Middle East

Revolution’s end

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The latest issue of Pallet magazine has a piece of mine chronicling Eldridge Cleaver and the Black Panthers’ exile in Algeria, and on what happens when the revolutionary fire burns out. As always, the magazine is gorgeous–you can pick up a copy here.

 

 

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Visit Palestine

visitpalestineA quick one for Slate‘s Vault: my piece on how a recruiting pitch for Jewish emigration in 1937 became, over the decades, an iconic image of Palestinian resistance:

“As Oslo soured and the second Intifada broke out, Palestinians began ​repurposing​ the poster​. The onetime Jewish recruiting pitch became an affirmation of Palestinian rights, hanging in coffee shops and government buildings all over East Jerusalem and the occupied territories.”

 

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Three Views of Modern Africa

I’m teaching this course at San Francisco State’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute starting next week–we cover the post-colonial histories of Egypt, Zambia, and South Africa. Check it out.

 

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US government advice to soldiers headed to Syria–circa 1942

BxwCVIaIAAAqO97I came across this US War Department guidebook for American soldiers posted to the Levant during World War Two, so wrote it up for Slate‘s history blog, The Vault. The advice is often practical, sometimes Orientalist–and, at times, depressingly modern-sounding. Useful reading, in other words, for our current moment.

For all its age, the booklet’s prescription for mission success sounds thoroughly modern: “A big part of your job is to make friends for your cause—because this is a war of ideas, just as much as of tanks, planes and guns.”

As a bonus, the illustrations are pretty wonderful.

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Sightseeing in a Police State: a Syrian Travelogue

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In the late 1990s, long before the Arab Spring and the massacres of the civil war, I traveled to Syria as a tourist. This is a memoir-ish account of what it was like to go sightseeing in a dictatorship.

At the time, Syria was terra incognita to most Americans. I knew the bare geopolitical facts: Cold War bogeyman, foe of Washington and Tel Aviv, ally of Iran and Hezbollah, but that’s about it. A few years later, I’d return to the region as a journalist, working in Egypt and then in Palestine, covering the second Intifada. In 1997, though, I was twenty-two and, in my own half-formed way, curious about the world. I chose Syria because it sounded cool and vaguely dangerous. Above all, I wanted an answer to one ethically queasy question: What did sightseeing in a dictatorship feel like?

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A Spurious “Smoking Gun”

smokinggunIn commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, here’s a piece I wrote for Mother Jones back in March 2003. It’s about the lies that got us into a war.

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Jimi Hendrix, Musical Esperanto

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My newest piece for Thought Catalog, a meditation on the legacy of Jimi Hendrix, and his use as a catch-all comparison for all sorts of non-Western music.

I’m not sure exactly when I first heard a musician from some far-flung spot on the globe described as the “Jimi Hendrix of [insert place name here].”

It’s only natural to reach for some sort of shorthand to translate the esoteric sounds of distant cultures into a language understandable to anyone with a passing knowledge of western culture. People might not know what a kamelengoni is (for the record, it’s a 12-stringed, harp-like instrument), but when you describe Vieux Kante as the Hendrix of the kamelengoni, everyone gets it: the guy’s a badass.

Read the whole thing here.

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The inundation of the Nile

cairo_stereoscope0011

Third in an occasional series of found photographs. This is a stereoscope from 1900, depicting a pastoral, pre-Pyramids Road Giza district, a place without sleazy discos, papyrus shops, and choking exhaust.

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PR Occupied Berkeley

proccupiedberkMy exploration of the struggle between supporters of Israel and Palestine on the UC Berkeley campus, in which I trace a decade of passion, protest, and bad behavior, runs in this month’s California magazine.

Every spring since 2001, a group of earnest, impassioned students has gathered near Sather Gate, cordoning part of it off with emergency tape. Some of them don faux uniforms and brandish mock M-16s; others wear keffiyehs and traditional Arab robes. Then the actors set up a military checkpoint, a simulacrum of the hundreds of real checkpoints that pepper the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The “soldiers” allow “Israeli settlers” to pass unmolested while they yell at the “Palestinians.” They bind the wrists of a young man, forcing him to lie face down on the concrete; another they “shoot.” There is fake blood, a makeshift stretcher, the wailing of the wounded and bereaved.

Created by the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the mock checkpoints first appeared at Berkeley, and have spread to schools from Arizona State to Yale. It’s easy to see why.

The checkpoints are just one of the most visible elements in a decade-long, tit-for-tat struggle between supporters of Israel and Palestine on campus. It is waged through Palestinian movie nights and Zionist picnics; tables in Sproul stacked with literature quoting Edward Said and Theodor Herzl; and Palestinian “die-ins” and pro-Israel hip-hop shows. Ron Hendel, a professor of the Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies sums it up: “It’s a PR war.”

And wars are never pretty. Partisans have engaged in online flame wars in the comments sections of local newspapers, disrupted speeches by visiting scholars with shouted obscenities, and scrawled swastikas (aimed at both sides) on campus walls. Students even got into a fight at a 2008 campus concert.

In its dynamics, this local fight often echoes the flesh-and-blood conflict in the Holy Land—minus, thankfully, the body count.

Check it out.

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Give me your tired, your poor, your Internet-censored…

You can’t throw a rock in Silicon Valley without hitting some dude in business casual claiming his start-up is revolutionary. Sometimes, though, it’s actually true. Such is the case with AnchorFree, which makes software enabling activists to block their governments’ Internet-blockers, without being traced by the authorities. Indeed, without software like this, people in less-than-free countries might not be able to get on Facebook or Twitter to plan protests. It’s been used to good effect in Egypt, Libya, and is in heavy rotation in China and Saudi Arabia, too. The new issue of San Francisco magazine runs a short piece of mine on these guys, who just set out to make money and ended up aiding the Arab uprisings. How’s that for “Don’t be Evil”?

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