Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

❝HOW THE GUN LAW GOT SHOT DOWN – Of all the senators who attempted Wednesday to rally support for the doomed Manchin-Toomey background check amendmentConnecticut‘s Democratic freshman representative, Chris Murphy, probably faced the greatest temptation to borrow the moral authority of the Newtown families. They are his constituents and many were present in the chamber.

He’s young – the youngest sitting senator, actually – and an early Obama supporter, given to occasional bouts of (understandably) overwrought emotional rhetoric. During his very first floor speech as a senator last week, which itself took on gun legislation, he read the names of the Newtown victims – and some of the 3,000 other victims of gun violence since 14 December – into the congressional record.

Murphy’s also been a vocal, unusually sharp critic of the National Rifle Association. He described their response to the Newtown tragedy – the “National School Shield” Program – as “unhinged”, “revolting”, and “tone deaf”, declaring himself “flabbergasted” by the group’s press conference and calling out the program for what it was: a bald ploy for further political power.❞

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❝Since the inception of Malaya in 1957 and the Federation of Malaysia in 1963, the political narrative of our country has been one of race. Campaigns, parties, social movements rely on appealing to ethnocentric sentiments to remain relevant.

Post-1969, this narrative hardened and played on fears of ethnic violence. To a large extent, it has reinforced barriers between Malaysians, and created a siege mentality of “us versus them”.❞

In The Malaysian Insider

☞ Malaysia, like all countries, is constructed (or re-constructed) through narratives. Not all these narrative, of course, are positive. Even some of the positive ones have a negative undertow. In spite of the tightly controlled official media, other narratives about the main players of Malaysian society and politics have emerged from alternative sources. The following acerbic article, from the reform movement Aliran, gives examples of the counter-narratives that have emerged, often with discernible tones of sarcasm, in spite of the official versions promulgated by the government.

Malaysia is the most exciting country to live within the South-East Asian Region.

Murder, betrayal and greed are some of the key
ingredients in the script of our national reality show
Graphic: freemalaysiatoday

We have the greatest beaches, the tallest flagpole, the best food, and the longest yee sang (or Prosperity Toss practised by the Chinese). We also have the best education system in the world and the best and most vibrant democracy. And most of all, Malaysia has the most vibrant, Oscar-standard, and colourful political dramas.

Our national news is the stuff of legends. Most Malaysians stay riveted for hours to online news portals reading about real-life scandals, sexual indiscretions, murder, betrayal, greed, conspiracies. Of course, we also cringe at the utter shamelessness and embarrassment of it all. Seriously, when they say real life is better than fiction, it cannot be truer in this country.

Fortunately, what stops us, the hapless addicts from descending into hopelessness is Malaysia’s cast of heroes. They come in the unlikeliest forms such as those of Irene Fernandez, Tijah, A Samad Said, Peter John Jaban, Rafizi Ramli, Wong Tack and a score of other ordinary people made extraordinary by their selfless work for all and especially the voiceless and downtrodden. They battle the Goliaths of Malaysian villainy, notwithstanding the injustice of Malaysian laws. Amazingly, just like in the movies, they still remain strong enough to fight the good fight, even after several rounds.

While we have these remarkable heroes, we also have an epic line-up of powerful villains, liars and cowards and their equally repulsive minions. Self-serving, greedy and conniving, they fester and permeate every level, feeding off and into a system that enriches them and impoverishes everyone else.”

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☞ From the Palestinian conflict to Australian politics: two very different issues and two very different sets of narratives. Both are political in their own unique ways, even if some of their features could be generalised or universalised. Both are also ultimately dependent on the right narratives to set things right for particular groups of people. It’s not the case that Australian politics or the Labor Party have lost all narrative: there are quite a lot of narratives or potential narratives going on there, with their own plots or potential plot outcomes. They are discussed in this article, and also, the readings listed below. The problem is not with narrative per se but the appropriate narrative or set of narratives that could save the Labor government. In this regard, the readings below have some interesting stories of their own to tell: such as the well-known one that there is a man waiting in the wings (a.k.a. Sir Kevin) who will very probably save the tribe (a.k.a. the Australian Labor Party); but his problem is that he is more popular in the land of Oz than among the fellow knightsmen and knightswomen of his tribe. Other narratives have to do with metaphors, such as Gillard being a zombie (“dead woman walking”) or that she is a woman with ba***. I am not sure if becoming the latter was helpful, or that, indeed, she has metaphorically undergone the tranformation (one of the occupational hazards of being a woman politician). She has in fact been accused by another female politician of using her gender to shield herself from complaints about her performance as prime minister.

“Governments ultimately thrive on narrative. Voters are not merely electing a suite of set policies. They are electing a party that will respond to future, unforeseen policy questions. They therefore need to know what you’re about. That’s what a clear consistent story tells them.

A party without a narrative is reduced to seeking your support as a lesser evil. Hence Labor’s focus on Tony Abbott.

Every successful government can be summarised in a phrase or two. Bob Hawke: a new, deregulated, globalised economy. Keating inherited that story, then added Asia, a growing economic power in our backyard we should embrace by shedding our British skin. Howard was about nationalism, security and capital’s triumph over labour. Everything – asylum seeker policy, counterterrorism, foreign affairs, even unsolicited social commentary about minority groups – was tailored to fit the story.

Exactly what story has Labor told us since 2007? It began with something about ”Australian working families”, but that too was a relic of the WorkChoices campaign. After that, it has been mostly a blancmange of conflicting messages. Perhaps it started when Kevin Rudd wanted to be ”tough but humane” on asylum seekers. It took Gillard only a matter of days as Prime Minister to continue the incoherence, declaring both that the number of boat people arriving in Australia was much smaller than many imagined, before swiftly going on to reassure those worried about invading hordes that their concerns were legitimate, and that they’re ”certainly [not] racist”. We learn nothing from this about how Labor sees asylum seekers. We learn only that it’s trying to please everyone.”

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☞ There is no question that the Palestinian problem is one of the great humanitarian crises of today. Like some of the historical problems of this nature, it has to do with the attempt to manufacture, promote and impose a dominant narrative through unjustifiable and savage means. In this case, as the Palestinian-American author Susan Abulhawa notes — in her review of a film which shows how the Zionists tried to demolish the Palestinian identity and intellectual heritage through the robbing of their books — the interpretation of the Palestinian narrative might depend on “who tells it, in what context is it told, how is it told, and, ultimately, who owns it.” To Abulhawa, unless the narrative is told from a historically-informed Palestinian perspective, there are bound to be gaps that do not allow the more complete picture of Palestinian nationhood from being conveyed.

(Image: Via Al Jazeera)

(Image: Via Al Jazeera)

“I finally watched The Great Book Robbery at the University of Pennsylvania this weekend with some friends.  It’s a film documenting Israel’s systematic looting of over 70,000 books from Palestinian public and private libraries after Jewish gangs in Palestine proclaimed the state of Israel and ethnically cleansed the native population.

The film itself is excellent and I have a lot of good things to say about it.   But I was bothered by a certain element, at the very end, which was repeated by the Director, Benny Brunner, who was at the showing to answer questions.  So I raised my hand and asked a question about it.  Mr Brunner became very defensive.

His reaction made me think and re-think on a topic that already preoccupies me on a near daily basis – namely, the Palestinian narrative: who tells it, in what context is it told, how is it told, and, ultimately, who owns it.    The importance of such a discussion regarding a people’s narrative should not be underestimated, particularly in instances of oppression and ethnic cleansing.

Putting aside the single, albeit important, element that bothered me in the film, and the film director’s unfortunate reaction to uncomfortable questions, I will first tell you everything that was right and good about this documentary.  For starters, it unveils another facet of the Zionist project to strip the indigenous Palestinians of everything tangible and intangible, not merely out of pure greed and opportunism, but also to necessarily fill in the various gaps and requirements of manufacturing a Jewish state in the 20th century.  This documentary deals with our books – some ancient, others contemporary; some rare one-of-a-kind books, others reproduced.  Most of them were personal, all were historic, and each was a piece of Palestinian cultural and intellectual heritage and identity.

As Zionists did with our homes, bank accounts, photographs, farms, orchards, and all remaining worldly possessions, they also stole our books.    A large number of them were looted from wealthy families from Jerusalem and Haifa, and in the process of watching this documentary, the viewer gets a sense of the cultured and highly-educated Palestinian society that was dispossessed of home and history by foreign Jewish newcomers.  One man in the audience made reference to this in a comment to the director.  This film clearly changed the image of Palestinians in his mind from something other than cultured, to people he could relate to.   That says something about the film’s power.

Several Palestinian personalities were featured, including Nasser Nashashibi, whose tears fell as he spoke of the loss of his library.  Ghada Karmi, too, was in the film.  Footage showed her returning to her home in Qatamon and finding the same lemon tree and porch tiles from her youth.  Another poignant interview was with a Palestinian by the name of Ahmed Batrawi.  He described himself as a prisoner of war who was forced to work and to clear out other Palestinian homes, including his own, and turn over all loot to Zionist authorities.  Although the director did not mention this, all evidence points to Batrawi having been in one of the many forced labor camps that Israel apparently established just 4 years after Nazis closed the last of their forced labor camps.  Little is known of these camps and I first heard of them from Dr Salman Abu Sitta, whose research into the archives of the Swiss Red Cross revealed 5 camps with 6,360 prisoners who were forced into slave labor after 1948.  But I digress.

The story was haunting and compelling.  It provoked anger in me that plunged into a depth of sadness and loss.  I think it would seem silly to some to mourn old books, especially when there is so much more to mourn, from stolen futures to extinguished lives.  But perhaps it is precisely for the magnitude of our loss that our books, our intellectual heritage and narrative, matter so much.”

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☞ One of the ways a dominant group tries to present a negative image of another group, is to engage in storytelling that undermines the latter. If the narrative is not negative or not negative enough, there might be an attempt at narrative shifting, resulting in a more adverse picture of the group being portrayed. As this article illustrates, this is certainly true of the image of Arabs as narrated by westerners.

‟Control of the preferred narrative is essential in today’s instant-news political culture. This has been particularly true since 9/11, as the United States government and the cooperative media have worked together to make sure that a series of enemies are identified and then attacked as a response to what has been shaped as a global terrorist threat. Narrative-shifting also protects against failure, by making it more difficult to advance any actual inquiry either to learn what motivates terrorists or to explore the apparent inability of the federal government to respond effectively. The best known attempt to shift the blame and thereby redirect the narrative was President George W. Bush’s famous assertion that “those evildoers” of 9/11 “hate us because of our freedom.” Other, more plausible motives need not apply.

Later this year PBS will release to its affiliates a documentary film that it co-produced called “Valentino’s Ghost.” I recently watched a preview copy. In its full version it is 95 minutes long, and it lays out a roughly chronological account of how Muslims, particularly Arabs, have been perceived in the West since the 1920s. Written and directed by Michael Singh, it includes interviews with a number of well-known authorities on the Middle East, including Robert Fisk, Niall Ferguson, John Mearsheimer, and the late Anthony Shadid, the New York Times journalist killed in Syria last February. The film explores the political and cultural forces behind the images, contending that the depiction of Arabs as “The Other” roughly parallels the foreign policies of Europe and America vis-à-vis the Middle East region. The title of the film is taken from the first great cinematic “Arab,” Italian Rudolph Valentino, who starred in the 1922 silent film “The Sheik.” When asked regarding the plausibility of the script, in which English aristocrat Lady Diana falls for the “savage” Sheik, Valentino responded “People are not savages because they have dark skins. The Arabian civilization is one of the oldest in the world…the Arabs are dignified and keen brained.”

Valentino’s cinematic triumph was followed by other films extolling Arabian exoticism, including 1924’s “The Thief of Baghdad,” starring Douglas Fairbanks. But the cinematic love affair with Arabia did not last long. The 1920s also witnessed Anglo-French moves to divide up the Arab provinces of the defunct Ottoman Empire and to gain control of Iran’s oil supply.The Arabs, not surprisingly, resisted, which forced a rethink of who they were and what they represented as reflected in Eurocentric movies made in the 1930s, including “Beau Geste,” “The Lost Patrol,” and “Under Two Flags.”

Arabs were increasingly depicted in the cinema as lawless savages who mindlessly opposed the advanced civilizations of Europe, not unlike the American Indians who had stood in the way of manifest destiny. The possible motives for their savagery were strictly off limits, as they were in the American historical narrative. The good Arabs were the ones who were “obedient” and sought accommodation with the French and British. The bad Arabs were the “disobedient” who sought to maintain their traditional ways of life.”

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