Friday, 23 January 2009

Making migrants visible (or not)

Two days ago, read on the Mail Online how a "Romanian immigrant raped an English woman so he can get lessons in the same prison as his brother" (21/01/2009). From Sky News to the Yorkshire Post, the story made a splash. Readers even had the opportunity to see the face of the rapist, Ali Majlat. This probably did not add anything to the news itself, apart from increasing mistrust towards those looking like migrants who would rape us to get free lessons.

Yet according to the American association RAINN (Rape, Incest and Abuse National Network): "Approximately 73% of rape victims know their assailants." Focusing on the remaining 21% is obviously an editorial and political choice working against the interests of most of the rape victims. Moreover, "While about 80% of all victims are white, minorities are somewhat more likely to be attacked."
Thus this tragic news - presented with a sensationalist headline to promote voyeurism instead of intelligence and real empathy - is at the end reinforcing old myths about rape (and race). It might be useful at some point to get back to the chapter 11 of Angela Davis' Woman, Race and Class. In this section, entitled "Rape, Racism and the Myth of the Black Rapist", Angela Davis writes:

"In the United States and other capitalist countries, rape laws as a rule were framed originally for the protection of men of the upper classes, whose daughters and wives might be assaulted. What happens to working-class women has usually been of little concern to the courts; as a result, remarkably few white men have been prosecuted for the sexual violence they have inflicted on these women. While the rapists have seldom been brought to justice, the rape charge has been indiscriminately aimed at Black men, the guilty and innocent alike. Thus, of the 455 men executed between 1930 and 1967 on the basis of rape convictions, 405 of them were

As a consequence, it feels like the migrant rapist is visible in the media not for being a rapist but for being a migrant.

On the same month, another migrant, from Bengladesh, had been killed in Greece, trying to avoid an assault of the Asylum police. His name (Hussein Zahidul), his age (24), his face did not appear in any of the publication where the rapist was mentioned.

Athens Indymedia reported the event first in an article (8/01/2009) then translated into English by the Clandestinenglish blog:

"24 year old Bangladeshi Hussein Zahidul was found dead on Saturday, January 3, 2009. He is the second refugee to die since October near the Asylum Police Department in Athens. He was found dead in exactly the same ditch where Muhammad Asraf also lost his life on October 27, 2008, while trying to avoid an assault by the police, which frequently attacks the masses of migrants queuing to hand their asylum applications. Between the two killings two very serious incidents of harassment took place: on 28 November, 2008 the cops beat up Ahmed Azaz and broke his hand, while he was queuing at the same department. On the same day, the Pakistani Mazehar Iqbal fell in the same ditch; he is still in a comatose condition and hospitalized.This is one more death inflicted by the ways police treat people in Greece, and one more act of violence against immigrants after the assault on Konstantina Kuneva."

How many people in our newspapers - like Hussein Zahidul, Muhammad Asraf, Ahmed Azaz, Mazehar Iqbal - are hidden behind one Ali Majlat?

Sunday, 18 January 2009

"End occupation, end occupation, end occupation"

Palestinian Astrophysicist in US Recounts How His 11-Year-Old Son Died When Israeli Warplanes Bombed His Family’s House

Democracy Now 16/01/2009

As the Palestinian death toll in Israel’s assault on Gaza climbs above 1,100, we take a look behind the statistics. Suleiman Baraka is a Palestinian astrophysicist working at Virgnia Tech with NASA. His eleven-year-old son Ibrahim was killed in an Israeli air strike on his house. His wife and three other children are now homeless in Gaza, along with seventeen members of his family. In his first broadcast interview in the US, Suleiman Baraka tells his story.

AMY GOODMAN: As the Israeli assault on Gaza continues, the Palestinian death toll continues to mount. Over the last twenty-one days, more than 1,100 Palestinians have been killed, 5,200 wounded, at least 700 civilians among the dead, including more than 350 children. Today, we’re going to find out about one of those kids.
Suleiman Baraka is a Palestinian astrophysicist. He works here in the United States at Virginia Tech with NASA. On December 29th, Israeli war planes bombed the house where his wife and four children were staying. His eleven-year-old son Ibrahim was killed. His wife and three other children are now homeless in Gaza, along with seventeen members of his family. Suleiman Baraka has never before told his story in the United States. He joins us now from Norfolk, Virginia.
Welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: It’s very good to have you with us. And our condolences on the loss of your son. Suleiman Baraka, can you tell us what happened to Ibrahim?

SULEIMAN BARAKA: Yes. Thank you, first, for giving me this chance to talk to a American public. I was in my office. I received a call that there was a bombing in my area, and then, after a while, the bombing was my house, and then I lost communication with the family for ten hours. It was really very hard, at the emotional, psychological level, because I had known that there something happened, and I cannot follow up. Ten hours later, I knew that my son Ibrahim was critically injured and my mom was moderately injured when they bombed my house with a one-ton bomb and destroyed the house, injuring my son and my mom.
I lived a very, very hard time as a father who is far, who has lack of information. I don’t see my son, who was—I am preparing for him, to bring him to the United States to live here, to value diversity, to go to school, to make new friends. I was, you know, preparing for them to bring him here. And then, once in a sudden, I understand that my son is in critical condition then.
The other day, I got the news that, because his condition was critical, he was moved to Egypt for medication. Then, automatically, I just went to Egypt to follow up my son. One day after I arrived, they said that the brain can come again and he can be awakened, because he was in deep coma. There was a shrapnel in his right hand, brain and leg and hand, and a cut in the back. I stand by him, and there is no need to describe what the feeling of a father who is looking as his child dying.
January 5th, midday, I received a call from the doctor that my child passed away. It was really very hard to break in and very sad moment. Also, the sadness is accumulated when I could not go back to Gaza for the funeral and the condolences of my son, because Gaza is closed. And it’s only open for bringing into Egypt wounded and sending back dead in coffins. So, as a father, it was really a very hard difficulty.
And I’m still remembering the last message five days before he was—you know, before the accident. Because I am diabetic and he was worried about my health, and he told me that how I am feeling and I should take care of myself. He is my son, talking to me like my father. And he said, “I bought a new bicycle, and I am happy with it.” So I still remember this message in my mind.
And last September, I was in Paris, and I was talking to French astrophysicists, the professors who are teaching in Paris universities, and I told them I built a new house, two-story house. I wanted to invite in a Jewish family to live with me, side-by-side, where my children play with their children. Now, they destroyed the house, and they killed my child. What is this?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Mr. Baraka, I just wanted to ask you, when your child was transferred from Gaza to Egypt, they did not allow any family members to come with him out of there? And what’s happened to the rest of your family?

SULEIMAN BARAKA: No, yeah, no, my son—no, they allowed my brother, who was accompanying. Every wounded person is accompanied by one family member. So my brother was with him. Yes, my brother was with him, and my brother went back with him with the coordination with Red Cross Egypt and Israel.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what about the rest of your family?

SULEIMAN BARAKA: OK. Within one week, they destroyed my house, my old house, with three-story buildings with other two brothers, and they destroyed the houses of four brothers. So a total of twenty nephews and nieces are without shelter and probably without food now. A total of eight houses had been totally destroyed.
And the old house I had—I was worried about my library, who I collected in twenty years. And yesterday, my daughter called me, and she was crying because we lost our telescope. The building that killed my son, I used to take my children on the roof and show them Venus and Jupiter and the sky, because typically, if you ask any Palestinian children, a child, “If you look at the sky, what you see?” he will say, “I will see Apache and F-16 jet fighters.” So I wanted just to show them that there is something beautiful behind these stereotypes. I wanted to help not only my children, but the Palestinian children. And I did lots of public lectures on astronomy just to create a sort of hope and expanding the imagination of our children that there is something beautiful than this cocoon, what’s called Gaza, which had been closed for two years. And after two years, it had been bombed in this crazy war that is unjustified and a very excessive use of force.
My house is not a military base. Ibrahim is eleven years old. He doesn’t need F-16 jet fighters to kill him. My house roof was there for me and my children to use my telescope, not anti-aircraft missiles or rockets.
I have no language to express what I feel about this. Now, all our houses are destroyed. My family, I lost communication. I rarely have some, you know, with my family, because my daughter with my wife is at their grandpa’s. The other members of my family, I have no communication with. It’s really hard to break in, and I don’t know—sometimes I feel speechless. I cannot say, as a father, and when I look at the photo of my son, I cannot convince myself that I will never see him again. I lost my son, but I didn’t lose my inner peace. But how I can convince my son Daoud, who is five, who witnessed the bombardment of his house and the killing of his brother? Is that investment for hatred and violence and anti-violence?
I think Palestine and Gaza, especially, doesn’t need initiatives, talks, demonstrations. Palestine needs interference and a password to end all of this: end occupation. End occupation. End occupation. You eliminate the action, then there will never be reaction. Whatever is whatever the language describing the situation, the problem is in the occupation. When the occupation is ended, and it—there is legitimacy. There is United Nations resolutions. There is everything. It’s very easy. It needs a will, and it needs those people who are wisdom-guided, not power-guided. Civilization of power will not work forever. Power of civilization always bring in and bring about prosperity, peace, coexistence. It’s enough of everything for everybody.

AMY GOODMAN: Suleiman Baraka, we are also joined from Gaza by your brother, by Sayed Baraka, who was, what, fifty yards away from Ibrahim when he was hit by the Israeli bomb. Can you describe what happened, Sayed Baraka?

SAYED BARAKA: Sure. I would like to thank you all for giving my brother Suleiman and me a chance to talk about our sad story. And if Suleiman hears me, let me say, Suleiman, we all love you. We all pray for you. You just need to have patience. Beside your home, your six brothers’ homes and your mom’s were completely destroyed. Sixty-four houses of your neighbors were destroyed. Seventy of your neighbors were injured. Sixty-four of them had bones broken. Please pray for them.
About what happened to my beloved Ibrahim—Ibrahim is not only your son, Suleiman. Remember when he was one hour old? I gave him the first kiss, and you thanked me that time. But when we buried him, I couldn’t give him the last kiss, because all the town were saying bye to Ibrahim. They all went with us.
At that time, Monday the 29th, he went to help my mom, his grandma, to make the afternoon prayer just beside your new home. I was looking there, waiting for her, for my mom to finish her prayer and to come back to me with Ibrahim. Suddenly, I saw a very like white smoke going down at your home. Then, in a few—in just like no time, very loud noise disturbing everybody, with very dark smoke covered everything there. I went running. I was just beside your old home, maybe sixty meters or less than that. You know it. I saw my mom, her face covered down to the earth. I saw your son. He was covered by black smoke. I saw him like dead, because he couldn’t move anything. He was like—he was like sleeping. I couldn’t control myself. Then, some of the neighbors and the people around us, they came to help. I tried to carry my mom. I see, I hear, like I witnessed some kind of heat in her body, and I had the feeling that she is still alive. They left Ibrahim. And we brought—you know, as a Canadian citizenship, I can go with him there, but at the moment I arrived in the hospital with my mom. She was like crying. She was like dying. My brother was close [inaudible] Ibrahim. Then he left with him to Egypt.

AMY GOODMAN: I am so sorry to say that we’re coming to the end of our show, but, Suleiman Baraka, you are asking for your family to come to the US?

SULEIMAN BARAKA: Yes, yes. I don’t want to receive another bad news. It’s enough. I had enough. Now, I will work—

AMY GOODMAN: Your children are how old, your surviving children?

SULEIMAN BARAKA: Mohammed is thirteen. Irwad is my daughter, is ten. Daoud is five.

AMY GOODMAN: Suleiman Baraka, I want to thank you for being with us, astrophysicist, speaking to us. He teaches at Virginia Tech, speaking to us from Norfolk. We have twenty seconds. I want to end with our guest here in New York, Professor Rashid Khalidi.

RASHID KHALIDI: I mean, what can one say when one hears that kind of thing? There are 1,100 stories like that. 1,100 people have been killed, most of them civilians, 300 of them children—350 of them children. One can’t say anything. Nothing justifies the slaughter of children. Nothing. Nothing.

AMY GOODMAN: We will leave it there.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Rachida Dati: Black taxing à la Française

A reply to Barbara Ellen- "Rachida - this was an act of weakness, not strength" The Observer, Sunday 11 January 2009

To be honest, I don’t quite like Rachida Dati. I don’t like the way she has been appointed Minister of Justice to silence the claims of deprived populations living in the suburbs of the République - for this “powerful symbol” as they said hiding the cruel reality of social and racial discriminations in France. I don’t like her very bling-bling style, certainly inspired by the president himself: the way she is displaying haute-couture dresses in sensationalist magazines. I don’t even like the political measures she took, favouring fear over freedom: last November, 534 judges denounced in a petition the “inconsistency of penal Criminal Policies” and the fact she was promoting a policy that increased the mandatory minimum sentences.
Yet, I could not admit the way Rachida Dati is currently commanded to disclose the name of the father of her child and the way she is judged upon being back to work, five days only after her childbirth. “Who’s the daddy?” is an indecent question, especially when it is asked on France 2 by Arlette Chabot, an allegedly serious political journalist - that happens to be a woman as well. In this interview with Dati, Chabot gives herself the satisfaction of pestering the Minister with constant private questions. As a result Dati feels uncomfortable, and Chabot may think that what makes a great journalist is creating this uncomfortable situation. It is not false as far as you ask the right questions. But Chabot is mixing judgmental comments with gossip. She is showing, for example, a short video where another minister, Bernard Laporte, is “officially” denying with a strange and quite obscene hilarity - shared by the journalists interviewing him - the fact that he is the father. 
As a woman and as a feminist, all this gossiping, chatting and laughing about another woman’s pregnancy seems both gross and quite pathetic to me. Public television, which is supposed to defend public interest, is again disappointing. Instead of being critical and asking serious questions about the very controversial reforms in justice, Arlette Chabot plumps for vulgarity and sensationalism. “Who’s the father?” she asks, but who cares!
As a French citizen myself, I am not interested in the sexual life of any of the members of the government. Tell me more about my civil rights, Madame Chabot, tell me how the student and activist Julien Coupat has been charged with "directing a terrorist group" by the Paris Prosecutor's office and is still held in prison with no material evidence, tell me why the violence of police forces against youngsters on account of their race is still increasing. Those would be examples of some really useful piece of information. 
Sexuality is political though. The fact the maternity of Rachida Dati has been so largely commented by journalists is truly interesting. They reproach her for being back to work in the name of feminism. First, it is a rather sad irony to reduce the history of feminism to a normative motherhood. Secondly, these journalists seem to forget the “race” factor. African‑Americans call it “black tax”. Being a woman from an ethnic minority group, Rachida Dati is clearly expected to perform at least twice as well as White men and women. Nadine Morano, the Secretary of State of Family, was not even ashamed to say on France 2 that “it [was] normal these people have to prove themselves”, as if they were second-class citizens. In this context, it is not surprising that any act of strength will be turned into an act of weakness by those who do not have to pay this tax. And in the end, no special treatment will be granted to policy makers, even for those who blindly serve the presidential project - as Rachida Dati does. Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

T word, poor weather and happy new year

It happened that the first news story I read in 2009 was a piece about Gaza, written by Nidal Al-Mughrabi from Reuters: "Israel rebuffs Gaza truce call, mobilizes troops" (31/12/2008)

Sounds for Palestinians like "Happy new year under siege and bombings"!
And for the simple observer I am like a multiple-choice questionnaire between sarcasm, perplexity and indignation.

The State of Israel threatened by a group like Hamas? 
How the hell can a perfectly organized national army be threatened by some people living under the poverty line with no proper land of their own?

Again, the word "terrorism" is stifling any common sense, any attempt of rational understanding. For calling a group of people "terrorists" simply allows you to treat them as they were not a part of humanity.
"Terrorist" is a concept with no substance, it is only a political choice that makes it meaningful. In France, during the dark times of the Occupation, the Gestapo and the French police used to call "terroristes" the same people others qualified as "Résistants". 

The T word is provoking fear and all the psychological conditions that would make us consent to illegitimate violence - and subsequently give up the use of reason. 

Moreover, according to Reuters:

"The poor weather -- 'a truce imposed by God' as one Palestinian put it -- could delay any push by Israeli tanks into Gaza but forecasters predicted several days of clear skies starting late on Thursday."

Israel-Palestine is probably the only place in the world where weather forecast might be more efficient in bringing peace than UN resolutions.