Saturday, July 12, 2014

Why Do We Need To Be Pardoned?

“Why do we need to be pardoned? What are we to be pardoned for? For not dying of hunger? For not accepting humbly the historic burden of disdain and abandonment? For having risen up in arms after we found all other paths closed? For not heeding the Chiapas penal code, one of the most absurd and repressive in history? For showing the rest of the country and the whole world that human dignity still exists even among the world’s poorest peoples? For having made careful preparations before we began our uprising? For bringing guns to battle instead of bows and arrows? For being Mexicans? For being mainly indigenous? For calling on the Mexican people to fight by whatever means possible for what belongs to them? For fighting for liberty, democracy and justice? For not following the example of previous guerrilla armies? For refusing to surrender? For refusing to sell ourselves out? Who should we ask for pardon, and who can grant it? Those who for many years glutted themselves at a table of plenty while we sat with death so often, we finally stopped fearing it? Those who filled our pockets and our souls with empty promises and words? Or should we ask pardon from the dead, our dead, who died “natural” deaths of “natural causes” like measles, whooping cough, break-bone fever, cholera, typhus, mononucleosis, tetanus, pneumonia, malaria and other lovely gastrointestinal and pulmonary diseases? Our dead, so very dead, so democratically dead from sorrow because no one did anything, because the dead, our dead, went just like that, with no one keeping count with no one saying, “Enough!” which would at least have granted some meaning to their deaths, a meaning no one ever sought for them, the dead of all times, who are now dying once again, but now in order to live? Should we ask pardon from those who deny us the right and capacity to govern ourselves? From those who don’t respect our customs and our culture and who ask us for identification papers and obedience to a law whose existence and moral basis we don’t accept? From those who oppress us, torture us, assassinate us, disappear us from the grave “crime” of wanting a piece of land, not too big and not too small, but just a simple piece of land on which we can grow something to fill our stomachs? Who should ask for pardon, and who can grant it?” 
― Subcomandante Marcos

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Noorah Kareem Does Quirky ...

The art scene in the Kingdom has seen its ups and downs in recent years, always seemingly concentrated on old and traditional themes, beautifully portraying different aspects of life throughout different methods and periods in our history, but somehow reserved. With the turn of the 21st Century, things are starting to stir up in the art world, a younger generation of fresh faced artists are born. The traditional ways of art are being transformed into a new way of displaying things, more emotions and feelings are expressed with the use of their brush strokes or pencil sketches in the most creative way it has ever been. With events such as Jeddah Art Week, Edge of Arabia and a collective art exhibition by young Saudi artists at Riyadh’s prestigious L’Art Pur Gallery, young artists are more enthusiastic than ever. One of these enthusiastic young ones is Noorah Kareem, her art is a mix of feelings, moods and intentions, all put into her art work.

This young 25-year-old is very new to the art scene yet has caught the eye of both the young and older generations through her work. Her work can be called eccentric, from quirky cartoon comic-like characters, superheroes to simple doodles and sketches that speak out to her audience loud and clear. Her work wasn’t taken seriously until she was offered a scholarship to Art and Skills Institute in Riyadh, mid way through her studies at King Saud University specializing in Special Education, where she learned everything that had to do with painting and sketching. But her passion was still not found there. Only after she graduated that she combined her learning at the institute and her admiration for the weird, different and interestingly strange. 

“I love everything different, it tells of who I am, a young curious girl, who loves cartoons and old school work that is all about drawing, fun and purely innocent in the sense that it tells a story of feeling.” The artist uses a lot of sarcasm and comic illustrations in her pieces, all with clear messages behind them that people from both older and young generations can relate to, even if the message means something to one and the opposite to the other. Noorah says it loud and clear. One of her latest projects was a collection of five paintings of various people all taking the ever so common “selfie” displayed at the L’art Pur Gallery in Riyadh last month. When being critiqued she found that the older generation took it very seriously claiming that “selfie” takers are too much into themselves whereas others saw the irony in them. “I enjoyed hearing their views of my paintings, some were very funny. Selfies are a form of expression to some and I just wanted to show how a painting of a selfie can be funny with the different facial expressions and the amount of concentration it takes to perfect it. It was a funny concept and the result was great,” said Noorah.

The self taught artist likes to challenge herself, mix things up, messing with concepts and flipping them over and find the humor in it. She learned her trait from YouTube videos as well as art and sketching classes that she attended in Chicago during the summer vacations. She experimented with her doodles, sketches of items and people around her and transformed it into a collection. “I like old school, Disney type of sketching, it’s an art form that is long gone due to technology, but to me it’s something I can pour myself into,” says Noorah.

Another collection of work that she had done were of magazine cover shots flipped around. “Sayidaty” became “Rajoli” keeping the essence of the magazine intact but changes introduced for the benefit of male readers, giving it a sarcastic twist in the opposite gender’s perspective. Art is no longer confined to specific concepts nor elaborate methods in order for it to be considered “art.” The concept of what is an art piece has drastically changed over the years, especially in the Kingdom where many are exploring the unknown and uncommon and creating something beautiful. 

Art is expression. Noorah’s moods can be seen here and there. Her “Boogie Humans” may seem funny to some, weird and ugly to a few or simply cartoony to others. But looking closely at each painted character, they’re each different with distinct features of distorted expressions all meshed up to portray a large canvas of feelings. Just imagine the faces of monsters hiding under the bed, scary, with lively chaotic mesh of vibrant colors to show the chaotic vibe of her “Boogie Humans” series. The young artist had this to say, “It’s in that chaos that I am able to express the feelings I had at the time. Finding unorganized concepts and organizing them using my hands or brushes bring out the imaginary characters that live in my head. I like them weird, quirky, different and out of the ordinary, that’s what I strive to achieve.”

Monday, June 30, 2014

Ramadan Kareem...

An Indian Muslim father holds the hands of his daughter in his palms and prays before breaking fast on the first day of holy month Ramadan at the Jama Mosque in New Delhi, India, Monday, June 30, 2014. During this month the world's estimated 1.6 billion Muslims will abstain from food, drink and other pleasures from sunrise to sunset. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)


Friday, June 27, 2014

Comparing International Beauty Standards...

U.S.-based journalist and photographer Esther Honig came up with an interesting photo project that answers a difficult question in an ingenious way – how can we compare standards of women’s beauty world-wide?
Honig’s solution was brilliantly simple: she sent a portrait photo of herself to freelance Photoshoppers in countries around the world with one request – to make her “beautiful.” Each Photoshopper, be they a professional or an amateur, took their own spin on the assignment, giving Honig (and us) a glimpse at what at least one person in each of these countries considers to be beautiful. Honig’s face subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) shifts, changing form and color as it travels around the world.!before--after-/cvkn

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Statement To Humanity...

In the last few weeks we have seen a horrific onslaught of violence against women on every continent on this planet. In fact, the only continent that it seems you can be a woman and feel safe in is Antarctica.
We have been chronicling, filing reports, and following up on the over two-hundred girls who have been abducted in a war on women and girls in Nigeria. These victims remain in the company of their abductors, and by no means should this egregious crime against humanity fall into the darkness of a twenty-four news cycle filled with tripe jive and bickering over who wore what to where. Yet still, it has taken a back seat to a culture of narcissistic trifles. Where is the free- the- two -hundred- plus- Nigerian- girls concert? Where are the artists writing songs of fire to ignite the stove which boils the pressure of the collective conscience? Silence…
We have been on the streets painting our tears into screams of outrage for our sisters, our fellow human beings, who were lynched in the prime of their fourteen and fifteen -year – old lives. The blood they left on the mangoes reminds us the fruit of nourishment, the dreams of tomorrow, are being cut down, suffocated, beaten, in a hateful war on women. What do the so-called experts illuminate-”65% of the women in Uttar Pradesh don’t have access to proper sanitation?” I’m serious, this is what so-called experts offered as a solution following the gang rape of two girls who were lynched- lynched and displayed hanging from a mango tree. The people who killed these girls took the time to not just murder them but to hang them from a tree. Then we have politicians, the so-called voice of the people, following the incident with remarks like, “Rape is sometimes right, sometimes wrong;” or “No one commits rape intentionally, it happens by mistake…” It gets better, or I should say dumber: “Boys make mistakes, why hang them?” These brokers of hate should be hung. In the country I inhabit almost everyone, almost everyone, has access to toilets and sanitation. This country I inhabit also has one of the highest number of rapes in the world. Toilets, or lack of toilets do not make people rape, but misogyny synthesized with entitlement does. Dehumanizing women as products-inhuman, inferior, insulated by caste, prefaced by a worn out hateful predisposition enacts violence. I can go outside almost anywhere in the world and release myself and the fear of being raped will be the last thing on my mind. Silence…
We remain in the streets, burning candles for the innocent lives cut down at UCSB in a shooting rampaged by-I must stop in this case and preface my remark by saying the shooter was actually sick, he was suffering from the age-old disease of white entitlement, one of the world’s largest killers, diluted by the silence of media.
We are trying to get more information on the health and well-being of a young girl in Malaysia who was raped by 38 men. She wasn’t on her way to a bathroom, drunk, or any of the other victim blaming, social stigmas baptized in ignorance to avoid actually having a conversation, one which would ultimately indicted society and most of the people who work in this building, and other governmental buildings around the world.
We continue to illuminate the baffling ignorance and inaction of governments to follow through with strategic planning to prevent these crimes. In fact, the people of the communities around these crimes are doing more to fight back, to raise their voices, to demand change, than the governments. This is including inaction, real thoughtful, progressive, strategic action, on the parts of the intergovernmental organizations, like the one I am standing in right now.
We see more ridiculous comments, more victim blaming and impunity than action; action for progressive justice, not retroactive-it’s-too-late justice.
Retroactive justice doesn’t bring the girls lynched in Uttar Pradesh back to life.
Retroactive justice, so-called courtroom justice doesn’t put the bullets back in Elliot Rodger’s gun.
Retroactive justice doesn’t reverse a rape.
It doesn’t take back the harassment the girl raped at Columbia University experienced, nor does it take back the harassment she was subjected to by the New York Police Department, the very people who should have been protecting her in the first place.
Retroactive justice doesn’t annul a child sold into marriage because her chances are better at surviving, as she lays starving in a refugee camp in Syria, while a war criminal remains in power, uncharged.
Retroactive justice doesn’t bring back to life, or return the lost, missing, murdered indigenous women in Canada.
We want proactive justice.
We want an international anti-misogyny treaty. This means money allocated to doing whatever is necessary to uproot misogyny.
We want money which would have been spent on arms, spent, on books, desks, clothes, and food so every girl on this planet is in school. Yes, if you can do it, the money is there, it is the weak will and lack of imagination that is absent.
We want women’s education which teaches men the her-story that has been omitted from text books in order to prop up his-story.
We want every boy and man to know when he dream of university, when he steps foot in a university, it was a woman who was the architect for the very first university on this earth. Yes, a Muslim woman. So, all the centers of knowledge on this earth today, every advancement in research today, can be traced back to the will of this founding Muslim woman. Her name should be some where on the foots paths of every university on this planet, so every girl, knows…My her-story was a part of creating a hub of intellectualism which has fueled advancement.
When they walk out on the farmlands, when they are involved in agriculture, we want them to know that in ancient Egypt men and women had equal land rights. The cradle of civilization, the dawn of organizing, offered women more rights than many countries offer women today.
We want them to know who Merit-Ptah-one of the first chief physicians was, and that she operated in ancient Egypt.
We want them to know that women were educated in the early Vedic period, that Rigvedic verses suggest that women married at a mature age and were probably free to select their own husbands.
We want proactive justice that teaches equality.
We want proactive justice that teaches children how man has constructed a million centers of hate to achieve the subjugation of human beings for his own benefit. We want them to learn that race, gender, sexuality, that these were tools used to marginalize people and justify greed which brought diseases, upheavals, and violence.
We want them to know that man’s social-Darwinism has been exposed as lies based on pseudo science funded by rich white men, to keep rich white men in power, which gave rich white men the means to enact plans that has ushered destruction everywhere.
We want them to know that knowledge propels change, and stagnation, inaction, in the face of knowledge is hateful, violent and oppressive.
We want proactive justice that teaches conflict resolution.
We want children taught that there is more so be achieved by not fighting, cooperating, working together, than there is by violence, verbally, physically, or structurally.
We want proactive applied learning. As each rudiment of this education to dismantle misogyny and patriarchy is assembled, later it needs to be practiced. We want cross community integration of applied assignments requiring students to mix with communities outside of their own identities, to see that they can work together on a common goal, be graded on the outcome, and build friendships, that will give way to a generation of love and understanding.
We want a streamlined World Health Organization mandated universal gender education, put together by scientists and doctors elected from diverse regions, alongside social scientists.
This is the beginning of proactive steps toward gender justice.
Now, the first thing the so-called pragmatic man views is currency signs and conflict.
Well, if every country appropriated less, spent less to fund the weapons which annihilate the garden, and spent more in growing the garden of equality, the children of tomorrow, girls and boys, would walk forever in the richest gardens.
Proactive justice is less costly over time than retroactive justice, it cost less lives, fewer resources, and less gun powder, so consider it an investment in the future.
Consider it an investment in changing mindsets, in dismantling hate and greed.
Proactive justice will do much more to create peace, than any gun, bomb or worn out rhetoric attacking identities, victim blaming, ever has, or will, while summoning the greatest will, the human will to do better, go further and achieve what was once called impossible
So, we say to those who are stealing from the here and now of women and girls, who are looting our garden “you can cut down the flowers, but you’ll never stop the coming of spring.”
Statement by: JJ, Artistic Director of Price of Silence
For more info on Price of Silence, please contact

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sectarian Monster Reawakened...

“Labeiki ya Zaynab,” chanted Iraqi Shia fighters as they swayed, dancing with their rifles before TV news cameras in Baghdad on June 13. They were apparently getting ready for a difficult fight ahead. For them, it seemed that a suitable war chant would be answering the call of Zaynab, the daughter of Imam Ali, the great Muslim Caliph who lived in Medina 14 centuries ago. That was the period through which the Shia sect slowly emerged, based on a political dispute whose consequences are still felt until this day.

Dark Forces of Sectarianism

That chant alone is enough to demonstrate the ugly sectarian nature of the war in Iraq, which has reached an unprecedented highpoint in recent days. Fewer than 1,000 fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) advanced against Iraq’s largest city of Mosul on June 10, sending two Iraqi army divisions (nearly 30,000 soldiers) to a chaotic retreat.

The call to arms was made by a statement issued by Iraq’s most revered Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and read on his behalf during a Friday prayer’s sermon in Kerbala. “People who are capable of carrying arms and fighting the terrorists in defense of their country (..) should volunteer to join the security forces to achieve this sacred goal,” the statement in part read.

The terrorists of whom Sistani speaks are those of ISIL, whose numbers throughout the region is estimated to be at only 7,000 fighters. They are well organized, fairly well-equipped and absolutely ruthless in their conduct.

To secure their remarkable territorial gains, they quickly moved south, closing in on other Iraqi towns: They attacked Baiji on June 11. On the same day, they conquered Tikrit, the town of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, where they were joined by ex-Baathist fighters. For two days, they tried to take over Samarra, but couldn’t, only to move against Jalawala and Saaddiyah, to the east of Baghdad. It is impossible to verify reports of what is taking place in towns that fall under the control of ISIL, but considering their notoriously bloody legacy in Syria, and ISIL’s own online reporting on their own activities, one can expect the worse.

On June 13, a United Nations spokesperson said hundreds of people were possibly killed in the fighting, many of whom were summarily executed. ISIL’s own gory propaganda video footage and pictures give much credence to the claim.

Within days, ISIL was in control of a large swathe of land which lumped together offers a new map fully altering the political boundaries of the Middle East that were largely envisioned by colonial powers France and Britain nearly a century ago.

Ongoing US War

What the future holds is difficult to predict. The US administration is petrified by the notion of getting involved in Iraq once more. It was its original meddling, at the behest of the notorious neoconservatives who largely determined US foreign policy during George W. Bush’s administration that ignited this ongoing strife in the first place. They admitted failure and withdrew in Dec 2011, hoping to sustain a level of influence over the Iraqi government under Shia Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. They failed miserably as well and it is now Iran that is aninfluential foreign power in Baghdad.

In fact, Iran’s influence and interests are so strong that despite much saber-rattling by US President Barack Obama, the US cannot possibly modify the massively changing reality in Iraq without Iranian help. Reports in US and British media are pointing to possible US-Iranian involvement to counter ISIL, not just in Iraq, but also in Syria.

History is accelerating at a frantic speed. Seemingly impossible alliances are being hastily formed. Maps are being redrawn in directions that are determined by masked fighters with automatic weapons mounted on the back of pickup trucks. True, no one could have predicted such events, but when some warned that the Iraq war would ‘destabilize’ the Middle East for many years to come, this is precisely what they meant.

When Bush led his war on Iraq in order to fight al-Qaeda, the group simply didn’t exist in that country; the war however, brought al-Qaeda to Iraq. A mix of hubris and ignorance of the facts – and lack of understanding of Iraq’s history – allowed the Bush administration to sustain that horrible war. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis perished in an immoral military quest. Those who were not killed, were maimed, tortured, raped or fled into a borderless Iraqi odyssey.

The Americans toyed with Iraq in numerous ways. They dissolved the army, dismissed all government institutions, attempted to restructure a new society based on the recommendations of Pentagon and CIA analysts in Washington D.C. and Virginia. They oppressed the Sunni Muslims, empowered Shia, and fed the flame of sectarianism with no regard to the consequences. When things didn’t go as planned, they tried to empower some Shia groups over others, and armed some Sunni groups to fight the Iraqi resistance to the war, which was mostly made of Sunni fighters.

And the consequences were most bloody. Iraq’s civil war of 2006-07 claimed tens of thousands to be added to the ever-growing toll caused by the war adventure. No sham elections were enough to remedy the situation, no torture technique was enough to suppress the rebellion, and no fiddling with the sectarian or ethnic demographics of the country was enough to create the coveted ‘stability’.

The ISIL-War Connection

In Dec 2011, the Americans ran away from the Iraq inferno, leaving behind a fight that was not yet settled. What is going on in Iraq right now is an integral part of the US-infused mayhem. It should be telling enough that the leader of ISIL, Abu Baker al-Baghdadi is an Iraqi from Samarra, who fought against the Americans and was himself held and tortured in the largest US prison in Iraq, Camp Bucca for five years.

It would not be precise to make the claim that ISIL started in the dungeon of a US prison in Iraq. The ISIL story would need to be examined in greater depth since it is as stretched as the current geography of the conflict, and as mysterious as the masked characters who are blowing people up with no mercy and beheading with no regard to the upright values of the religion they purport to represent. But there can be no denial that the US ignorant orchestration of the mass oppression of Iraqis, and Sunnis in particular during the 2003 war until their much touted withdrawal was a major factor in ISIL formation, and the horrendous levels of violence the extremist group utilizes.

While the Sunni-Shia strive is rooted in over 14 centuries of history, modern Middle Eastern states, with all of its corruption and failures, did manage to neutralize much of the violent manifestation of the historical dispute. The Bush administration had insolently re-centered the conflict into the heart of Arab history. Iran exploited the situation for various reasons for sheer political and territorial interests, coupled with the hope to redeem what many Shias perceive as past injustices.

When al-Qaeda was ostensibly driven out of major Iraqi cities by 2008, they simply regrouped. The Syrian civil war, which started three years ago, created the kind of security vacuum which allowed them to make their move. But al-Qaeda itself began to splinter, to a ‘central command’, operating via decrees from Afghanistan and Pakistan, an Islamic Front that hosts several al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, and ISIL, which had its own calculations that go beyond Syria.

ISIL believes that the only way to redeem the honor of Muslims is to re-establish the Caliphate, an Islamic state. The heart of that state, as it has historically been is Sham (Levant) and Iraq, thus ISIL’s name.

Redrawing Iraq

It is unclear whether ISIL will be able to hold onto the territories it gained or sustain itself in a battle that involves Shia-controlled Baghdad, Iran and the US. But a few things are also clear:

The systematic political marginalization of Iraq’s Sunni communities is both senseless and unsustainable. A new political and social contract is needed to re-order the mess created by the US invasion, and other foreign intervention in Iraq, including that of Iran.

Violence is a dark and destructive energy force that doesn’t evaporate on its own. The current violence in Iraq is the reverberation of the US and Iraqi violence used against millions of Iraqis who refused to embrace the occupation and accept the status quo. Justice in Iraq should supersede any haphazard reconciliation that merely reinvents the present circumstances.

Iraq was allowed to ache in untold pain for over a decade, which itself followed a decade of an earlier US-led war and sanctions. During all of those years, starting in 1991, the only answer to Iraq’s woes has been nothing but violence, which has consistently generated nothing but more violence. The US must not be allowed to once again determine the future of Iraq.

The nature of the conflict has become so convoluted that a political settlement in Iraq would have to tackle a similar settlement in Syria, which is serving as a breeding ground for brutality, by the Syrian regime and opposition forces, especially ISIL. That factory of radicalization must close down as soon as possible in a way that would allow Syria’s wounds, and by extension Iraq’s, to heal.

Those who insist on the violent options are holding onto the same foolish assumption that violence can ever be a harbinger of lasting peace in the Middle East. Even if ISIL scampers back to Syria or disappears into some other opportune landscape in Iraq itself, the fight will not end without a political settlement that confronts the outcomes of the US war, free of the formula of triumphant Shias and perpetually suppressed Sunnis. In order for Iraq to reunify its fragmented territories, it needs to first unify the very identity of its own citizens, as Iraqis first and foremost.
Ramzy Baroud is the Managing Editor of Middle East Eye. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the founder of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).