We stand by: a Thanksgiving meditation

There has never been anything, nor will there ever be anything, which so frightens those in power as a great demographic shift among the powerless.

Because the powerless, when they see themselves in the powerful, can delude themselves into thinking they share in the power. After all, they have the same interests, the same concerns, the same ideology. But when the powerless look up and see something that looks so unfamiliar, they begin to feel restless. They clamor for change. They know that these strangers, who purport to speak for them, in no way have their best interests at heart. Ultimately, they threaten the powerful — not overtly (necessarily), but covertly. Not with conflict and protest, with guns and violence, but with that most subversive act of all. With their vote.
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Know your audience.

Theme of the day:

The first hilariously this-isn’t-me piece of junk mail arrived addressed to me, from a local-ish bank (who, incidentally, is represented for their PR by a former colleague — whoops). “Cheap” bank account? Credit card? What goodies did they have in store? Well, aside from an insert advertising a “free” $100 to open a financially-not-feasible checking account with them sometime in the next eight weeks, it included a letter beginning “Dear Audrey” and which continued “Congratulations on your upcoming wedding!” and went on to describe how many couples-to-be neglect to think about the combining of finances during the wedding planning and this bank was here to save the day! Hooray! Well, No Name Bank, not only am I very much not getting married, but if I were, the first thing I would do would be to think about finances and their combination, or not.

The next instance of Know Your Audience came with the second piece of junk mail I decided to open.

This plea for monetary support was addressed to my father, but reading the envelope which announced its intention to secure financial SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL on behalf of some foundation named after some old presumably Jewish guy, I just had to open it. I knew he wouldn’t care, but sorry anyway, U.S. Government. OopsFelony.

I can’t really describe the letter, except to say there were some embarrassing grammatical errors, so here’s what happened in visual re-enactments (I apologize for the wonky quality of these scans):

The third junk mail I opened was Obama campaign mail (what a lovely infographic they included on job growth) — free sticker! — and the fourth junk mail was actually not junk mail at all, but a notification telling my mom it was time to get her car serviced. So, mom, add it to the to-do list.

Party Like it’s Saudi (and other fun facts)

(I’ll cross post from midthought/Your Middle East, where it is a featured post today, meaning it is in the scrolly thing on the home page. COOL:)

I first saw M.I.A.’s Bad Girls video (directed by Romain Gavras) a couple months ago, and have been stewing since then to try to figure out why, exactly, I am so fascinated with it.

Sure, on the surface, it is visually enrapturing and musically infectious. It also has deeper layers: it hints at another side to the Middle East, beyond our stereotypical, media-fed images of women in burqas who aren’t allowed to drive. The music video is steeped in sexually charged dancing, beautiful women, fast cars; it’s like The Fast & the Furious, Persian Gulf edition.

From M.I.A.'s "Bad Girls" Video, 2012.

But aside from its sheer (and vast) entertainment value, why I am so enamored with this piece of pop culture? I finally figured it out: Bad Girls reflects my own relationship, as I imagine it, with the Middle East. A windy desert, fast cars, beautiful women, a carefree rockstar attitude that is surprisingly applicable across the region combined with a laissez-faire attitude towards money (assuming one has it), a whirlwind of adventuresomeness and an unmatched esprit de corps. Gavras captures this vibe and my fantastical memories perfectly, and makes me want to party like it’s Saudi.

When I watch it, I am reminded of nights partying at clubs in Amman, learning to belly dance from Arab women, both strangers and friends, outdoor neighborhood weddings with raucous music and highly charged and energetic dancing, bonfires on the beach with guitars and ritualized dances around fires in the middle of the desert, midnights on the Sinai with hashish and Stella, driving for hours across the Jordanian desert on a whim and starry nights filled with hookah smoke. Bad Girls captures the passion for aesthetics, for art and music, for glamour and image, for passion itself.

What Bad Girls show us is that the Middle East is, for all its problems and in a bizarre twist of fate, a place of absolute freedom; where devastatingly beautiful women can dance on hoods of cars and men can drag race through the desert in souped up European sports cars, at least metaphorically.

This is how I do, and how I want, to remember the Middle East. Go for the seduction, stay for the beauty, come back for that piece of yourself you left somewhere on the side of the road. Though we might read it as Orientalism, the Bad Girls video embodies at an erotic, mysterious, seductive truth about my Middle East. We can drape these truths in accusations of conservativeness, backwardness, primitiveness, or whatever is designated for “the Orient,” but as in Bad Girls, the Middle East I know is beautiful and irresistible. The video and my Middle East are an embodiment of everything prohibited by our own puritanical fears of the unknown, of desire, and of temptation. This is, I believe, fundamentally what Bad Girls is all about: it challenges us to find the freedom and the perfection in such an unfamiliar place.

Red White and Blue. With Love.

This holiday is already bad enough, what with the drunkards out in full force and not even pizza shops open to save them from their own inanity.

Why I felt the need to indulge in my bitter, self-righteous loneliness and complete unfeelingness twoards this day of eminent pointlessness (my uncaring is so strong I even had to hover over the Goog-icon until my Homer Simpson “doh” moment hit) is beyond me. Maybe sometimes you really just need that tiny push, that extra excuse, to grab a six of mediocre belgian-style wheat beer and two-day-old strawberry shortcake. Well, the strawberries were already macerated so it’s not as if I put any effort into this fandango.

What are we celebrating, anyway? The day a bunch of old (now dead) white guys signed a crinkling piece of parchment, announcing their grand intentions to cease, and I mean absolutely desist, paying any more representation-free taxes to the oppressive colonial powers that be? What, so we’re celebrating some version of our libertarian roots? Hallelujah.

Besides, it seems terribly ironic to celebrate what is ostensibly a holiday about America and freedom and independence and over-indulgence when ships full of people are being detained (for example) in Greek ports (yet another irony, o bastion, motherland of democracy) en route to protest against the inhuman suffering of one group of people at the hands of another, far more powerful group of people.

O, the humanity.

Woe, the humanity.

Independence from nothing but our own moral compasses and human responsibility. I’ll drink to that.

Concerned Citizen.

That would be me. Surprise, surprise.


Press Herald Letters to the Editor May 25 (do I have to blockquote it if I wrote it?):


I have no doubt that George Mitchell is a great man; a brilliant diplomat, a stalwart patriot and a phenomenal role model for young Mainers.

The Press Herald’s response to his resignation, though well-intended, detracts from his achievements. That George Mitchell is an intelligent man prompts me to believe his resignation is a wake-up call: The conventional style of babysitting diplomacy is dead.

Henry Kissinger, Camp David and Oslo couldn’t find a Mideast peace. Why should Mitchell be different? The fundamental problem is not lack of American effort — perhaps better to call it meddling or intervention — but rather a lack of a people’s voice in the process.

The reaction to his resignation from both supporters and detractors has one disastrous commonality: It disenfranchises the very people whom peace in Israel-Palestine most affects by putting all the eggs in the basket of international diplomacy.

Supporters (like the Press Herald) say that if peace comes, it will be because of Mitchell’s groundwork. Detractors say there is no peace now, therefore Mitchell failed.

If a peace in Israel-Palestine comes in my lifetime, it will not owe anything to the efforts of outsiders or politicians. It will reflect a collective effort between Israelis, Palestinians, Armenians, Ethiopians, even Syrians and Jordanians. It will be trans-national, trans-religious and trans-ethnic.

I could not possibly pretend to know how this will happen, but I imagine the uprisings of the “Arab Spring” are a reliable indicator.

I applaud Mitchell on his resignation from an impossible job. He has extracted himself from this downward spiral of endless, futile “negotiations,” and I can only hope that rather than speculating on various ratios of failure and success, we learn from him.

We need to re-approach our unbalanced relationships with Israeli and Palestinian “leadership” and our involvement in a struggle that means life or death — but not ours.

What makes our suffering more worthy?

When I was younger, the Haggadah we used at Passover had a farcical play in the back, jocularly re-enacting the story of the Exodus from Egypt. We used to perform it every year around the Seder table as our version of telling the story of Passover. There is one line from the play that has stuck with me through all these years, a line my sister and I quote to each other throughout the year, and one that seems particularly relevant as I look back at what I’ve just written:

“Woe to us, we are in trouble.”

Tonight marks the beginning of 192 hours of abstention from bread, leavening (except eggs), inflation (except beans), and alcohol (except wine, rum, tequila…oh hell, get me a beer). Why? So we can remember when we were slaves in Egypt. So we can pray for our brothers and sisters all over the world. So we can make our lives marginally uncomfortable for a while, to remember our history and to prevent us from experiencing it again.

Though noble enough in origin – as my father says, “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat” – this holiday feels in a way self-righteous. Most haggadot (the Passover dinner-service guidebook) will, at least now, mention the hardships facing minority groups in other areas of the world. I’ve seen mention of Southeast Asia and the USSR, and in the 90s we were into the African dictators and Eastern Europe. Feminist haggadot often mention inequality for women in different parts of the world, and I think we have one in our house discussing sex slaves. These days particularly leftist haggadot will even mention Palestine.

But the buck stops here. We acknowledge the suffering of others; we hope and we pray that these people will experience freedom, justice, and liberty, just as we were freed from Egypt and wandered around the desert (independently!, mind you) for forty years. Hooray for us, now go find your own Moses.

We are so focused on preventing our own history from repeating itself, though, that we cannot see when we are inflicting terrible collective damage on other people. We – and all minorities – are and must be survivalist. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and if we don’t protect our clan, surely we will meet our demise. Thus we may only in good faith marry among ourselves, live in homogeneous communities, pray only for the health and welfare of our own kind, and while we wish well upon others, there is always the unspoken addendum to “may you be free”: “but not as free as we.”

Perhaps it is time for us to stop worrying about ourselves to the exclusion of all others. Perhaps it is time for us to give money to a charitable yet non-Jewish organization (like a Catholic or even secular hospital, for instance). Perhaps we ought to recognize that behaving with the clear and direct intention of simply preventing our own history from repeating itself will inevitably mean we, or others, will inflict the same hardships on other minorities, and we have set ourselves up only to be complicit spectators or active perpetrators of similar crimes.

Why do we, as people who have suffered, not hear the same cries for help, not recognize new histories moving down the same paths as ours once did, not step in and speak out? Half-drunk around the dinner table two nights a year is not enough.

With its spiritual and ideological focus on freedom, Passover is a time not to talk about our hopes for others, these fluid fragments of ideas, but to act on them. To actually believe in what we say, without addenda, and to put our idle words – all people will be free – into action.

I believe in “next year in Jerusalem,” but I also believe in next year in Damascus, in Ramallah, in Amman, in Jeddah, in Cairo, in Manama, in Gaza City, in Tunis, in Benghazi and Tripoli, in Paris, in Havana, in Augusta and Madison, in Tokyo, in Naypyidaw, Burma, in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, and throughout the world. We deserve freedom no more and no less than anyone else, and if we are going to spend 8 days a year saying it, we’d best start spending 365 days a year believing it.

Get your activism on. [Warning: BDS]

WARNING: This will be incendiary and unquestionably littered with social democratic and possibly Marxist or even anarchistic sentiment. Please don’t read if you don’t want to think about BDS.

After much discussion and rumination and explication, I think I am finally able to explain and possibly even support the full call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel.

There is a LOT of information out there about it. It’s dense, seemingly contradictory at times, and very difficult to parse through. Having people to talk about it with is immensely helpful. For your own purposes, some good resources are PACBI, BNC, and IMEU.

To be completely honest, though so many people speak in favor of BDS, they only do so in the context of the real and physical occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But even among so many leftist Jews, it is very difficult to acknowledge or talk about the State of Israel as its own form of occupation, but to fully support BDS, which is critical for complete justice throughout all of historic Palestine, we must talk about the harder aspects.

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