowledge he's acquired of the culture and the landscape to be packaged as evidence of his rugged independence, rather than evidence of things he's learned from the Kenyans, and because Streep's the girl and can't out-independent him, her relationships are even more superficial. There's no room for African characters in that set-up, at least none with any background, history, complexity, or expertise in anything that would outshine Redford. So they mostly plant coffee and sweep floors and do things in large mobs.

2. I also saw World Trade Center. From the trailer, I thought it would be a sappy sentimental ode to cops and firefighters, and how surprising would that be, because that's not anything I've heard before in relation to 9/11. Instead it was a disaster movie about some heavy stuff that fell on these two guys.

This is how it happens.

Thursday, May 20th, 2004

The prisoner-abuse scandal at home
The stories sound familiar: Muslim prisoners beaten and sexually humiliated by American guards. But it happened in Brooklyn, not Baghdad.

– – – – – – – – – – – –
By Michelle Goldberg

May 19, 2004 | BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The American guards took Mohamed Maddy's glasses before they slammed him into the wall. A portly middle-aged father of two, Maddy was crying, trying to move his shoulder in front of him so it would take the blow, but they kept smashing him into the concrete, leaving him with dark purple bruises. Then they told him to strip, and when he balked at removing his underwear — "I am Muslim, I can't do it," he said — they screamed, "Fucking Muslim! Take them off!"

They made him bend over and said, "Take your hand and open your ass." He sobbed harder as they performed a cavity search. Afterward, they told him to get dressed and put him in handcuffs and leg irons connected by a chain to his waist. They ordered him to run and then stepped on his leg chain so he'd fall down, only to be yanked back up and forced to run again, over and over. Without his glasses, Maddy couldn't see where he was going, but he thinks he was running in circles.

Finally he was thrown in a cell. For the first month, the light was left on 24 hours a day. If he tried to shield his eyes and snatch a moment of sleep, the guards would kick the doors. On the rare occasions when he was taken out, he was strip-searched, often twice in the same day, even if he hadn't been out of the guards' sight. Sometimes they did the searches in public. Sometimes they laughed and jeered. An official report later concluded that many of these searches had nothing to do with safety — they were about punishment and humiliation.

Stories like Maddy's have lately been pouring out of Iraq and Afghanistan, but he's never been to those countries. Maddy's ordeal took place at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where 84 of the 762 Muslim immigrants who were detained after Sept. 11 were held. The torture there wasn't nearly as severe as it was at Abu Ghraib, and, according to recent reports, at Guantánamo in Cuba. But there are striking similarities, suggesting that what happened in Iraq may be an escalation of a pattern of human rights violations that began almost as soon as the World Trade Center crumbled.


Missing the point.

Thursday, April 8th, 2004

God I hate the 9/11 Commission. This is almost as pointless as Whitewater. I find myself cheering inwardly for Condoleeza Rice, and anyone who makes me do that pisses me right off. She is giving every anti-war argument ever offered up by a leftist in Birkenstocks and a Guatemalan peasant dress in order to justify the administration's lack of action prior to September 11, and rather than applaud that line of thinking and asking what — from a military, not a cultural standpoint — made war suddenly pragmatic after the fact, members of the Commission are looking down their noses and waving memos at her dated February 2001. "What about this? It says 'threat' right here!"

And then the same people who would have been (rightfully) horrified if we HAD invaded Afghanistan in the summer of 2001 actually cheer this line of questioning simply because it makes someone from the Bush administration shift uncomfortably in the hot seat, and a moment like that, well, it seems like it should come with popcorn and a drinking game. Never mind what's being said.

Once again: IT'S THE FOREIGN POLICY, STUPID. Focusing on better intelligence and trying to get the White House to twist and squirm until they admit that no, actually, they DIDN'T want to engage in a protracted war against an unknown enemy plays right into the hawkish line that says what we need is more of the Patriot Act, more Homeland Security, more racial profiling, more money to Israel, more cooperation with Saudi, fewer civil liberties, fewer privacy safeguards, fewer lawyers doing pro bono work on behalf of the accused, and more war in Iraq — "just in case."

So far all I have to say about this Commission is that it's one case where the enemy of my enemy is not my friend.

More on that other stuff.

Thursday, August 14th, 2003

My friend Dave posted this entry about Rachel Corrie on a BBS I used to be on. I thought the responses were interesting, especially Bob's argument that there can be no such thing as using privilege strategically (I don't agree, but I'm willing to discuss it) and Kali's bit re: "a Leftist life is not as highly valued by the U.S. Administration as, say, a Christian evangelical's."


Aug 6, 2003 21:13 from Bob
I really reject this idea that Corrie "gave her life" or even risked it. The
reaction from her companions was utter shock. I don't think that leftists went
to Spain and were shocked when Franco's troops tried to kill them. The whole
point of the privilege, and asserting it, was that it was supposed to
innoculate them against any actual mortal danger. The whole mission was to
stand there between the IDF and Palestinians because they were sure that the
IDF would not harm Western foreigners.

I also think that this is a very significant difference between what the left
was and what the left is. There is a narcissism about, and an idealism (in the
philosophical sense, not the moral sense), and they are corrosive.

"Truth has given way to credibility, facts to statements that sound
authoritative without conveying any authoritative information." (Christopher
Lasch) What is important is appearance, because appearance is what is regarded
as reality. As a metaphysical speculation this is good fun. As a basis for
political acts it is reckless.
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Aug 6, 2003 23:35 from Fleep
I don't know that I agree with that, Bob. Beyond the sense of invulnerability
that most young people have (what? I can't be killed! I'm only 21!), I don't
doubt for a minute that the people you're talking about felt mortal danger.
How could you not, with bullets whizzing and death all around you?

Perhaps there was shock at a blatant act against them, but I can't believe that
the risk was unreal to them.
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Aug 7, 2003 0:49 from Thufir
Even green soldiers get shocked the first time a platoon buddy of theirs gets
it in the chest. I'm not buying this argument that being shocked implies they
hadn't evaluated their odds.
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Aug 7, 2003 6:53 from Dawdle
One of the links in the original was this:,2763,916299,00.html

Those are Rachel Corrie's letters home from between 2/7 and 2/28/03. I think
she pretty clearly realized the danger she was in. You can see a very apparent
shift in the way she sees that danger coming closer in just the course of those
3 weeks.
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Aug 7, 2003 10:58 from Bob
Dawdle> I don't see anything to tell me that she feared for her life in those
letters – quite the opposite.

"You just can't imagine it unless you see it – and even then you are always
well aware that your experience of it is not at all the reality: what with the
difficulties the Israeli army would face if they shot an unarmed US citizen,
and with the fact that I have money to buy water when the army destroys wells,
and the fact, of course, that I have the option of leaving."

Her recognition of her "white privilege" is also explicit.

"We could probably make it through [an IDF checkpoint] if we made serious use
of our international white person privilege, but that would also mean some risk
of arrest and deportation, even though none of us has done anything illegal."

Fleep> The whole point of their being there was to be invulnerable. Their
whole mission to Palestine was based on their inviolability. If they were
there to be shot and get run over, what is the point? That (Thufir) is why the
ISM people who spoke just after the incident were so shocked, not out of some
sudden realization that the danger is real. One member put it in very clear

"[IDF soldiers] "have shot over our heads, and shot near our feet–they have
fired tear gas at us. But we thought we had an understanding. We didn.t think
they would kill us." (Michael Shaik of the ISM)

(Her letters also show the frustration with the situation that leads to
flirtation with not-so-nonviolent reactions.)

I also think that the dynamic changed in March, both in the ISM and the IDF.
Tom Hurndall, who was shot in the head, seems to have recognized the danger,
and wrote that "it is on the decision of any one Israeli soldier or settler
that my life depends." He was shot in clearly dangerous circumstances – heroic
circumstances. His killing is also a far clearer case of IDF misbehaviour (the
total absence of his name from pro-Israel sources is telling evidence). Of
course, he was not the first one killed, so he is not as famous.
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Aug 7, 2003 11:31 from Doktor Nil
I think Laura addressed all of Bob's interesting points in the original essay
that started this conversation, better than I could. So I won't try. I think
they are already answered by the original essay, and I don't see anything in
Bob's posts explaining why Laura's points are incorrect or mistaken, frankly.
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Aug 7, 2003 11:57 from Dawdle
And Bob did exactly what I feared he would do. It was easy enough to recognize
a couple of choice quotes that I figured might be posted here. I think anyone
who reads the full thing should have a clear sense that her life was in danger
and that she was well aware of that fact. She pretty well stated that fact. The
fact that she was also aware of her privilege doesn't negate that. She didn't
call it "international white immunity from danger".
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Aug 7, 2003 16:31 from Thufir
Sounds to me more like they were trying to talk themselves into bravery, as
opposed to thinking that their White Privilege would be their stalwart shield.
When you are a stranger in a strange land with a war going on, I think it
natural to try and convince yourselves that the combatants aren't shooting at
you specifically. Doing this convincing and rationalizing is not the same as
believing yourself invincible or not in danger.
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Aug 7, 2003 17:57 from Kali
Partially agreeing with Laura's essay, I really like her point about
privilege as "a series of dynamic, lived experiences, ones that result from
social relations specific to time and culture."

However, I wonder if, in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian horror, national
identity occupies as crucial a role as race – Or that race and nation are
entwined in such a way that another read of the ISM/Rachel Corrie is as
probable, one that focuses as much on the naturalizing of "citizenship" as on
the making immutable of white privilege.

I know she addressed nationality briefly, but the whole goyim concept is such
a nicely rabidly nationalist one that I was moved to gush a little…

Perhaps until recently, there was enough fear/respect/trepidation in the
Israeli government about the harming of foreign nationals that they avoided
it. Of course that it was white people from Northern nations wouldn't hurt…

But I want to put the argument out there that it's as much an issue of how
the United States government feels its nationals should act in other
countries, and/or the American public's perception of Americans in other
places, and that there has been a shift in attitude about what the fate of
especially leftist Americans should be outside the country – And perhaps that
is another thing Israel is responding to.

Yes, I believe a Leftist life is not as highly valued by the U.S.
Administration as, say, a Christian evangelical's life is. Please try to
prove me wrong. I don't have the background or expertise to pinpoint when it
seemed to have gotten worse, but I can illustrate my perceptions briefly.

For example, for Gulf War II, the folks of "Voices in the Wilderness" who
went over as human shields, were savagely vilified on the radio, on network
TV, etc. because we were supposed to perceive them as aides to Saddam (for
some reason). Unless I'm misremembering, the level of outcry against
American human shields in Iraq was a lot less loud (or less visible) for the
first Gulf War.

We (in the collective "we") don't seem to care as much about protecting the
rights of U.S. citizens protesting on U.S. soil. Perhaps that goes double for
people trying to lend their support, in a more internationalist way, to
conflicts around the world.

What does Laura think??
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Aug 7, 2003 20:29 from Cpk
No, you're not off base at all. In Gulf War I, most protestors were simply
ignored–with perhaps the occasional grumble at their temerity. Attacks
against leftist have taken on a whole new level of shrill demonization. And
it's not been a gradual thing, either–it's really ramped up since 9/11, as if
the right-wing suddenly realized that this was its big chance to rid itself of
the Left forever. A|\||\| <0u1173rr has explicitly said as much. [Godless Pinko Commie Leftists> msg #2850 (6 remaining)] Read cmd -> Next

Aug 7, 2003 20:31 from Cpk
[and, by the way, I don't think Ann Coulter is loonier than the rest of the
right. Sadly, she is solidly within the mainstream of right-wing politics,
though other right-wingers have had to move some distance to catch up with
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Aug 8, 2003 4:20 from Dawdle
I think Coulter is slightly loonier than the rest of the right, but that's more
based on the fact that I think she's actually insane rather than on her
politics. Politically, I don't think she's that much further to the right than
your average neo-con. I think 80% of the outrageous stuff she says (liberals
are traitors, McCarthy was unnecessarily demonized, etc) are things that most
conservatives believe, but won't say.
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Aug 8, 2003 10:15 from Bob
Dawdle> I can only read what is actually there on the page. I am assuming that
these letters (which were never intended for publication) are frank and honest
and don't need much interpretation.

Thufir> (broken record time) The ISM's entire mission was predicated on their
firm belief that the combattants would not – could not – shoot at them.This is
what makes it a "human _shield_" thing, and not a "human target" thing.

DN> I agree with most of the essay, but I think it does not go far enough.

If Corrie is a hero to you, so be it. A rehash of the incident is not
interesting. We can all read the various accounts.

What I was actually hoping to get at was the "air of authenticity" as ascendant
over "authenticity" (that is, appearances over truth), and how that has
affected the left (which I try to remember is supposed to be about dismantling
arbitrary power in favour of something more rational).

Using the ISM as an example, you can see that the program that they use depends
upon not only the belief in the immutability and universality of one's own
hierarchies, but the maintenance of those beliefs. I do not think that there
is "a place for recognizing unmerited advantages in order to … use them
strategically on behalf of those without such advantages". Doing that cannot
but reinforce those unfair advantages.
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Aug 8, 2003 14:06 from Doktor Nil
I'm not sure the ISM ever used the phrase 'human shield.' If they did, I think
it's a stupid phrase too (although maybe you don't). I think the mission of
the ISM is, at its base, simply predicated on the idea that sympathetic foreign
nationals willing to take a risk can be of help _somehow_ to the struggle for
Palestinian rights, by being in Israel/Palestine. Their _strategy_, at least
for a while, was indeed predicated on the idea that these foreign nationals
would be _less_ likely to be shot at by Israeli troops, and that if they were
shot (at) it would get significant publicity, of a helpful sort.

Less likely does not mean impossible. Now that it's obvious that ISM folks are
in fact _quite_ likely to be shot at (and sometimes shot), if perhaps still not
as likely as a Palestinian (especially one doing similar work), perhaps the ISM
strategy ought to change. That's something for the ISM to decide, succesfully
or not. That doesn't mean that their _mission_ needs to change. The fact that
the ISM still exists, and still has no trouble getting members/volunteers (it
does have trouble getting htese people into Israel or Palestine), seems to
indicate that their mission is _not_ predicated upon some kind of
invulnerability. Becuase it is now quite obvious that they enjoy no such
invulnerability. Yet they continue.

We've had the discussion before about "recognizing unmerited advantages in
order to use them strategically (for godo)." I know we disagree. I don't
entirely understand your position. Do I understand correctly taht you suggest
the only ethical behavior is in fact to ignore something that you really know
to exist, to pretend it does not exist, or to refuse to take account of it in
planning your strategy? I think that if you want to struggle to win, you need
to take a cold hard look at what _actually is_ and plan strategies accordingly.
You don't do anyone any favors by intentionally deceiving yourself or
pretending the world is other than it is. Now, true, some strategies are to be
judged unethical, and avoided. You apparently believe the ISM's strategy(ies)
to be unethical, although I honestly still do not understand why. What I hear
you saying is not that their strategies are unethical because of the actions
undertaken, but that they are unethical if they were formed with an awareness
of the the way the world actually is; that no strategy is ethical unless it
completley ignores real world 'unmerited advantages.'
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Aug 9, 2003 12:53 from Bob
Let's get away from the ISM for a minute.

Using a corrupt system to produce good results can be admirable. But that is
not to say that doing so does not perpetuate a context in which a broader
justice cannot result.

The film "Blaze" has an excellent scene (fictionalized, possibly apocryphal)
where Huey Long recieves a visit from a black civil rights organization that
tells him that there are qualified physicians and nurses who go without work
because they are black. So, Long decides pay a surprise visit a state hospital
with this gaggle of lawyers in tow. The administrator of the hospital gives a
tour, but Long demands to see the colored wards. Upon visiting the colored
wards he feigns shock – "Do you mean to tell me that we have these fine white
doctors and nurses waiting hand and foot on colored folk?" And he orders the
administrator to hire some black doctors and nurses to replace them.

He's used segregation and gutter racism to achieve a noble goal – he, in 1950's
Louisiana, has put black physicians to work, and for the state. But he didn't
do a hell of a lot to get rid of segregation – he actually reinfoced it by the
appeal to its principles.
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Aug 10, 2003 9:07 from Slit
That's an excellent analogy and I agree with your larger point. Where it breaks
down for me is that I can't equate the employment of physicians with teh
emergency situation that is Gaza.

I realize this is a slippery slope and everyone has to decide for themselves
where they're willing to draw the line. Personally I hate sorority girl charity
and Save the Children because they do nothing to undermine structural problems.
But I don't put Rachel Corrie in that category. The fact that Palestinians
_requested_ Americans perform that role, in their capacity as citizens from the
country funding the occuaption, goes a long way with me, as does the fact that
this was a quote-unquote policy that worked for more than a dozen years. It
was one of the better examples of _coalition_ activism I've seen, actually, its
miscalculations notwithstanding.
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Race, Rachel Corrie, Dinesh D'Souza, and cultural appropriation.

Wednesday, August 6th, 2003

I very much liked this entry about Rachel Corrie. Almost immediately after her murder people were saying her case was "only getting attention because she was American," which would have bordered on a useful analysis if 1) her case really did get a lot of attention (it didn't), 2) the Palestinian conflict had been some secret unheard-of issue until SHE was killed in it (it wasn't), 3) Palestinian activists had by and large been annoyed that she was hogging the spotlight (they most emphatically were not), and/or 4) she'd been some random tourist gunned down by accident (in which case her citizenship really would serve as the ONLY newsworthy aspect of the story).

It's #3 that interests me most, because I've been thinking about cultural appropriation lately, and wondering when, exactly, "solidarity" crosses the line into "co-opting someone else's movement," and, alternatively, when the fear of co-opting someone else's movement becomes a convenient excuse for NIMBY politicking and a general lack of engagement with systems of oppression that don't impact one personally. The more I try to look at this from an outsider's perspective (European & Arab, because that's what I know best) the more the fact that this is even the concern (obsession?) that it is in the United States is — I want to say "cool" but I'll leave it with "interesting." Because in Europe I have found this xenophobic thing going on wherein "oh dear, am I overly interested in the Zapatistas?" probably just doesn't arise as a pressing issue, and Arabs, in my experience, have been far more likely to interpret a lacklustre commitment to, say, the Palestinian cause as evidence of lack of interest at best and complicity with The Man at worst, rather than as "respectful distance." I've tried to explain the cultural appropriation fear to Middle Eastern friends who haven't lived in the U.S. and I swear, they think I'm making it up and ask me if I'm Jewish. Of course this doesn't apply to everybody everywhere and that view certainly has problems of its own, but it's at least indicative of the the fact that "I'm afraid of speaking for you" is not a dominant concern with everyone on the globe.

But this has emerged as big issue within American leftish groups, and I've been thinking about why that is. For one thing there's the problem of cheap and crude materialism, e.g. Elvis, or people who think Madonna invented 'vogue' as a verb. (I'd argue that Eminem doesn't fall into that category, but that's a diatribe for a different day.) Then there's the irritation that you feel when you waste time and energy defending something only to have it go mainstream in 10 years, e.g. someone gets fired for wearing dreadlocks but later they show up in Cosmo on white girls – how trendy! – or you're a lesbian who lost your kids over being out, and now that they're grown up and you missed out on raising them you see that it's hip to be queer, especially temporarily, rockthefuckon, you-go-grrrl etc. Even if you intellectually know that the problem isn't, technically, with the people who are embracing whatever it is you suffered for, but rather with those who made you suffer in the first place, it's hard to be gracious about someone else's superficial commitment to something you were totally dicked over for Back In The Day. And then there's also — and I think this is the crux of it — the fact that embracing the aesthetics of queer/black/Hopi is not the same thing as fighting the oppression of those communities, and can in fact go hand in hand with oppressing them. It's why the phrase "I have lots of black friends!" is so irritating — because no one ever says that unless they're arguing something racist and claiming to do it ON BEHALF OF African-Americans. In the specific case of the Middle East, "learning" about "the Arabs" was often done with the explicit intent of collecting information for the British.

But even Edward Said, who literally wrote the book on this, has argued like a broken record for the need to solidify connections with the Western (specifically American) Left. Reading his stuff in the Egyptian press is almost funny because he's constantly introducing the idea that there really is a non-imperialist contingent of Americans who are receptive to the idea of Palestinian autonomy, to the notion that Muslims != terrorists, to the idea that the U.S. military is overbloated and does more harm than good — presumably to an audience who doesn't hear much of this. He's as aware as anyone of the fact that American aid to Israel is the great enabler of the occupation, and when he's not writing for the Egyptian press he's writing for the Americans in an attempt to convince them of such. All that effort does not sit well with the notion that he believes members of Group X are inherently, by virtue of their citizenship or ethnicity incapable of studying or advancing the cause of Group Y, and in fact he's criticized those who've read him that way.

Which brings me back to Rachel Corrie, and the attack on her motives. First there was the "why would someone be so naive?" argument. I can almost dismiss that because it comes from those who were never invested in the Palestinian cause in the first place; when they say "why would she be so naive?" what they usually mean is "why would a perfectly good WHITE AMERICAN (i.e. a person who matters) give her life for some dumb shit overseas (i.e. for people who don't matter)? She deserved what she got." Calling her naive allows her detractors to retain some air of authenticity, i.e. "no, really, I would do that, if I thought it would help" without actually engaging the issue or investing any personal commitment to its outcome. This is not to say that anyone with a sufficient commitment to Palestine should and would have gone off and joined the International Solidarity Movement specifically, but rather that people who have a longstanding interest in human rights and who can understand her motives are not, by and large, the same people spewing the "dumb bitch" argument.

But I take more seriously the charge of a sort of racism in her actions, that she was "relying" on her "white privilege" to "save her" and that this is some kind of zero-sum game where mourning her necessitates not-mourning Palestinians who've died under similar (or harsher) circumstances.

My problem with this is that Rachel Corrie was an activist who by her own admission was well aware that she could be killed for actions, that if she wasn't it would be because the Israelis were too afraid of media attention in the West and not because they Loved Her Personally, that this was a racist policy, and, most importantly, that, under the circumstances, Palestinians were using Israeli racism strategically by aligning themselves with her organization. That last bit is where I think there's no great honor in dismissing her murder because of her nationality. Her death got more attention in the West than that of most individual Palestinians' did, but it didn't get a lot, and obviously Israel guaged that reaction and realized that mowing over American and European activists would save more trouble than it created; this has been a blow to the Palestinian movement. I remember back in the late 80's and early 90's the presence of even one non-Arab American or European with a video camera was enough to stop the bulldozers. Does that make their presence the be-all and end-all of the movement, i.e. "thank god! you saved us!"? Of course not, but a collective movement is by definition collective and there was definitely a role here for so-called outsiders. Palestinians knew this and to some extent relied on it. Rachel Corrie's death and the corresponding lack of outrage surrounding it eroded that role, which is where, in strictly concrete terms, the battle cry that "we only know her name because she's an American, *eyeroll*" has done absolutely nothing to help the Palestinian cause.

There is, however, the need to divorce concrete privilege from psychological privilege. I'm struggling for language on this one, but I've become increasingly bothered by the 'existential snobbery' (term coined by my husband when I was going on about this :)) that comes with declarations of 'white privilege.' It's one thing to acknowledge the ways privilege, racial or otherwise, permeates one's existence; to recognize that the fact that you don't burn crosses on people's lawns doesn't mean you weren't raised with racist stereotypes, that you didn't absorb these messages subconsciously, and that you didn't benefit from other people's racism (or sexism, or homophobia, or imperialistic conquests) even if you didn't actively solicit such benefits.

But there comes a point when recognizing this privilege leads to its own form of racism (or sexism, or heterosexism, or imperialism); when one believes one's "privilege" is so entrenched as to be immutable, and, most arrogantly, the corresponding belief that one's own hierarchies are shared by everyone on the planet.

That first link above addresses this with regard to Zionism. "In the eyes of Zionists, you are not Americans or Britons or Australians. In the last analysis, you are goyim." Whether Zionists believe they are "above" or "below" goyim is almost beside the point. What matters is that it's a great example of a group operating under a different system of categorization, and it sheds light on the myriad limitations of wow-am-I-ever-privileged as an organizing principle, much less as a psychological framework. While there is a place for recognizing unmerited advantages in order to renounce them or use them strategically on behalf of those without such advantages, there's also the danger of repeating the "I'm privileged!" mantra enough in hopes of making it true. (And here I have a vision of a Sensitive New Age Guy putting down a book of Freud's and apologizing to his wife for his oh-so-powerful-penis, to which she answers, uh, don't worry about it, you ain't all that.)

It's the immutable part that bothers me. This idea that privilege is a 'state of being' rather than a series of dynamic, lived experiences, ones that result from social relations specific to time and culture. The problem with announcing one's privilege as a static state — together with a fear of appropriation — is that it fixes a system of categorization that leaves no space for oppressed/non-privileged groups to be seen as authentically talented, objectively powerful, "winners" with or without a level playing field. I remember being told as a child that I was a good artist "for my age" and being so offended by the qualifier — I'm good period, dammit! You're the one who can't draw a stick figure without screwing it up.

It's within this framework that, when the overt racist argues against "dwelling" on slavery, the multiculturalist argues in favor of studying it "so that African-Americans will feel included in the curriculum" rather than arguing that the study of slavery and those who defied it is integral to the macro-study of war, economics, and power relations, topics that are at the heart of, say, the study of the Roman Empire. Making "African-Americans feel included in the curriculum" is a nice goal, I guess, but not when it comes with the implicit assumption that the history of people of color is only useful as a niche subject for people who swing that way when in fact it is a fundamental part of American history.

On a global scale, Islamic civilization was the center of the world for hundreds of years, and I can't get past the role this fact played on September 11. On the one hand I'm opposed to any world view that gives primacy to whoever was on top at any given period, as though those with the power did and therefore should control the universe, but on the other hand I can see where Muslims, particularly those in the Middle East, take particular offense to the view that a country like the U.S. — which has only achieved global dominance in the last 60 years — has the audacity to go flitting around the world doling out advice. And in that context it really doesn't matter if it's someone from USAID telling you you need to initiate a structural adjustment program in order to qualify for a loan or if it's a lefty college student saying "I apologize for all my privilege! Man, am I ever a dick!": it's still some asshole who thinks they're all that giving YOU, the civilization who invented agriculture, who translated the Greeks for the Chinese and vice versa, who initiated the Renaissance in Europe and essentially saved civilization as we know it, advice on how to live.

So while I like and agree with the strategic use of concrete privilege initiated by Rachel Corrie and her cohorts — it was a policy that worked for over a decade, after all — the way the left speaks about privilege generally makes me uncomfortable.

Conservatives like Dinesh D'Souza are capturing this sentiment and selling it in an ahistorical framework, ala "There! We've got Oprah! Racism's over! Everybody go home now!" This is appealing to rich white guys for all the obvious reasons, but there's also a contingent of historically oppressed groups who are the political equivalent of me back in elementary school saying my drawings were good period, sick of white people (or men, or the American War Machine, whatever) approaching them as though they are quaint museum artifacts rather than communities with expertise to be shared. As one friend told me recently, "In order not to be a steoretypical, consumerist New Ager, I didn't proactively try to learn about other cultures." I went through the same thing with all things Native American, to the point where what I'm left with veered way past "respect" and straight into "ignorance." After all, if I'm not going to the source looking for information about this part of American history (and, for that matter, this part of American present), then what I'm left with is whatever I crap I get from FOX News. 😛 Yet it shouldn't be either/or.

Several of the (male) authors in this book I keep talking about, _Progressive Muslims_, say that their ideology was informed by feminist scholarship, to the extent that it turned them around on seemingly unrelated-to-women issues in Qur'anic interpretation. This is 2003. When I was in school my male professors were "sensitive to" feminist critiques. And that was nice; it was better than the only alternative back then (early 90s), which was to make jokes about Hairy-Legged Bra-Burners (and here I'd use one of those little 'TM' symbols if I knew how to make them), but "informed by" and "influenced by" are so much better than "sensitive to." Trouble is, you can't be authentically "influenced by" if you're not willing to admit that the tradition you've inherited — the one you label your "privilege" — might not be all it's cracked up to be.

A modest proposal.

Sunday, December 23rd, 2001

We should have video cameras on every street and inside every home, all e-mail correspondence should be intercepted at the pleasure of the government, all phones should be tapped, and we should have random drug testing on every street corner.

Anyone who has a problem with this must have something to hide.

Einstürzende Neubauten

Tuesday, December 11th, 2001

I read this in The Columbia Journalism Review and became oddly disturbed. "Oddly," because it's not the horror of the WTC disaster itself that shakes me (I've processed that, I think), but the writer's fixation with the ocean of documents that fell out of the sky that morning. A fixation I share. I was disturbed by it even as it was happening, when I watched the fall on September 11, but it seemed too sickly trivial to even merit comment. But there it is: real horror at the thought of a mass of private papers blasting out of the cubicles where they originated and sailing onto this nightmarish mass of rubble and bodies for everyone to see. I carried home with me three things that I'd snatched at random from the site, the writer says: a memo from Matthew to Jeff about Karen's secretary, the front page of a report on Telecom Strategies for the New Decade, a photograph of a mustachioed man in a tuxedo at a podium. I hate him for this raid. It's not the act of keeping a memento; that doesn't bother me at all. It's the fact that he's seeing what he wasn't meant to see, however trivial. And the owners of those documents have no recourse.

I'm bothered, too, by him knowing that the dead woman he saw fall from the tower was female "because she was wearing a skirt (sea-green) and I could see her legs." He steals in to get a glimpse of her face, and I picture myself in her position, unable to arrange myself, to hitch my skirt down over my slip before being stared at by a stranger. Her humanity ended precisely that instant.

It reminds me of this, which horrified me in the exact same way. I passed that link around for a while and most of my friends responded half-sympathetically with "yeah, men are pigs" or some other casual statement meant to pacify me just enough so that I would shut up about it already. They identified with the hassle of being stalked. "What a hassle." But they – and I admit it, even I – were seeing this woman as "a former nude model." It's hard to get up in arms about someone being launched into the spotlight if we never knew them backstage, when they were still whole and multi-faceted.

But lots of my friends are "former nude models," yet I don't think of them that way because they've never been forced to make it paramount. And they accept that as their entitlement, which I believe it is. But I don't think they understand how tenuous their claim on their own narrative is. Being misrepresented is rarely about someone saying you're this when you're really that. It's a matter of degree: someone takes some small part of you, hacks away the rest, and makes that part all-encompassing, turns it into everything you are. What can you say in your own defense? That you aren't that, when in fact you are? "Yes, but I'm other things, too!" or "I'm that, but, uh, not the way you said it!" are childish retorts. So you're left with silence. Like the woman in the sea-green skirt, legs helplessly exposed for the benefit of some cub reporter, breathing just ten seconds ago, dignity intact.

Jumper cables.

Monday, October 1st, 2001

The mosque was full again today. The first Sunday after the attacks they'd blocked off the parking lot with ropes; now it's surrounded by concrete blocks and they've installed a police officer during school hours. I dropped the child off at Arabic school and went to the sisters lecture they have every month. It was the first one I'd been to there and the first time I'd heard a woman formally recite the Qur'an, which was beautiful. The subject was human rights and I'd expected them to talk much more about "the situation" (as they call it there; funny how different groups of people have termed it differently), but it was mostly about women and race in Islam, which is fine, but I was hoping to hear something more nuanced and current, basically something I could only hear there. They did have an interesting discussion about interracial marriage, which is not just "tolerated" but outright encouraged; both the speaker and several members of the group chastised those who insist on marrying only Arabs/Sudanese/Pakistanis/black or white Americans/etc. "This is not Islam."

Then like a moron I was ready to leave and realized I'd left my lights on and the car battery was dead. I do this like absolutely constantly. I've locked my keys in the car maybe twice in my life, but I'm perpetually leaving the lights on. So (as I said, like a moron) I go from car to car – "do you have jumper cables? do you have jumper cables? salaam aleikum, do you have jumper cables?" Of course I'm in the parking lot of a mosque, the one place in the entire state where the contingent of good ol' boys is precisely zero. No one has jumper cables. "Give it a push!" one man tells me. "Just give it a push!" I have this image of myself in my long skirt and scarf grunting through the parking lot, slipping and sliding behind the bumper, turning purple. Um, no. I go inside and the vice principal very kindly offers to let me use his Triple A card. ("Just give it a push!" another man next to him says. "What's the problem?")

I go back outside to get the license number and registration card and miraculously find two women who have jumper cables in the back of their mini-van. Alhamdullilah. I go back inside a second time to tell them I don't need to call Triple A (too late; it's been done; they'll call back) and by the time I get back to the parking lot (past the concrete blocks) two men have got it running for me. I am such a moron.