The Art of Madonna (Part III)

The “American Life” video was born against the backdrop of the American invasion of Iraq. The video was already causing controversy before the invasion of March 20, 2003. Premiering on American television on March 25, 2003, it was pulled by Madonna on April 1, 2003 who did not want to “risk offending anyone who might misinterpret the meaning of this video.”

American Life 2

Click here to watch video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weCQ6ahu92g

“American Life” is not a song about war but a song where Madonna questions the American Dream. The video uses the metaphor of war as the outgrowth of greed and ego which the dream has become. Madonna appears as a military commander and a guerilla with a girl squad. A fashion show forms the centrepiece of the video featuring models wearing bullet belts, gas masks, grenade necklaces and other “war-fashion” paraphernalia while the deadened upper crust of American society observe from the audience.

Madonna and her girl squad gatecrash the runway and spray the fashion paparazzi with a water cannon. Images flash on an overhead jumbo-monitor revealing the horror and destruction of war. Madonna drives off the catwalk to a laughing audience and, in an alternative ending to the video, tosses a ticking grenade onto the runway. The original ending shows a George Bush lookalike catching the grenade and lighting a cigar with it.

The video highlights how the violence of war has become embedded in a decadent American society and culture. “No matter how many distractions we put up for ourselves, whether it’s a fashion show or a reality TV show or a hot contest,” explained Madonna “what’s happening in the world is still going on.” The video is “a statement about our obsession with the world of illusion.” American society becomes a fashion show with gawking spectators, insulated from the world and desensitized to its realities.

In one scene, two Muslim girls in hijab take the runway and are scared off by two army models to the amusement of the audience. The girls, with their serene, peaceful, sad faces, challenge the idea that there is a “barbarian” other. The water cannon and the grenade are symbols of protest rendered futile in a time of post 9-11 censorship. The grenade tossed at the end of the edited version of the video beckons: what will it take for America to snap out of its stupour?

The “American Life” video was not seen again until it was appeared online in 2005. The irony of the video as a protest is not lost since it was Madonna herself who withdrew it from the air. Yet, in hindsight, “American Life” has proved one of Madonna’s most prescient statements in representing “[her] feelings about our culture and values, and the illusions of what many people believe is the American Dream – the perfect life.” The America of the past ten years – the continued War in Iraq and Afghanistan, the growth of “pop idol” and reality culture, the World Financial Crisis, the loss of homes across America and the bailout of banks – show just how illusory that dream has become, making “American Life” all the more relevant.

Written by Randeep Singh

Further Reading:  “From Blatant to Latent Protest (And Back Again): On the Politics of Theatrical Spectacle in Madonna’s ‘American Life.’ Martin Scherzinger and Stephen Smith, Popular Music, Vol. 26, No. 2 (May 2007), p. 211-229.

Film Review – “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”

The-Reluctant-Fundamentalist-_-Riz-Ahmed

Starring: Riz Ahmed, Liev Schreiber, Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi and Haluk Bilginer. Directed by Mira Nair. (130 mins).

Reviewed by Randeep Purewall

The film adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s 2007 novel took three years to adapt for the screen. Whereas Hamid’s novel centered on two characters, the protagonist Changez Khan and an anonymous American, in a Lahore café, Nair’s film adaptation is a full-charactered narrative shot which shows the protagonist leaving Lahore (filmed in Delhi) to pursue an education and career in the United States where he lives the American Dream in New York City until 9-11. He returns to Lahore, becoming a professor.

The lead is played by Riz Ahmed who did well as a streetwise Brit and jihadist in “The Four Lions.” As Changez, Ahmed does well enough as someone searching for himself but falls short in scenes such as his having to leave America, moments otherwise rich in dramatic potential which would have underlined the torment of the character’s being American, Pakistani and Muslim.

His limitations are all the more apparent when he’s is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast including Liev Schreiber as Bobby, the American in the Lahore café, Kate Hudson as Changez’ partner Erica and a superb Kiefer Sutherland as Jimmy, Changez’ Wall Street boss. Turkish actor Haluk Bilinger is a revelation in a small but seminal role as a publisher in Istanbul who compares Changez to the Janissaries, Christian children taken from their homes and trained to fight in a Muslim army only to reconquer and destroy the homelands where they were born and nurtured.

The film is stunningly shot with searing images such as the one above. After being stripped and probed by American airport security, Changez looks through opaque glass at footage of the Twin Towers coming crashing down along with his American Dream. Nair uses music to great effect too. In one of the film most poignant scenes, Changez looks at men performing namaaz in the Suleyman Mosque in Istanbul while a boy looks back at him. The scene erupts in a clash of drums in a explosive mix of Khusrao’s “Mori Araj Suno” and Faiz’ “Rabba Sachiyaan,” highlighting Changez’ inner turmoil.

Amongst growing student protests over the presence of Americans in Pakistan, Bobby urges (Professor) Changez to control the protests: the white man tells the brown man or Muslim man to “do the right thing.” Nair say she wanted the film to start a dialogue but she provides an answer instead. Reading a eulogy at the funeral of a friend killed in the protests, Changez prays the youth of Pakistan will let their inner lights shine with a force greater than the suns’. Perhaps that is the Pakistani dream which Changez asks his students about in an earlier scene. Only for many Pakistanis, the dream is to send their kids to the West, have them score good jobs there and perhaps go West themselves.

6.5/10

“Cinema for Change” – Addressing Violence Against Women

2010_0301_women_hands_m

The South Asian Film Education Society (S.A.F.E.S.) hosted its first “Cinema for Change” film festival from April 19 to April 21, 2013. The theme: “Addressing Violence Against Women.”

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Guest Filmmaker, Samar Minallah, appeared at the opening night by Skype from Pakistan. Her documentary, “Swara: A Bridge Over Troubled Water,” looked at “swara,” the practice of using unmarried girls as compensation to settle disputes between families.  The practice of “swara” in the film of the same name, typically takes place as follows. One man kills another man and the family of the man who has been killed wants compensation from the murderer. The compensation takes the form of a girl, transferred from the family of the murderer to the family who would otherwise seek revenge. The girl is then expected to live in the “other” family as a daughter-in-law.

The practice of “swara” is well-known in North-West Pakistan and in other tribal communities and stopping it, Minallah admits, can be dangerous. The murderer (whose family pays the girl as compensation) is “let off the hook;” stopping that compensation would mean that the murderer must otherwise pay for his crime which, Minallah notes he will typically go to any lengths to avoid. Although Minallah acknowledges the challenges in fighting “swara,” she has helped bring awareness of the issue to the public and to policymakers through short public service-announcements. She also works to sensitive the police to the problem after the practice was made illegal through legislation passed in 2004. A growing number cases of “swara” moreover are being reported and addressed through public interest-litigation (200 cases were reported in 2011).

swara

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The second day saw the screening of “Common Gender” (2012), a Bangladeshi activist-documentary on the life of the hijra (intersexual) community of Dhaka and the violence underlying the social process of gendering. The two other films were “Afghanistan Unveiled” (2007) and “Provoked” (2006).

The film “Provoked,” is based on the true story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, a Punjabi woman in the United Kingdom who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of her husband in 1989. Her conviction was set aside in 1992, partly through the help of the women’s advocacy and outreach group, Southhall Black Sisters. The judge noted that because of years of  abuse, Kiranjit suffered severe depression and battered women syndrome; her mental responsibility for the act was thus “diminished.” She had also been “provoked,” but was unable to retaliate right away because of her mental state. Her case (R v. Ahluwalia) changed English law, leading to the setting aside of convictions for battered women in 1992 and thereafter.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

In “Saving Face,” we hear the stories of two survivors of acid attacks in Pakistan, Zakia and Rukshana. While highlighting the brutality of the attacks and their affect on the women, we see how the problem is being fought through cooperation between reconstructive surgeons, policymakers, lawyers, the media and NGO’s is key in bringing perpetrators to justice and helping women rebuild their lives.

In “Bol” (2012) Meghna Halder presents a short-film in three parts through masks, puppetry and shadows. Whereas the “The Cyclist” looks at the facelessness of the Indian Muslim woman who died in a bomb blast in Bangalore, “The Rape” looks at how two women went missing in Kashmir and were presumed to have been raped and disposed of by the Indian Army. In “The Mask,” Meghna presents the story of a man who wakes one day to find his face has been stolen. All three films were layered with meanings, teasing one’s interpretations.

While the issue of violence against women is ongoing and oftentimes distressing, I admire the filmmakers’ use of film as a medium for raising social awareness of the problem. In Minallah, we saw an example of the activist film-maker who has continued to make films despite risk to herself. In three films, we saw how individual and community activism can bring about social change such as the passage of law against “swara” and acid-attacks in Pakistan or the precedent-setting case of Kiranjit Ahluwalia in the United Kingdom. While the struggle continues, the SAFES has hopefully played its own part in presenting “cinema for change.”

For a list of all films shown and descriptions, go to: http://southasianfilm.blogspot.ca/

PEN American Center: ‘The Hijacking of Human Rights’ by Chris Hedges

The appointment of Suzanne Nossel, a former State Department official and longtime government apparatchik, as executive director of PEN American Center is part of a campaign to turn U.S. human rights organizations into propagandists for pre-emptive war and apologists for empire. Nossel’s appointment led me to resign from PEN as well as withdraw from speaking at the PEN World Voices Festival in May. But Nossel is only symptomatic of the widespread hijacking of human rights organizations to demonize those—especially Muslims—branded by the state as the enemy, in order to cloak pre-emptive war and empire with a fictional virtue and to effectively divert attention from our own mounting human rights abuses, including torture, warrantless wiretapping and monitoring, the denial of due process and extrajudicial assassinations.

Nossel, who was deputy assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs under Hillary Clinton in a State Department that was little more than a subsidiary of the Pentagon, is part of the new wave of “humanitarian interventionists,” such as Samantha PowerMichael Ignatieff and Susan Rice, who naively see in the U.S. military a vehicle to create a better world. They know little of the reality of war or the actual inner workings of empire. They harbor a childish belief in the innate goodness and ultimate beneficence of American power. The deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents, the horrendous suffering and violent terror inflicted in the name of their utopian goals in Iraq and Afghanistan, barely register on their moral calculus. This makes them at once oblivious and dangerous. “Innocence is a kind of insanity,” Graham Greene wrote in his novel “The Quiet American,” and those who destroy to build are “impregnably armored by … good intentions and … ignorance.”

There are no good wars. There are no just wars. As Erasmus wrote, “there is nothing more wicked, more disastrous, more widely destructive, more deeply tenacious, more loathsome” than war. “Whoever heard of a hundred thousand animals rushing together to butcher each other, as men do everywhere?” Erasmus asked. But war, he knew, was very useful to the power elite. War permitted the powerful, in the name of national security and by fostering a culture of fear, to effortlessly strip the citizen of his or her rights. A declaration of war ensures that “all the affairs of the State are at the mercy of the appetites of a few,” Erasmus wrote.

There are cases, and Bosnia in the 1990s was one, when force should be employed to halt an active campaign of genocide. This is the lesson of the Holocaust: When you have the capacity to stop genocide and you do not, you are culpable. For this reason, we are culpable in the genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda. But the “humanitarian interventionists” have twisted this moral imperative to intercede against genocide to justify the calls for pre-emptive war and imperial expansion. Saddam Hussein did carry out campaigns of genocide against the Kurds and the Shiites, but the dirty fact is that while these campaigns were under way we provided support to Baghdad or looked the other way. It was only when Washington wanted war, and the bodies of tens of thousands of Kurds and Shiites had long decomposed in mass graves, that we suddenly began to speak in the exalted language of human rights.

These “humanitarian interventionists” studiously ignore our own acts of genocide, first unleashed against Native Americans and then exported to the Philippines and, later, nations such as Vietnam. They do not acknowledge, even in light of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, our own capacity for evil. They do not discuss in their books and articles the genocides we backed in Guatemala and East Timor or the crime of pre-emptive war. They minimize the horror and suffering we have delivered to Iraqis and Afghans and exaggerate or fabricate the benefits. The long string of atrocities carried out in our name mocks the idea of the United States as a force for good with a right to impose its values on others. The ugly truth shatters their deification of U.S. power.

Nossel, in the contentious year she headed Amnesty International USA before leaving in January, oversaw a public campaign by the organization to support NATO’s war in Afghanistan. She was running Amnesty International USA when the organization posted billboards at bus stops that read, “Human Rights for Women and Girls in Afghanistan—NATO: Keep the Progress Going.” Madeleine Albright, along with senior State Department officials and politicians, were invited to speak at Amnesty International’s women’s forum during Nossel’s tenure. Nossel has urged Democrats to stay the course in Iraq, warning that a failure in Iraq could unleash “a kind of post-Vietnam, post-Mogadishu hangover” that would lamentably “herald an era of deep reservations among the U.S. public regarding the use of force.” She worked as a State Department official to discredit the Goldstone Report, which charged Israel with war crimes against the Palestinians. As a representative on the U.N. Human Rights Council she said that “the top of our list is our defense of Israel, and Israel’s right to fair treatment at the Human Rights Council.” Not a word about the Palestinians. She has advocated for expanded armed intervention in countries such as Syria and Libya. She has called for a military strike against Iran if it does not halt its nuclear enrichment program. In an article in The Washington Quarterly titled “Battle Hymn of the Democrats,” she wrote: “Democrats must be seen to be every bit as tough-minded as their opponents. Democratic reinvention as a ‘peace party’ is a political dead end.” “In a milieu of war or near-war, the public will look for leadership that is bold and strident—more forceful, resolute, and pugnacious than would otherwise be tolerated,” she went on. In a 2004 Foreign Affairs article, “Smart Power: Reclaiming Liberal Internationalism,” she wrote: “We need to deploy our power in ways that make us stronger, not weaker,” not a stunning thought but one that should be an anathema to human rights campaigners. She added, “U.S. interests are furthered by enlisting others on behalf of U.S. goals,” which, of course, is what she promptly did at Amnesty International. Her “smart power” theory calls on the U.S. to exert its will around the globe by employing a variety of means and tactics, using the United Nations and human rights groups, for example, to promote the nation’s agenda as well as the more naked and raw coercion of military force. This is not a new or original idea, but when held up to George W. Bush’s idiocy I guess it looked thoughtful. The plight of our own dissidents—including Bradley Manning—is of no concern to Nossel and apparently of no concern now to PEN.

Coleen Rowley and Ann Wright first brought Nossel’s past and hawkish ideology to light when she became the executive director of Amnesty International USA a year ago. Rowley and Wright have written correctly that “humanitarian interventionists,” in or out of government, see no distinction between human rights work and the furtherance of U.S. imperial power. Nossel, they noted, “sees no conflict between her current role and having been a member of the executive staff whilst her President and Secretary of State bosses were carrying out war crimes such as drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan and shielding torturers and their enablers in the Bush administration from prosecution.” (For more on this see Rowley’s article “Selling War as ‘Smart Power.’ ”)

Is this the résumé of a human rights advocate in the United States? Are human rights organizations supposed to further the agenda of the state rather than defend its victims? Are the ideas of “humanitarian interventionists” compatible with human rights? Are writers and artists no longer concerned with the plight of all dissidents, freedom of expression and the excesses of state power? Are we nothing more than puppets of the elite? Aren’t we supposed to be in perpetual, voluntary alienation from all forms of power? Isn’t power, from a human rights perspective, the problem?

The current business of human rights means human rights for some and not for others. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights, the Peace Alliance, and Citizens for Global Solutions are all guilty of buying into the false creed that U.S. military force can be deployed to promote human rights. None of these groups stood up to oppose the invasion of Iraq or Afghanistan, as if pre-emptive war is not one of the grossest violations of human rights.

The creed of “humanitarian intervention” means, for many, shedding tears over the “right” victims. Its supporters lobby for the victims in Darfur and ignore the victims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Gaza. They denounce the savagery of the Taliban but ignore the savagery we employ in our offshore penal colonies or our drone-infested war zones. They decry the enslavement of girls in brothels in India or Thailand but not the slavery of workers in our produce fields or our prisons. They demand justice for persecuted dissidents in the Arab world but say nothing about Bradley Manning.

The playwright and fierce anti-war critic Arthur Miller, the first American president of PEN International, fearlessly stood up to McCarthyism and was blacklisted. He denounced the Vietnam War. He decried the invasion of Iraq. PEN, when it embodied Miller’s resistance and decency, stood for something real and important. As the U.S. bombed Iraq into submission and then invaded, Miller, who called the war a form of “mass murder,” said indignantly: “It’s a joke that the U.S. government wheels out the Geneva Convention when they themselves have turned away or flouted so many international treaties.”

The posing of government shills such as Nossel as human rights campaigners and the marginalization of voices such as Miller’s are part of the sickness of our age. If PEN recaptures the moral thunder of the late Arthur Miller, if it remembers that human rights mean defending all who are vulnerable, persecuted and unjustly despised, I will be happy to rejoin.

All systems of power are the problem. And it is the role of the artist, the writer and the intellectual to defy every center of power on behalf of those whom power would silence and crush. This means, in biblical terms, embracing the stranger. It means being a constant opponent rather than an ally of government. It means being the perpetual outcast. Those who truly fight for human rights understand this.

“Whether the mask is labeled Fascism, Democracy, or Dictatorship of the Proletariat, our great adversary remains the Apparatus—the bureaucracy, the police, the military … ,” Simone Weil wrote. “No matter what the circumstances, the worst betrayal will always be to subordinate ourselves to this Apparatus, and to trample underfoot, in its service, all human values in ourselves and in others.”

Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years. More:
http://www.truthdig.com/chris_hedges#bio

From Truthdig
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_hijacking_of_human_rights_20130407/

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‘Dancing the World into Being: A Conversation with Idle No More’s Leanne Simpson’ by Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein speaks with writer, spoken-word artist, and indigenous academic Leanne Betasamosake Simpson about “extractivism,” why it’s important to talk about memories of the land, and what’s next for Idle No More.

Leanne Simpson collecting wild rice.

In December 2012, the Indigenous protests known as Idle No More exploded onto the Canadian political scene, with huge round dances taking place in shopping malls, busy intersections, and public spaces across North America, as well as solidarity actions as far away as New Zealand and Gaza. Though sparked by a series of legislative attacks on indigenous sovereignty and environmental protections by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, the movement quickly became about much more: Canada’s ongoing colonial policies, a transformative vision of decolonization, and the possibilities for a genuine alliance between natives and non-natives, one capable of re-imagining nationhood.

Boy with Crayon photo by ND Strupler
Indigenous Women Take the Lead in Idle No More

Motivated by ancient traditions of female leadership as well as their need for improved legal rights, First Nations women are stepping to the forefront of the Idle No More movement.

Throughout all this, Idle No More had no official leaders or spokespeople. But it did lift up the voices of a few artists and academics whose words and images spoke to the movement’s deep aspirations. One of those voices belonged to Leanne Simpson, a multi-talented Mississauga Nishnaabeg writer of poetry, essays, spoken-word pieces, short stories, academic papers, and anthologies. Simpson’s books, including Lighting the Eighth Fire: The Liberation, Protection and Resurgence of Indigenous Nations and Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-Creation, Resurgence and a New Emergence, have influenced a new generation of native activists.

At the height of the protests, her essay, Aambe! Maajaadaa! (What #IdleNoMore Means to Me) spread like wildfire on social media and became one of the movement’s central texts. In it she writes: “I support #idlenomore because I believe that we have to stand up anytime our nation’s land base is threatened—whether it is legislation, deforestation, mining prospecting, condo development, pipelines, tar sands or golf courses. I stand up anytime our nation’s land base in threatened because everything we have of meaning comes from the land—our political systems, our intellectual systems, our health care, food security, language and our spiritual sustenance and our moral fortitude.”

On February 15, 2013, I sat down with Leanne Simpson in Toronto to talk about decolonization, ecocide, climate change, and how to turn an uprising into a “punctuated transformation.”

On extractivism

Naomi Klein: Let’s start with what has brought so much indigenous resistance to a head in recent months. With the tar sands expansion, and all the pipelines, and the Harper government’s race to dig up huge tracts of the north, does it feel like we’re in some kind of final colonial pillage? Or is this more of a continuation of what Canada has always been about?

Leanne Simpson: Over the past 400 years, there has never been a time when indigenous peoples were not resisting colonialism. Idle No More is the latest—visible to the mainstream—resistance and it is part of an ongoing historical and contemporary push to protect our lands, our cultures, our nationhoods, and our languages. To me, it feels like there has been an intensification of colonial pillage, or that’s what the Harper government is preparing for—the hyper-extraction of natural resources on indigenous lands. But really, every single Canadian government has placed that kind of thinking at its core when it comes to indigenous peoples.

Indigenous peoples have lived through environmental collapse on local and regional levels since the beginning of colonialism—the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the extermination of the buffalo in Cree and Blackfoot territories and the extinction of salmon in Lake Ontario—these were unnecessary and devastating. At the same time, I know there are a lot of people within the indigenous community that are giving the economy, this system, 10 more years, 20 more years, that are saying “Yeah, we’re going to see the collapse of this in our lifetimes.”

Extracting is stealing. It is taking without consent, without thought, care or even knowledge of the impacts on the other living things in that environment.

Our elders have been warning us about this for generations now—they saw the unsustainability of settler society immediately. Societies based on conquest cannot be sustained, so yes, I do think we’re getting closer to that breaking point for sure. We’re running out of time. We’re losing the opportunity to turn this thing around. We don’t have time for this massive slow transformation into something that’s sustainable and alternative. I do feel like I’m getting pushed up against the wall. Maybe my ancestors felt that 200 years ago or 400 years ago. But I don’t think it matters. I think that the impetus to act and to change and to transform, for me, exists whether or not this is the end of the world. If a river is threatened, it’s the end of the world for those fish. It’s been the end of the world for somebody all along. And I think the sadness and the trauma of that is reason enough for me to act.

Naomi: Let’s talk about extraction because it strikes me that if there is one word that encapsulates the dominant economic vision, that is it. The Harper government sees its role as facilitating the extraction of natural wealth from the ground and into the market. They are not interested in added value. They’ve decimated the manufacturing sector because of the high dollar. They don’t care, because they look north and they see lots more pristine territory that they can rip up.

And of course that’s why they’re so frantic about both the environmental movement and First Nations rights because those are the barriers to their economic vision. But extraction isn’t just about mining and drilling, it’s a mindset—it’s an approach to nature, to ideas, to people. What does it mean to you?

Leanne: Extraction and assimilation go together. Colonialism and capitalism are based on extracting and assimilating. My land is seen as a resource. My relatives in the plant and animal worlds are seen as resources. My culture and knowledge is a resource. My body is a resource and my children are a resource because they are the potential to grow, maintain, and uphold the extraction-assimilation system. The act of extraction removes all of the relationships that give whatever is being extracted meaning. Extracting is taking. Actually, extracting is stealing—it is taking without consent, without thought, care or even knowledge of the impacts that extraction has on the other living things in that environment. That’s always been a part of colonialism and conquest. Colonialism has always extracted the indigenous—extraction of indigenous knowledge, indigenous women, indigenous peoples.

Naomi: Children from parents.

Leanne: Children from parents. Children from families. Children from the land. Children from our political system and our system of governance. Children—our most precious gift. In this kind of thinking, every part of our culture that is seemingly useful to the extractivist mindset gets extracted. The canoe, the kayak, any technology that we had that was useful was extracted and assimilated into the culture of the settlers without regard for the people and the knowledge that created it.

The alternative to extractivism is deep reciprocity. It’s respect, it’s relationship, it’s responsibility, and it’s local.

When there was a push to bring traditional knowledge into environmental thinking after Our Common Future, [a report issued by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development] in the late 1980s, it was a very extractivist approach: “Let’s take whatever teachings you might have that would help us right out of your context, right away from your knowledge holders, right out of your language, and integrate them into this assimilatory mindset.” It’s the idea that traditional knowledge and indigenous peoples have some sort of secret of how to live on the land in an non-exploitive way that broader society needs to appropriate. But the extractivist mindset isn’t about having a conversation and having a dialogue and bringing in indigenous knowledge on the terms of indigenous peoples. It is very much about extracting whatever ideas scientists or environmentalists thought were good and assimilating it.

Naomi: Like I’ll just take the idea of “the seventh generation” and…

Leanne: …put it onto toilet paper and sell it to people. There’s an intellectual extraction, a cognitive extraction, as well as a physical one. The machine around promoting extractivism is huge in terms of TV, movies, and popular culture.

Naomi: If extractivism is a mindset, a way of looking at the world, what is the alternative?

Leanne: Responsibility. Because I think when people extract things, they’re taking and they’re running and they’re using it for just their own good. What’s missing is the responsibility. If you’re not developing relationships with the people, you’re not giving back, you’re not sticking around to see the impact of the extraction. You’re moving to someplace else.

The alternative is deep reciprocity. It’s respect, it’s relationship, it’s responsibility, and it’s local. If you’re forced to stay in your 50-mile radius, then you very much are going to experience the impacts of extractivist behavior. The only way you can shield yourself from that is when you get your food from around the world or from someplace else. So the more distance and the more globalization then the more shielded I am from the negative impacts of extractivist behavior.

On Idle No More

Naomi: With Idle No More, there was this moment in December and January where there was the beginning of an attempt to articulate an alternative agenda for the country that was  rooted in a different relationship with nature. And I think of lot of people were drawn to it because it did seem to provide that possibility of a vision for the land that is not just digging holes and polluting rivers and laying pipelines.

But I think that may have been lost a little when we starting hearing some chiefs casting it all as a fight over resources sharing: “OK, Harper wants to extract $650 billion worth of resources, and how are we going to have a fair share of that?” That’s a fair question given the enormous poverty and the fact that these resources are on indigenous lands. But it’s not questioning the underlying imperative of tearing up the land for wealth.

Leanne: No, it’s not, and that is exactly what our traditional leaders, elders, and many grassroots people are saying as well. Part of the issue is about leadership. Indian Act chiefs and councils—while there are some very good people involved doing some good work—they are ultimately accountable to the Canadian government and not to our people. The Indian Act system is an imposed system—it is not our political system based on our values or ways of governing.

Putting people in the position of having to chose between feeding their kids and destroying their land is simply wrong.

Indigenous communities, particularly in places where there is significant pressure to develop natural resources, face tremendous imposed economic poverty. Billions of dollars of natural resources have been extracted from their territories, without their permission and without compensation. That’s the reality. We have not had the right to say no to development, because ultimately those communities are not seen as people, they are seen as resources.

Rather than interacting with indigenous peoples through our treaties, successive federal governments chose to control us through the Indian Act, precisely so they can continue to build the Canadian economy on the exploitation of natural resources without regard for indigenous peoples or the environment. This is deliberate. This is also where the real fight will be, because these are the most pristine indigenous homelands. There are communities standing up and saying no to the idea of tearing up the land for wealth. What I think these communities want is our solidarity and a large network of mobilized people willing to stand with them when they say no.

These same communities are also continually shamed in the mainstream media and by state governments and by Canadian society for being poor. Shaming the victim is part of that extractivist thinking. We need to understand why these communities are economically poor in the first place—and they are poor so that Canadians can enjoy the standard of living they do. I say “economically poor” because while these communities have less material wealth, they are rich in other ways—they have their homelands, their languages, their cultures, and relationships with each other that make their communities strong and resilient.

I always get asked, “Why do your communities partner with these multinationals to exploit their land?” It is because it is presented as the only way out of crushing economic poverty. Industry and government are very invested in the “jobs versus the environment” discussion. These communities are under tremendous pressure from provincial governments, federal governments, and industry to partner in the destruction of natural resources. Industry and government have no problem with presenting large-scale environmental destruction by corporations as the only way out of poverty because it is in their best interest to do so.

We have not had the right to say no to development, because  indigenous communities are not seen as people. They are seen as resources.

There is a huge need to clearly articulate alternative visions of how to build healthy, sustainable, local indigenous economies that benefit indigenous communities and respect our fundamental philosophies and values. The hyper-exploitation of natural resources is not the only approach. The first step to that is to stop seeing indigenous peoples and our homelands as free resources to be used at will however colonial society sees fit.

If Canada is not interested in dismantling the system that forces poverty onto indigenous peoples, then I’m not sure Canadians, who directly benefit from indigenous poverty, get to judge the decisions indigenous peoples make, particularly when very few alternatives are present. Indigenous peoples do not have control over our homelands. We do not have the ability to say no to development on our homelands. At the same time, I think that partnering with large resource extraction industries for the destruction of our homelands does not bring about the kinds of changes and solutions our people are looking for, and putting people in the position of having to chose between feeding their kids and destroying their land is simply wrong.

Ultimately we’re not talking about a getting a bigger piece of the pie—as Winona LaDuke says—we’re talking about a different pie. People within the Idle No More movement who are talking about indigenous nationhood are talking about a massive transformation, a massive decolonization. A resurgence of indigenous political thought that is very, very much land-based and very, very much tied to that intimate and close relationship to the land, which to me means a revitalization of sustainable local indigenous economies that benefit local people. So I think there’s a pretty broad agreement around that, but there are a lot of different views around strategy because we have tremendous poverty in our communities.

On promoting life

Naomi: One of the reasons I wanted to speak with you is that in your writing and speaking, I feel like you are articulating a clear alternative. In a speech you gave recently at the University of Victoria, you said: “Our systems are designed to promote more life” and you talked about achieving this through “resisting, renewing, and regeneration”—all themes in Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back.

I want to explore the idea of life-promoting systems with you because it seems to me that they are the antithesis of the extractivist mindset, which is ultimately about exhausting and extinguishing life without renewing or replenishing.

Leanne: I first started to think about that probably 20 years ago, and it was through some of Winona LaDuke’s work and through working with elders out on the land that I started to really think about this. Winona took a concept that’s very fundamental to Anishinaabeg society, called mino bimaadiziwin. It often gets translated as “the good life,” but the deeper kind of cultural, conceptual meaning is something that she really brought into my mind, and she translated it as “continuous rebirth.” So, the purpose of life then is this continuous rebirth, it’s to promote more life. In Anishinaabeg society, our economic systems, our education systems, our systems of governance, and our political systems were designed with that basic tenet at their core.

I think that sort of fundamental teaching gives direction to individuals on how to interact with each other and family, how to interact with your children, how to interact with the land. And then as communities of people form, it gives direction on how those communities and how those nations should also interact. In terms of the economy, it meant a very, very localized economy where there was a tremendous amount of accountability and reciprocity. And so those kinds of things start with individuals and families and communities and then they sort of spiral outwards into how communities and how nations interact with each other.

It was the quality of their relationships—not how much they had, not how much they consumed—that was the basis of my ancestors’ happiness.

I also think it’s about the fertility of ideas and it’s the fertility of alternatives. One of the things birds do in our creation stories is they plant seeds and they bring forth new ideas and they grow those ideas. Seeds are the encapsulation of wisdom and potential and the birds carry those seeds around the earth and grew this earth. And I think we all have that responsibility to find those seeds, to plant those seeds, to give birth to these new ideas. Because people think up an idea but then don’t articulate it, or don’t tell anybody about it, and don’t build a community around it, and don’t do it.

So in Anishinaabeg philosophy, if you have a dream, if you have a vision, you share that with your community, and then you have a responsibility for bringing that dream forth, or that vision forth into a reality. That’s the process of regeneration. That’s the process of bringing forth more life—getting the seed and planting and nurturing it. It can be a physical seed, it can be a child, or it can be an idea. But if you’re not continually engaged in that process then it doesn’t happen.

Naomi: What has the principle of regeneration meant in your own life?

Leanne: In my own life, I try to foster that with my own children and in my own family, because I have a lot of control over what happens in my own family and I don’t have a lot of control over what happens in the broader nation and broader society. But, enabling them, giving them opportunities to develop a meaningful relationship with our land, with the water, with the plants and animals. Giving them opportunities to develop meaningful relationships with elders and with people in our community so that they’re growing up in a very, very strong community with a number of different adults that they can go to when they have problems.

One of the stories I tell in my book is of working with an elder who’s passed on now, Robin Greene from Shoal Lake in Winnipeg, in an environmental education program with First Nations youth. And we were talking about sustainable development, and I was explaining that term from the Western perspective to the students. And I asked him if there was a similar concept in Anishinaabeg philosophy that would be the same as sustainable development. And he thought for a very long time. And he said no. And I was sort of shocked at the “no” because I was expecting there to be something similar. And he said the concept is backwards. You don’t develop as much as Mother Earth can handle. For us it’s the opposite. You think about how much you can give up to promote more life. Every decision that you make is based on: Do you really need to be doing that?

The purpose of life is this continuous rebirth, it’s to promote more life.

If I look at how my ancestors even 200 years ago, they didn’t spend a lot of time banking capital, they didn’t rely on material wealth for their well-being and economic stability. They put energy into meaningful and authentic relationships. So their food security and economic security was based on how good and how resilient their relationships were—their relationships with clans that lived nearby, with communities that lived nearby, so that in hard times they would rely on people, not the money they saved in the bank. I think that extended to how they found meaning in life. It was the quality of those relationships—not how much they had, not how much they consumed—that was the basis of their happiness. So I think that that’s very oppositional to colonial society and settler society and how we’re taught to live in that.

Naomi: One system takes things out of their relationships; the other continuously builds relationships.

Leanne: Right. Again, going back to my ancestors, they weren’t consumers. They were producers and they made everything. Everybody had to know how to make everything. Even if I look at my mom’s generation, which is not 200 years ago, she knew how to make and create the basic necessities that we needed. So even that generation, my grandmother’s generation, they knew how to make clothes, they knew how to make shelter, they knew how to make the same food that they would grow in their own gardens or harvest from the land in the summer through the winter to a much greater degree than my generation does. When you have really localized food systems and localized political systems, people have to be engaged in a higher level—not just consuming it, but producing it and making it. Then that self-sufficiency builds itself into the system.

My ancestors tended to look very far into the future in terms of planning, look at that seven generations forward. So I think they foresaw that there were going to be some big problems. I think through those original treaties and our diplomatic traditions, that’s really what they were trying to reconcile. They were trying to protect large tracts of land where indigenous peoples could continue their way of life and continue our own economies and continue our own political systems, I think with the hope that the settler society would sort of modify their way into something that was more parallel or more congruent to indigenous societies.

On loving the wounded

Naomi: You often start your public presentations by describing what your territory used to look like. And it strikes me that what you are saying is very different from traditional green environmental discourse, which usually focuses on imminent ecological collapse, the collapse that will happen if we don’t do X and Y. But you are basically saying that the collapse has already happened.

Simpson speaking at an Idle No More protest in Peterborough, Ontario.

Leanne: I’m not sure focusing on imminent ecological collapse is motivating Canadians to change if you look at the spectrum of climate change denial across society. It is spawning a lot of apocalypse movies, but I think it is so overwhelming and traumatic to think about, that perhaps people shut down to cope. That’s why clearly articulated visions of alternatives are so important.

In my own work, I started to talk about what the land used to look like because very few people remember. Very early on, where I’m from, on the north shore of Lake Ontario, you saw the collapse of the salmon population in Lake Ontario by 1840. They used to migrate all the way up to Stony Lake—it was a huge deal for our nation. And then the eel population crashing with the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Trent-Severn Waterway. So I think again, in a really local way, indigenous peoples have seen and lived through this environmental disaster where entire parts of their world collapsed really early on.

But it cycles, and the collapses are getting bigger and bigger and bigger. It’s getting to the point where I describe what my land used to look like because no one knows. No one remembers what southern Ontario looked like 200 years ago, which to me is really scary. How do we envision our way out of this when we don’t even remember what this natural environment is supposed to look like?

Naomi: I’ve spent the past two years living in British Columbia, where my family is, and I’ve been pretty involved in the fights against the tar sands pipelines. And of course the situation is so different there. There is still so much pristine wilderness, and people feel connected and protective of it. And I think for everyone, the fights against the pipelines have really been about falling more deeply in love with the land. It’s not an “anti” movement—it’s not about “I hate you.” It’s about “We love this place too much to let you desecrate it.” So it has a different feeling than any movement I’ve been a part of before. And of course the anti-pipeline movement on the West Coast is indigenous-led, and it’s also forged amazing coalitions of indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. I wonder how much those fights have contributed to the emergence of Idle No More—the fact of having these incredible coalitions and First Nations saying no to Harper, working together…

Leanne: But also because the Yinka Dene Alliance based their resistance on indigenous law. I remember feeling really proud when Yinka Dene Alliance did the train ride to the east. I was actually in Alberta at the time but we need to build on that because if you look in the financial sections of the papers for the last few years, there are these little indications that the pipelines are coming here too. And it’s becoming more so, with this refinery in Fredericton. So there needs to be a similar movement around pipelines as we’ve seen in British Columbia. But central Canada is behind.

No one remembers what southern Ontario looked like 200 years ago, which to me is really scary.

Naomi: I think a lot of it has to do with the state the land is in. Because in B.C., that was the outrage over the Northern Gateway routing—“You want to build a pipeline through that part of B.C.? Are you nuts?” It was almost a gift to movement-building because they weren’t talking about building it through urban areas, they were talking about building it through some of the most pristine wilderness in the province. But we have such a harder job here, because there needs to be a process not just of protecting the land, but as you were saying, of finding the land in order to protect it. Whereas in B.C., it’s just so damn pretty.

Leanne: I think for me, it’s always been a struggle because I’ve always wanted to live in B.C. or the north, because the land is pristine. It’s easier emotionally for me. But I’ve chosen to live in my territory and I’ve chosen to be a witness of this. And I think that’s where, in the politics of indigenous women, and traditional indigenous politics, it is a politics based on love. That was the difference with Idle No More because there were so many women that were standing up. Because of colonialism, we were excluded for a long time from that Indian Act chief and council governing system. Women initially were not allowed to run for office, and it’s still a bastion of patriarchy. But that in some ways is a gift because all of our organizing around governance and politics and this continuous rebirth has been outside of that system and been based on that politics of love.

So when I think of the land as my mother or if I think of it as a familial relationship, I don’t hate my mother because she’s sick, or because she’s been abused. I don’t stop visiting her because she’s been in an abusive relationship and she has scars and bruises. If anything, you need to intensify that relationship because it’s a relationship of nurturing and caring. And so I think in my own territory I try to have that intimate relationship, that relationship of love—even though I can see the damage—to try to see that there is still beauty there. There’s still a lot of beauty in Lake Ontario. It’s one of those threatened lakes and it’s dying and no one wants to eat the fish. But there is a lot of beauty still in that lake. There is a lot of love still in that lake. And I think that Mother Earth as my first mother. Mothers have a tremendous amount of resilience. They have a tremendous amount of healing power. But I think this idea that you abandon it when something has been damaged is something we can’t afford to do in Southern Ontario.

Naomi: Exactly. But it’s such a different political project, right? Because the first stage is establishing that there’s something left to love. My husband talks about how growing up beside a lake you can’t swim in shapes your relationship with nature. You think nature is somewhere else. I think a lot of people don’t believe this part of the world is worth saving because they think it’s already destroyed, so you may as well abuse it some more. There aren’t enough people who are articulating what it means to build an authentic relationship with non-pristine nature. And it’s a different kind of environmental voice that can speak to the wounded, as opposed to just the perfect and pretty.

Leanne: If you can’t swim in it, canoe across it. Find a way to connect to it. When the lake is too ruined to swim or to eat from it, then that’s where the healing ceremonies come in, because you can still do ceremonies with it. In Peterborough, I wrote a spoken word piece around salmon in which I imagined myself as being the first salmon back into Lake Ontario and coming back to our territory. The lift-locks were gone. And I learned the route that the salmon would have gone in our language. And so that was one of the ways I was trying to connect my community back to that story and back to that river system, through this performance. People did get more interested in the salmon. The kids did get more interested because they were part of the dance work.

On climate change and transformation

Naomi: In the book I’m currently writing I’m trying to understand why we are failing so spectacularly to deal with the climate crisis. And there are lots of reasons—ideological, material, and so on. But there are also powerful psychological and cultural reasons where we—and I’m talking in the “settler” we, I suppose—have been colonized by the logic of capitalism, and that has left us uniquely ill-equipped to deal with this particular crisis.

Leanne: In order to make these changes, in order to make this punctuated transformation, it means lower standards of living, for that 1 percent and for the middle class. At the end of the day, that’s what it means. And I think in the absence of having a meaningful life outside of capital and outside of material wealth, that’s really scary.

If we are not, as peoples of the earth, willing to counter colonialism, we have no hope of surviving climate change.

Naomi: Essentially, it’s saying: your life is going to end because consumerism is how we construct our identities in this culture. The role of consumption has changed in our lives just in the past 30 years. It’s so much more entwined in the creation of self. So when someone says, “To fight climate change you have to shop less,” it is heard as, “You have to be less.” The reaction is often one of pure panic.

On the other hand, if you have a rich community life, if your relationships feed you, if you have a meaningful relationship with the natural world, then I think contraction isn’t as terrifying. But if your life is almost exclusively consumption, which I think is what it is for a great many people in this culture, then we need to understand the depth of the threat this crisis represents. That’s why the transformation that we have to make is so profound—we have to relearn how to derive happiness and satisfaction from other things than shopping, or we’re all screwed.

Leanne: I see the transformation as: Your life isn’t going to be worse, it’s not going to be over. Your life is going to be better. The transition is going to be hard, but from my perspective, from our perspective, having a rich community life and deriving happiness out of authentic relationships with the land and people around you is wonderful. I think where Idle No More did pick up on it is with the round dances and with the expression of the joy. “Let’s make this fun.” It was women that brought that joy.

Naomi: Another barrier to really facing up to the climate crisis has to do with another one of your strong themes, which is the importance of having a relationship to the land. Because climate change is playing out on the land, and in order to see those early signs, you have to be in some kind of communication with it. Because the changes are subtle—until they’re not.

Leanne: I always take my kids to the sugar bush in March and we make maple syrup with them. And what’s happened over the last 20 years is every year our season is shorter. Last year was a near disaster because we had that week of summer weather in the middle of March. You need a very specific temperature range for making maple sugar. So it sort of dawned on me last year: I’m spending all of this time with my kids in the sugar bush and in 20 years, when it’s their term to run it, they’re going to have to move. Who knows? It’s not going to be in my territory anymore. That’s something that my generation, my family, is going to witness the death of. And that is tremendously sad and painful for us.

Individual choices aren’t going to get us out of this mess. We need a systemic change.

It’s things like the sugar bush that are the stories, the teachings, that’s really our system of governance, where children learn about that. It’s another piece of the puzzle that we’re trying to put back together that’s about to go missing. It’s happening at an incredibly fast rate, it’s changing. Indigenous peoples have always been able to adapt, and we’ve had a resilience. But the speed of this—our stories and our culture and our oral tradition doesn’t keep up, can’t keep up.

Naomi: One of the things that’s so difficult, when one immerses oneself in the climate science and comes to grips with just how little time we have left to turn things around, is that we know that real hard political work takes time. You can’t rush it. And a sense of urgency can even be dangerous, it can be used to say, “We don’t have time to deal with those complicated issues like colonialism and racism and inequality.” There is a history in the environmental movement of doing that, of using urgency to belittle all issues besides human survival. But on the other hand, we really are in this moment where small steps won’t do. We need a leap.

Leanne: This is one of the ways the environmental movement has to change. Colonial thought brought us climate change. We need a new approach because the environmental movement has been fighting climate change for more than two decades and we’re not seeing the change we need. I think groups like Defenders of the Land and the Indigenous Environmental Network hold a lot of answers for the mainstream environmental movement because they are talking about large-scale transformation. If we are not, as peoples of the earth, willing to counter colonialism, we have no hope of surviving climate change. Individual choices aren’t going to get us out of this mess. We need a systemic change. Manulani Aluli Meyer was just in Peterborough—she’s a Hawaiian scholar and activist—and she was talking about punctuated transformation. A punctuated transformation [means] we don’t have time to do the whole steps and time shift, it’s got to be much quicker than that.

That’s the hopefulness and inspiration for me that’s coming out of Idle No More. It was small groups of women around a kitchen table that got together and said, “We’re not going to sit here and plan this and analyze this, we’re going to do something.” And then three more women, and then two more women, and a whole bunch of people and then men got together and did it, and it wasn’t like there was a whole lot of planning and strategy and analyzing. It was people standing up and saying “Enough is enough, and I’m going to use my voice and I’m going to speak out and I’m going to see what happens.” And I think because it was still emergent and there were no single leaders and there was no institution or organization it became this very powerful thing.

On next steps

Naomi: What do you think the next phase will be?

Leanne: I think within the movement, we’re in the next phase. There’s a lot of teaching that’s happening right now in our community and with public teach-ins, there’s a lot of that internal work, a lot of educating and planning happening right now. There is a lot of internal nation-building work. It’s difficult to say where the movement will go because it is so beautifully diverse. I see perhaps a second phase that is going to be on the land. It’s going to be local and it’s going to be people standing up and opposing these large-scale industrial development projects that threaten our existence as indigenous peoples—in the Ring of Fire [region in Northern Ontario], tar sands, fracking, mining, deforestation… But where they might have done that through policy or through the Environmental Assessment Act or through legal means in the past, now it may be through direct action. Time will tell.

Naomi: I want to come back to what you said earlier about knowledge extraction. How do we balance the dangers of cultural appropriation with the fact that the dominant culture really does need to learn these lessons about reciprocity and interdependence? Some people say it’s a question of everybody finding their own inner indigenousness. Is that it, or is there a way of recognizing indigenous knowledge and leadership that avoids the hit-and-run approach?

Leanne: I think Idle No More is an example because I think there is an opportunity for the environmental movement, for social-justice groups, and for mainstream Canadians to stand with us. There was a segment of Canadian society, once they had the information, that was willing to stand with us. And that was helpful and inspiring to me as well. So I think it’s a shift in mindset from seeing indigenous people as a resource to extract to seeing us as intelligent, articulate, relevant, living, breathing peoples and nations. I think that requires individuals and communities and people to develop fair and meaningful and authentic relationships with us.

We have a lot of ideas about how to live gently within our territory in a way where we have separate jurisdictions and separate nations but over a shared territory. I think there’s a responsibility on the part of mainstream community and society to figure out a way of living more sustainably and extracting themselves from extractivist thinking. And taking on their own work and own responsibility to figure out how to live responsibly and be accountable to the next seven generations of people. To me, that’s a shift that Canadian society needs to take on, that’s their responsibility. Our responsibility is to continue to recover that knowledge, recover those practices, recover the stories and philosophies, and rebuild our nations from the inside out. If each group was doing their work in a responsible way then I think we wouldn’t be stuck in these boxes.

There are lots of opportunities for Canadians, especially in urban areas, to develop relationships with indigenous people. Now more than ever, there are opportunities for Canadians to learn. Just in the last 10 years, there’s been an explosion of indigenous writing. That’s why me coming into the city today is important, because these are the kinds of conversations where you see ways out of the box, where you get those little glimmers, those threads that you follow and you nurture, and the more you nurture them, the bigger they grow.

Idle No More is a shift in mindset to seeing us as intelligent, articulate, relevant, living, breathing peoples and nations.

Naomi: Can you tell me a little bit about the name of your book, Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back, and what it means in this moment?

Leanne: I’ve heard Elder Edna Manitowabi tell one of our creation stories about a muskrat and a turtle for years now. In this story, there’s been some sort of environmental crisis. Because within Anishinaabeg cosmology, this isn’t the First World, maybe this is the Fourth World that we’re on. And whenever there’s an imbalance and the imbalance isn’t addressed, then over time there’s a crisis. This time, there was a big flood that covered the entire world. Nanabush, one of our sacred beings, ends up trapped on a log with many of the other animals. They are floating in this vast sea of water with no land in sight. To me, that feels like where we are right now. I’m on a very crowded log, the world my ancestors knew and lived in is gone, and me and my community need to come up with a solution even though we are all feeling overwhelmed and irritated. It’s an intense situation and no one knows what to do, no one knows how to make a new world.

Idle No More group
Why Canada’s Indigenous Uprising Is About All of Us
When a new law paved the way for tar sands pipelines and other fossil fuel development on native lands, four women swore to be “idle no more.” The idea took off.

So the animals end up taking turns diving down and searching for a pawful of dirt or earth to use to start to make a new world. The strong animals go first, and when they come up with nothing, the smaller animals take a turn. Finally, muskrat is successful and brings her pawfull of dirt up to the surface. Turtle volunteers to have the earth placed on her back. Nanibush prays and breaths life into that earth. All of the animals sing and dance on the turtle’s back in a circle, and as they do this, the turtle’s back grows. It grows and grows until it becomes the world we know. This is why Anishinaabeg call North AmericaMikinakong—the place of the turtle.

When Edna tells this story, she says that we’re all that muskrat, and that we all have that responsibility to get off the log and dive down no matter how hard it is and search around for that dirt. And that to me was profound and transformative, because we can’t wait for somebody else to come up with the idea. The whole point, the way we’re going to make this better, is by everybody engaging in their own being, in their own gifts, and embody this movement, embody this transformation.

And so that was a transformative story for me in my life and seemed to me very relevant in terms of climate change, in terms of indigenous resurgence, in terms of rebuilding the Anishinaabeg Nation. And so when people started round dancing all over the turtle’s back in December and January, it made me insanely happy. Watching the transformative nature of those acts, made me realize that it’s the embodiment, we have to embody the transformation.

Naomi: What did it feel like to you when it was happening?

Leanne: Love. On an emotional, a physical level, on a spiritual level. Yeah, it was love. It was an intimate, deep love. Like the love that I have for my children or the love that I have for the land. It was that kind of authentic, not romantic kind of fleeting love. It was a grounded love.

Naomi: And it can even be felt in a shopping mall.

Leanne: Even in a shopping mall. And how shocking is that?


Naomi Klein wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Naomi is an award-winning journalist, syndicated columnist, fellow at The Nation Institute and author of the international and New York Times bestseller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. She lives in British Columbia.

From Yes! Magazine

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‘Yaka and the Unrandomness of Retail Murder’ by Yak Handa

The sexual assault and mutilation of a young student in Delhi has drawn condemnation by capitalist mass-media, world over. Even the UN’s Moon flashed his selective beams on how Indians cast women.
There was less coverage of the pushing and crushing by an oncoming New York subway-train of an Indian man on December 27, by a white woman. Erika Menendez was looking to kill a “Hindu or a Muslim,” saying she wanted revenge for the 9/11 attacks!

In the Delhi case, the media, and those minions they trumpet as ‘spokesmen,’ compete with each other in calling for immediate capital-punishment of accused perpetrators. It’s almost like Mafioso capos, ordering the assassination of hitmen to cover up the trail of electronic echoes and leaden residues that inevitably lead to their own fingerprints and vocal-cords.

With victim and criminal out of the way, this media will soon manipulate this broadcast trauma into reproducing the same old days of ‘business as usual.’ Read that as the daily wholesale-mutilation by European nations and their settler-states’ aerial-bombers which strike from the highest altitudes to ground-zero. Yet daily retail-violence usually occurs both within and between adjacent class fractions, those closest, not the so-called uppermost vs the lowliest. Such violence occurs between people known to each other, as family members, neighbors or coworkers, especially when enforcing old hierarchies of inequity.

The seemingly random nature of the Delhi and NY attacks added to its horror. Yet the media hinted at class war, portraying the victim as a medical-student and the criminals ‘from the slums.’
The same media hotly condemns the subway-pusher too, as they do the Delhi attackers. But Erika is described as “mentally unstable” – the usual analysis for such crimes involving white criminality. For Black people, Asians, etc, more political or primordial causes are ascribed.

The English media is long famed for casting black men as congenital-rapists – a popular theme that goes back to early slavery days. Yet such acts against women occur in all communities and countries, and are perhaps more common among the middle/upper classes who hide such acts more easily. The media rarely highlights the widespread violence by white men against white women, or even Jewish men against Jewish women. Hate is a bank with many ATMs offering a bouquet of venomous currencies. One is misogyny, the hatred of women.

A day after the BBC and their ventriloquist-hacks splashed headlines of Pakistani men targeting white girls, English police launched nationwide marches protesting budget-cuts. Yet the same BBC was later accused of suppressing news about the deadly use of their studios as sites of decades-long abuse of girls by one of their superstars! No media recalled that the first BBC Director-General Lord Reith’s penchant for young boys led him to have a fountain built outside its headquarters with naked cherubs pissing into a public trough.

Blame for these most-recent acts of ‘retail’ murder should lead us to the very same media that misinforms us while arousing more violence, that portrays women either as heroic mothers or helpless victims, either as a Virgin Mary or a whore, or as prizes for successful consumption.

This same media that gave repeated play to clear distortions of the Mayan culture’s calendar, insisting the world could end December 21st! The same media that for decades have demonized by-the-minute, brown Asians in turbans – Muslim, Sikh or Pathan don’t matter.

The media broadcast the white subway-shover’s insistence that killing a Hindu or a Muslim was revenge for the Twin-Tower demolition. She could call Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington to join her defense team. Huntington’s long been allowed to loudly insist what the world’s witnessing is the old “clash of civilizations.”

History Anew

Did the Mayans predict Huntington’s pupil Fukuyama would be promoted for declaring “The End of History” about 1989?! All we’ve witnessed ever since history’s-end has been a rather one-sided clash, with millions of Asians and Africans murdered, many times, wholesale.

In the Delhi incident, described by media as isolated, the usual response claims surprise, etc. But many Delhi residents claim public attacks on women are long too common. Yet every inch of road is otherwise accounted for. Thanks to Caltex/ Ford-friendly privatizations, thanks to the car-finance companies, all routes of our largely privatized transport systems are highly controlled by owners who must deploy thugs and swift violence to maintain their monopoly. Passengers have to be treated with sheer contempt. The primary ‘joyriders’ charged with the killing included a ‘private’ school bus driver, and his brother. It profits the corporate media to conceal the traumatic depths of what their economic and social policies have created in our societies, then round up the usual suspects to cast blame, vent spleen, and reproduce the violence. Who bankrolls the slumdog millionaires? Yaka asks, guess who they are really protecting?

Yakhanda@yahoo.com

From The Nation, Sri Lanka
http://www.nation.lk/edition/columns/yak-handa/item/14349-yaka-and-the-unrandomness-of-retail-murder.html

uddari@live.ca
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Uddari-Weblog/333586816691660
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UN Recognizes Palestine!!

Hours ago, the UN voted overwhelmingly to recognise Palestine as the world’s 194th state!!! It’s a huge victory for the Palestinian people, for peace, for our community, and people across the world are joining with massive crowds in Palestine to celebrate.

The Palestinian people’s journey to freedom is far from over. But this is a powerful step, and our community played a key role in it. Responding to the vote, Palestine’s Ambassador to Europe said:

“Avaaz and its members across the world have played a crucial role in persuading governments to support the Palestinian people’s bid for a state and for freedom and peace. They have stood with us throughout and their solidarity and support will be remembered and cherished across Palestine.” – Leila Shahid, General Palestinian Delegate to Europe

The US and Israeli governments; beholden to extreme lobby groups (yes, sadly even Obama has given in), threw everything they had at crushing this vote, using financial threats and even threatening to overthrow the Palestinian President if he went ahead. Europe was the key swing vote, and under intense US pressure, leaders were, just two weeks ago, leaning towards not supporting the Palestinian state. Knowing the stakes, our community responded with the speed and democratic force that we needed to win:
Nearly 1.8 million of us signed the petition calling for statehood.

Thousands of us donated to fund public opinion polls across Europe — showing that a whopping 79% of Europeans supported a Palestinian state. Our polls were plastered all over the media, and repeatedly cited in Parliamentary debates in the UK, Spain and France!

We sent tens of thousands of emails, Facebook messages and Tweets to leaders across Europe and made thousands of calls to foreign ministries and heads of state.

We unfurled a giant 4-storey banner outside the EU Commission in Brussels (right) while leaders were meeting inside. Then, we staged another stunt in Madrid. Previously, we had sailed a flotilla of ships past the UN calling for a vote. Our actions made headlines all over Europe.

Avaaz staff and members met with dozens and dozens of government ministers, top advisors, senior journalists, parliamentarians and thought leaders in each of the key countries, in many cases teaming up to win over leaders one by one through advocacy, pressure, parliamentary resolutions and public statements, always drawing on the surge in people power behind this cause.

We reached out to key thought leaders like Stéphane Hessel, a 94-year old survivor of Nazi concentration camps, and Ron Pundak, an Israeli who played a key role in Oslo peace process, to speak out in favour of statehood.

One by one, key European states broke with the US to answer the call of justice and their peoples. In the final vote tally we got just now, only 9 countries out of 193 have voted against! France, Spain, Italy, Sweden and most of Europe has voted for Palestine.

The US and Israel argued first that statehood was dangerous for peace, and then, when they’d lost, that it didn’t matter and the vote was just symbolic. But if it were just symbolic they wouldn’t have done everything to try and stop it. And after years of bad-faith negotiations and Israeli comfort with the status quo as they steadily colonize more Palestinian land, this move shows the US and Israel that if they do not engage in good faith, the Palestinians and the world are prepared to move forward without them. It’s a more balanced basis for real peace talks. And that’s the best alternative to the kind of violence we saw Israel’s government and Hamas offer in Gaza this month.

For decades the Palestinian people have suffered under a stifling Israeli military dictatorship, repressive controls on their travel and work, continual denial of their rights and the constant threat of insecurity and violence. 65 years ago yesterday, the UN recognized the state of Israel, beginning a path to the establishment of a safe home for the Jewish people. Now the Palestinians take a step down the same path, and gain a dignity in the eyes of the international community that they have been denied for a generation. And from that dignity, we can build the foundations of peace.

With hope and joy,

Ricken, Alice, Ari, Wissam, Allison, Sam, Julien, Pascal, Wen, Pedro, Saravanan, Emma, Ben, Dalia, Alexey, Paul, Marie, Aldine, Luca, Jamie, Morgan and the whole Avaaz team.

PS Here are some sources -The Associated Press covers today’s victory, the Guardiancovers our polling two weeks ago, Avaaz’s Daily Briefing provides a map of the vote result, and Haaretz describes Israel’s response.

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‘Yaka and the Agenda of the Greenwashing Hoods’ by Yak Handa

Hijacking the ‘Environmental Movement’

Elaine Dewar’s book Cloak of Green digs into a star-studded Toronto fundraiser to ‘Save the Rainforest’, soon untangling roots linking the world’s worst polluters (oilman Rockefeller, carman Ford) to major environmental groups (World Wildlife Fund, IUCN, Friends of the Earth, etc.).

Dewar details how capitalists hijacked the ‘Environmental Movement’, how iNGOs germinated, how corporate priorities were fast-tracked within various struggles to ‘save the world.’ Undercutting increased unity among most countries in the 1960s-70s – sabotaging such anti-colonial initiatives as the New International Economic and Information Orders, which only feebly challenged the hegemony of multinational corporations and their Big-Four News-Agencies: Reuters, AP, DPA, AFP – iNGOs are linked to restoring white power at the UN.

To dismiss industrialization in our countries, long-industrialized-rich iNGOs, using high-tech media, hypocritically proclaim: industrialization is bad for the Earth. They merrily ignore that mercantile capitalism forces disemployed people to survive by falling back on exploiting forests, land and sea.

But then Dewar inadvertently stumbles on ‘The Agenda’ – that’s not about hugging trees, and guaranteeing icebergs stay pure-white and whole! “The Agenda” seeks to institute not just ‘regime change’ around the world, but lever power up to corporate-controlled regional bodies, by using NGOs and ‘ethnic conflict’ to undermine nation-states.

She encounters this Agenda when interviewing a director with Cultural Survival, a ‘Human Rights Group’ working with “tribal and ethnic minorities in the Third World,” “Indigenous-led” yet based in Harvard University’s Peabody Museum. Set up in 1972 (year of that Stockholm environmental conference), CS’s proportion of USAID-funds expanded rapidly under Reaganomics. CS soon claimed a network of 1000s of ‘native informants’ – experts and activists around the world.

‘Ethnic’ Cardiology

After WW11, imperialist governments and corporations strengthened specific interests in former colonies to control trade; Cultural Survival tells Dewar: ‘Two-thirds of the world’s almost 200 states were thus created, caging over 5,000 ‘real nations’, each with a base, culture and history of self-government. Nigeria alone caged 450 ‘nations’, Brazil 190, USSR (minus Siberia) 130,’ etc.

Advocates of ‘decentralization’ elsewhere, avoid explaining why Europe and the US (usual funders of iNGOs and government-bonds) meanwhile expand and strengthen their borders and armies, bolstering their multinationals. Nonetheless, they insist our countries must not strengthen unity, within and without, to oppose the might of their behemoths. No! The Agenda believes we must be split further to bolster multinational corporate penetration.

Multinational corporations favor the rise of ‘ethnic nationalism’ as opposed to developing the nation-state. To subsume these nation-states under institutions of local and global governance, NGOs would promote binaries of local “ethnic” legitimacy versus “corrupt” multicultural national illegitimacy.

Yet in imperialist countries, there’s really only one party: The Capitalist Party, with brightly differentiated wings. And when it comes to attacking us, they’re always one! This North Atlantic (NATO) gang unleashes horror on Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chagos, Korea, yet the CS-staffer can insist: ‘National state elites, right or left, represent at most one or two ethnic groups, who appropriate resources, igniting wars. One-party power structures are sustained by weaponry. 75% of shooting wars occur within nation-states, whose armies only shoot their own citizens. The Himalayan debt-loads of these countries are largely weapons purchases.’

CS (headquartered on stolen Whampanoag land) even claims, “There was more genocide in the 20th than any other century.” This is the quintessential white-gaze blurring world history. Like the International Court of the Hague, ‘war crimes’ are not committed by their hosts, the Dutch, English, French, Portuguese, or their lost Yankee cousins: What they did, and still do in our world through their economic, military and cultural panzer-divisions is not up for jurisprudence or reparations.

Corporate Teflon

The Agenda views the nation-state as ‘an artificial construct to serve colonial masters and local elites’ – “corrupt thieves of the common good!” But not corporations! ‘Central government powers must be reduced, and decision-making reconfigured on diverse regional lines. It’s illegitimate for sovereign nations to make rules to protect local elites, etc.’ Such ideas soon permeated numerous multinational-friendly Free Trade Agreements.

In Lanka, English amnesia abounds about 1818 and 1948, let alone hundreds of wars fought over 500 years in different parts of the country; let alone 1971, 1989, and the two decades hence of so-called ethnic conflict. Silence abounds of the ‘regional’ mercenaries, merchants, usurers, who with collaborating landowners, remora of our stolen patrimony, underdevelop the country.

When the English first invaded Lanka, the East India Company sought to rule the country from Madras. The first Lankika rebellion against the English in 1797 quashed that plan. Yet now, Anglo-Dutch Unilever, like their ancestor, the East India Company, controls Sri Lanka through India, while its present CEO, in Colombo this week, was also a top executive at Unilevers’ supposed rivals, Procter&Gamble and Nestles! Such diversity! Such incest!

Yaka insists: The state should discuss devolving the major multinationals that underdevelop our economy!

Yakhanda@yahoo.com

From The Nation, Sri Lanka
http://www.nation.lk/edition/columns/yak-handa/item/12841-yaka-and-the-agenda-of-the-greenwashing-hoods.html
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uddari@live.ca
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Urgent Petition: Stop the Israel/Gaza violence!

Israeli gov., Hamas & Palestinian leaders, USA gov., European leaders: Stop the Israel/Gaza violence!

We, Israeli civilians living along the border with Gaza, civilians in Gaza and citizens from all around the world call to end the violence!
Every few weeks violence across the Gaza/Israel border surges. Israel air raids in Gaza, kill and injure innocent civilians, and rockets fired from Gaza into civilian populations in Israel, cause trauma, chaos and physical harm.

We have lived through this long enough, and will no longer sit by quietly.

We are people on both sides of the border who deserve the right to live normal lives. That’s it!

We call upon the Israeli and Hamas governments to end this violence once and for all. Find the ways to sit down and talk, end the attacks and the siege on Gaza, and stop playing with our lives.

http://www.change.org/petitions/israeli-gov-hamas-palestinian-leaders-usa-gov-european-leaders-stop-the-israel-gaza-violence

By Other Voice

uddari@live.ca

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US SECESSION MOVEMENT EXPLODES

WHITE HOUSE ‘SECEDE’ PETITIONS – 675,000 SIGNATURES / 50 STATES 

Less than a week after a New Orleans suburbanite petitioned the White House to allow Louisiana to secede from the United States, petitions from seven states have collected enough signatures to trigger a promised review from the Obama administration.

By 6:00 a.m. EST Wednesday, more than 675,000 digital signatures appeared on 69 separate secession petitions covering all 50 states, according to a Daily Caller analysis of requests lodged with the White House’s “We the People” online petition system.

A petition from Vermont, where talk of secession is a regular feature of political life, was the final entry.

Petitions from AlabamaFloridaGeorgiaLouisianaNorth CarolinaTennessee and Texas residents have accrued at least 25,000 signatures, the number the Obama administration says it will reward with a staff review of online proposals. (RELATED: Will Texas secede? Petition triggers White House review)
Read more at http://investmentwatchblog.com/secession-movement-explodes-white-house-secede-petitions-reach-675000-signatures-50-state-participation/#GSGmZfiyW4ej1qhe.99

From Investment Watch Blog:
http://investmentwatchblog.com/secession-movement-explodes-white-house-secede-petitions-reach-675000-signatures-50-state-participation/#zCHquk30UXBTvYmU.99

uddari@live.ca
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15 States including Texas have filed a petition to secede from the United States

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A conservative backlash or what?.
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As of Saturday November 10, 2012, 15 States have petitioned the Obama Administration for withdrawal from the United States of America in order to create its own government.

States following this action include: Louisiana, Texas, Montana, North Dakota, Indiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Colorado, Oregon and New York. These States have requested that the Obama Administration grant a peaceful withdrawal from the United States.

These petitions were filed just days after the 2012 Presidential election.

Louisiana was the first State to file a petition a day after the election by a Michael E. from Slidell, Louisiana. Texas was the next State to follow by a Micah H. from Arlington, Texas.

The government allows one month from the day the petition is submitted to obtain 25,000 signatures in order for the Obama administration to consider the request.

The Texas petition reads as follows:

The US continues to suffer economic difficulties stemming from the federal government’s neglect to reform domestic and foreign spending. The citizens of the US suffer from blatant abuses of their rights such as the NDAA, the TSA, etc. Given that the state of Texas maintains a balanced budget and is the 15th largest economy in the world, it is practically feasible for Texas to withdraw from the union, and to do so would protect it’s citizens’ standard of living and re-secure their rights and liberties in accordance with the original ideas and beliefs of our founding fathers which are no longer being reflected by the federal government.

As of 12:46 am, Sunday, signatures obtained by Louisiana, 7,358; Texas, 3,771; Florida, 636; Georgia, 475; Alabama, 834; North Carolina, 792; Kentucky, 467; Mississippi, 475; Indiana, 449; North Dakota, 162; Montana, 440; Colorado, 324; Oregon, 328; New Jersey, 301 and New York, 169. Many more States are expected to follow.

A petition is not searchable at WhiteHouse.gov until 150 signatures have been obtained. It is the originator’s responsibility to obtain these signatures.

The Texas petition can be reviewed and/or signed by clicking here.

http://www.examiner.com/article/15-states-including-texas-have-filed-a-petition-to-secede-from-the-united-states-1?cid=rss

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‘The Jolly Trinity’ by Fauzia Rafique

UN declares November 10 the Malala Day
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First, they brought us
our enemies
from Tora Bora
Afghanistan, the allah-crazed
soldiers to bomb our schools
Now, they bring us
our heroes
hijacking
one
courageous face
of our resistance
Hail angelina!
Resurrect madonna!
Wash dirty dollar
into
charitable currency
Drone fire aggression
into
noble democracy
War-lording action
into
exodus of decency
Our young heroes
into
brokering commodity
US-NATO-UN
the jolly trinity

From 
http://gandholi.wordpress.com/2012/11/10/the-jolly-trinity-by-fauzia-rafique/

Now published in

Holier-Than-Life-Cover
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Buy it here
Gumroad
Amazon
Smashwords

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More
Holier Than Life
Fauzia’s Web Page
facebook.com/fauzia.zohra.rafique
@RafiqueFauzia
Update: June 2013
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’21st Century Socialism in Pakistan?’ by Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

All Power to Awami Workers Party in Pakistan
It is a great pleasure to know that three grass roots organizations working with workers, peasants and urban poor are coming together to form one party. Now, we can hope to have a voice to fight for economic equality and civil rights of the majority of the people; a force to stand, through peaceful means, against the violence perpetuated by extreme right, US-NATO alliance, regional chauvinists, profiteering economy, and patriarchal structures. Sounds like a wish list. Why not? uddari

Nice flag

http://www.facebook.com/AwamiWorkersParty

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21st Century Socialism in Pakistan?
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

Three Marxist political parties in Pakistan are coming together to merge into one party of the left. In retreat for many decades, this is an important fi rst step for the revival of left-wing politics in Pakistan and strengthening the democratic politics of the country.A participant in this unity move explains the context and the challenges for the new united party of the left in Pakistan.

It is rare for Pakistan to be in the news for something other than suicide bombs, Hindu and Jew-hating mullahs and a very peculiar (and vulnerable) type of postcolonial democracy. A plethora of institutions, classes, ethnic groups and prominent individuals animates narratives of Pakistani modernity, most notably the omnipresent military and those who would challenge the men in khaki, including ethno-nationalists like those presently leading an insurgency in Balochistan.

Conspicuous by its absence in almost all such accounts is the Pakistani left. Even informed observers of Pakistan might have little or no knowledge of leftist forces in the country, at least in the contemporary period. Students of history will know that the Pakistani ruling class visited a great deal of repression upon leftists during the cold war when the country was the frontline against the Soviet bloc. Despite having to operate in extremely dire circumstances, the Pakistani left exercised not insignificant influence on the polity, and society more generally, until the 1980s.

Since the end of the cold war, however, the little space that the left previously garnered has, more or less, frittered away. Of course this has been the fate of the left in many countries. With the exception of the experiments in “21st century socialism” being effected in Latin America, the left continues to suffer from a crisis of identity in the face of changes in the global political economy associated with neo-liberalism.

The retreat of the Pakistani left has arguably been more damning and sustained than most, even if one limits the comparative frame to south Asia. It is, for instance, an uncomfortable truth that a majority of the more than 100 million Pakistanis below the age of 25 do not even know that there is a political left in its country, or indeed even that there is a competing ideology to the left of the dominant intellectual mainstream. The common sense notions that do exist are carry-overs from the cold war inasmuch as the term “communist” in Pakistan still connotes an irreligious world view.

Lighting the Lamp

There are, however, glimmers of hope amidst the relative gloom. On 11 November, three existing parties of the left – Labour Party Pakistan, Awami Party P­akistan and Workers Party Pakistan – will come together to form a new party with the goal of building a viable alternative to mainstream parties. This merger reflects recognition within leftist circles, both of the growing contradictions ­within the prevailing structure of power and the need for unity and maturity so as to take advantage of these contradictions.

Unity is of course a favourite slogan of the left. The Leninist tradition has, alongside unity, also emphasised ideological purity which, in far too many cases, has translated into sectarianism of the worst kind and continuous organisational divisions. The present merger is, in this regard at least, a first in Pakistan insofar as the three parties represent different Marxist traditions which have historically been distinctly opposed to one another.

Indeed, the merger process was ­impelled by younger activists within these three parties, and some outside of them, that do not carry the baggage of cold war sectarian conflicts (read: Stalinists, Trotskyites, Maoists, etc). It is also amongst the more recent entrants to the left fray that there is a greater critical ref­lection about the failings of 20th ­century socialist experiments, and a willingness to think in dynamic terms about the s­ocialist project in the present century.

While there has been resistance from a segment of the older cadre, the imperative of unity, especially in the face of the inadequacies of the existing parties, appears to have won through. The most obvious manifestation of the left’s r­etreat over the past two decades is in the composition of existing formations: a majority of the left’s existing leadership and rank-and-file is the same as it was at the end of the cold war. In short, the left has, since the late 1980s, struggled to induct young people into its fold, or at the very least retain those who have joined the ranks. The latter failing is an indicator of the lack of dynamism in the left’s analysis and political work, as young people, otherwise attracted to leftist ideas, are quickly alienated by its actual practices on the ground.

Needless to say, without a solid core of young activists, there is little chance that the left can make a dent in the cynical and patronage-based political order that exists in Pakistan. The left has not even been able to retain meaningful influence within its historic strongholds of industrial workers, small and landless farmers, and, of course, students.

One of the more promising initiatives on the left in recent times has been the revival of the National Students Federation (NSF), which between the 1960s and early 1980s was the flag-bearer of left politics amongst successive generations of young people. When Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of emergency in the country in ­November 2007, a small but vocal protest movement took shape on university campuses (mostly in Punjab), and the impetus of this movement led, some months later, to the NSF’s reconstitution.

It is not by chance that the attempt to take back campuses from the right-wing organisations, and encourage left student activism more generally, has been followed by an initiative to merge existing parties of the left. If the present merger process is successful, the NSF will benefit greatly from institutional support that it currently lacks, while the new party will be able to focus on regenerating its creaking rank-and-file, and accordingly initiate the long process of establishing and deepening ­organic links between the party and the working people.

Once the Euphoria Subsides

There should be no doubt that the pro­cess of rehabilitating the left will be long, and often painful. In other words the ­actual merger is only a baby step in the right direction. There is no doubt that the profile of the left will improve, and those sitting on the outside looking in will no longer have an excuse to ­remain aloof from party politics on ­account of the left’s internal bickering. Only time will tell, however, if the new formation can bring together Pakistan’s long-­suffering working people and ­oppressed nations.

Notwithstanding the obsession of the world’s news media with the supposedly existential threat posed to Pakistan by the religious right, the left’s arguably biggest immediate challenge will be to bridge the growing ethnic divide in the country. The Pakistani ruling classes’ visceral mistrust of the democratic process and their undying commitment to a unitary nationalist ideology emphasising Islam and Urdu directly resulted in the secession of the eastern wing in 1971, and the deepening of conflicts within and across existing provincial boundaries since then.

The left has had to contend with the regionalisation of politics across south Asia and much of the world, so the challenge facing Pakistani leftists is not necessarily unique. Nevertheless, given the distinct rise of parochial trends in recent times, projecting a sensitive and nuanced politics of class that foregrounds Pakistan’s multinational character is, in the contemporary climate, a truly revolutionary task.

There are, at present, highly contrasting imperatives of doing politics in different regions of the country. The new party will likely try, as the left has done throughout Pakistan’s history, to build alliances with ethno-nationalists who stand opposed to the Pakistani centre. But it will do so in a trying context – many ethno-nationalists, particularly in Sindh and Balochistan, now view the western powers, and the United States in particular, as the guarantor of their right to self-determination, a perspective that flies in the face of the anti-­imperialist foundations of a left programme.

Imperialism remains a major impediment to the long-term democratisation of state and society, and here it is important to consider not just the role of the US, but also the states of the Arabian Gulf and China, multinational capital, and the international financial institutions (IFIs). The new party must move beyond sloganeering and develop a substantial understanding of the complex and contradictory ways in which imperialist influence is exercised. Further, and of particular importance is to develop an understanding of the extent to which an emergent middle class addicted to the neo-liberal economy and globalised cultural forms is a friend or foe of the subordinate classes.

This is a particularly pertinent question in light of the increasing polarisation between segments of the left and liberals who are inclined to view western governments and intervention in Pakistan and the wider region as necessary, desirable even, in the struggle to clip the wings of the religious right. In short, the struggle for secularism is all too often seen as an end in itself, rather than linked to the left’s historic tasks of securing national liberation and class equality.

As in many postcolonial countries of Asia and Africa, in Pakistan too the fragmentation of progressive discourse and politics is explained in part by the rise of the non-governmental organisation (NGO). While there is merit to the argument that NGOs – donor funding more generally – have undermined radical political praxis, it is just as true that they have exposed some of the left’s major failings. NGOs in Pakistan have, for instance, proven to be a vehicle for women’s mobility, whereas the left, especially in its current incarnation, cannot claim to have made any meaningful contribution to the struggle against patriarchy. If nothing else, the new party must dedicate substantial time and effort to increasing the number of women activists among its ranks.

It is not just traditional failings that have to be redressed. Relatively taken-for-granted political positions and strategies must also be re-evaluated. The process of what around the world is t­oday termed “informalisation” calls for critical reflection on traditional subjects of Marxist praxis such as the industrial working class and the peasantry. N­otions of the “vanguard” and how to remake the left in a competitive democratic context – rather than viewing d­emocracy as a “stage” that will pass into the “dustbin of history” – have been taken on by the left in many countries.

These questions will also have to be confronted by the Pakistani left and the new party which will come into existence on 11 November. According to the original timeframe that has been discussed to date, and will in all likelihood be confirmed at the founding conference, the first six months will be dedicated to creating a single party organisation where there are currently three, addressing outstanding ideological and political questions, and inducting new members. A party congress will then be called – probably by the summer of 2012 – to take stock of progress made and chart the party’s priorities and strategies for a subsequent period of two years.

And Then There Was One

The reality is that this initiative will not mark a major turn in the fortunes either of the Pakistani left, or its long-suffering working people. The collective resources of the three parties involved in the merger do not amount to the critical mass required to definitively reverse decades of retrogression and the myriad effects of neo-liberal globalisation. As was mentioned at the outset, however, the new party will be operating in a context that is nevertheless inviting, insofar as dominant forces are as divided today as at any other point in Pakistan’s history.

The Pakistani state’s hegemonic project is today badly weakened. Even if renewed attempts to keep it afloat on the educational, religious, media and household terrains of civil society are made on an almost daily basis by a well-oiled critical mass of state functionaries and their lackeys in the media, educational institutions and so on, counter-hegemonic ­impulses are increasingly widespread. Balochistan is the obvious example, but just as important is the substantial conflict within the corridors of power itself.

The imbalance in the civil-military equation in favour of the latter is no longer so glaring, in part because it is not possible in the current climate to justify military intervention in politics like in the past. The superior judiciary has emerged as a new power centre, not necessarily to the unambiguous benefit of the ­democratic process, but nevertheless a shift away from its traditional role of being a junior partner to the military; the alliance of superior judiciary and military has indeed been the bane of democracy for most of the country’s 65 years.

The state’s hegemonic project has been structured around Punjab’s economic and political dominance (alongside the cultural pillars of Islam and Urdu). The left has long struggled for the establishment of a genuine federal system of government – a socialist one to boot – but now mainstream parties too have jumped on the federalism bandwagon. It goes without saying that none of these parties can be trusted to decisively undermine the unitary structure of power, but the very fact that the creation of a Siraiki province has become a mainstream issue speaks volumes about the rumblings within Pakistan’s extant power structure.

Of course the very fact that divisions within are becoming ever more apparent does not by any means guarantee a rupture. Just as likely, if not more so, is for identities such as religion (or sect) and ethnicity to harden and for oppressed social forces to become more bound to these identities than ever before. The left must also contend with the mundane everyday politics of patronage. In short, the left is tasked with both understanding what exists in the here and now and then fomenting meaningful and viable alternatives – in the realm of ideas and in actual political practice. There is no blueprint guaranteed to produce the desired result. But there is hope and expectation that this latest experiment with socialism in Pakistan will take us closer to where we want to go: a society in which the potentialities of all of humanity are allowed to develop freely. The choice today is as stark as it ever has been, that between socialism and barbarism.

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar (aasim@lums.edu.pk) is a member of the Workers Party Pakistan and a well-known academician.

http://www.facebook.com/AwamiWorkersParty

uddari@live.ca
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Uddari-Weblog/333586816691660
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‘Yaka Ack-Acks the Drone Rangers’ by Yakhanda

Only certain little girls matter to the English and their BBC. Diverting from the rape of hundreds of English children in BBC studios for decades by ‘Monster DJ’ Sir Jimmy Saville – another OBE, whom Margaret Thatcher deemed “marvelous,” they shower hospital care on one Pakistani girl allegedly shot by turbaned Taliban for demanding the right to education.

England and their NATO allies also finance those retrograde ‘interests’ who shot her – including operatives famed for throwing acid at women for attending university. Their media certainly won’t describe the little girls recently killed by ‘extrajudicial’ US/NATO drones. The over-175 children already ‘droned,’ have no English names.

Then again, it’s October. August signals when most capitalist industrial manufacturers retool for the coming year. September marks when most banks crash. Their October begins by commemorating Genoan mass-murderer Christopher Columbus, and ends in the faux-scary corporate festival of Hallowe’en! Backstage, the world’s biggest war-makers dig their claws into massive chunks of national budgets, including those beyond their borders, even as they’re already shaping 2014 budget requests to the US Congress in February. The actual 2012 US ‘national security’ budget of over $1.3 trillion outstrips the next top-ten altogether: China, England, France, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Germany, India and Brazil.

Accompanying such budgetary maneuvers, menacing headlines usually climax in the North Atlantic, as the last leaves fall, revealing skeleton-stark trees, while people’s anxieties deepen with the coming winter. Their own media rarely ask: why they must, “keep pushing fear on the US taxpayer?”

Domestically, white frenzies about ‘terrorists’ easily echo the old shrieking to rouse Injun-scalping posses, Black-lynching vigilantes, anti-union scabs. The outside world instead sees Hollywood’s hourly TV shows depicting blacks and whites living harmoniously.

Fear of a Black Planet
African-American rapper Tupac Shakur, whose songs still make millions for the US music industry, was born to Black Panther Party cadre. The BPP were once the only US representatives recognized by the Chinese government, at a time when capitalists denied China entry into the UN (until US President Nixon crawled on bended Kissingerial knee to the Middle Kingdom).

Many BPP members, like those of the American Indian Movement, were massacred in the 1960s-70s. Several BPP and AIM members languish in prison – the most famous being Leonard Peltier, Lakota-Sioux defender of the sacred Black Hills (from where the great rivers flow into Canada and the US). Peltier like his revered forebear Tatanka Iyotanka (Sitting Bull) was ‘deported’ into a US prison by the Canadian state.

Tupac never saw the new century dawn. He was killed for exceeding the archetypes beloved by music capitalists: of drugs, guns, pimping and nihilism – of drugs that don’t heal, of guns only long enough to shoot your own people, of prostitution that turns men into slave-owners, of a nihilism that cannot grow beyond capitalism.

Tupac’s aunt, famed US political prisoner Assata Shakur, now safe in Cuba, describes herself as “a 20th century escaped slave.” When in prison, a jailer handed her a broom and told her to sweep. Assata refused, saying, “I ain’t no slave.” The jailer then showed her the jailhouse-copy of the US constitution: its 13th Amendment declares US slavery abolished, except in prison! (Yes, when perusing the fine prose of constitutions, always read the last few words!)

Assata’s autobiography also notes: the 1857 US Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision that a black man was two-thirds of a white man, is still blatant in present-day wage differentials: Workers ‘of color’ in Anglo-North America are paid two-thirds what their white counterparts get!

Jailhouse Gold
Black folks usually gain job-skills or advanced education either by joining the military, or going to prison. More than 60% of US prisoners are ‘of color’! The US government’s Federal Prison Industries Corporation exploits labor from prisons, as labor laws don’t apply. Imprisoned workers, often paid just 23 cents an hour, are exposed to toxic materials, without legal recourse, usually making products for the war department. Inmates make “complex parts” for missile systems, battleship anti-aircraft guns, and landmine sweepers, as well as night-vision goggles, body armor, camouflage uniforms.

Wells Fargo, another bank recently wrist-slapped for bankrupting US municipalities, invests mutual-funds in the three largest profiteering US prison companies. They also spend millions shaping media and lobbying for laws to detain migrants and their families in such prisons!

Most people vote for ‘nobody’ in US elections – a phenomenon cuing poet Gil Scott Heron to note: “Nobody is President!” Yet millions of US citizens with prison records, including one in ten African-Americans, aren’t allowed to vote in US elections.

Regardless who becomes the Drone Ranger next month, the Euro-Amerikan juggernaut keeps blundering onwards. Yet Yaka reminds again of those Jamaican lyrics: “None of them can stop the time!”

yakhanda@yahoo.com

http://www.nation.lk/edition/columns/yak-handa/item/11929-yaka-ack-acks-the-drone-rangers.html
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Angelina Jolie on Thanksgiving

‘Angelina Jolie Refuses to Celebrate Thanksgiving, Feels It’s a ‘Story of Murder” by Susan Bates

While everyone is preparing to give thanks this November, one of America’s most famous families, the Jolie-Pitts, have decided to sit this Thanksgiving out.

“Angelina Jolie hates this holiday and wants no part in rewriting history like so many other Americans,” a friend of the actress has said.

“To celebrate what the white settlers did to the native Indians, the domination of one culture over another, just isn’t her style. She definitely doesn’t want to teach her multi-cultural family how to celebrate a story of murder.”

Angelina has been filming her directorial debut, about a Serbian man and Bosnian woman who fall in love during the Bosnian War. Angie, always extremely sensitive to the suffering throughout the world, is filming in English and the native languages.

“Angelina gets so grossed out by Thanksgiving that she has made sure her family will not be in America this year during the Holiday,” the friend had said.

And although Brad Pitt recently told ‘EXTRA,’ “We’ll whip up a turkey somewhere,” he certainly hasn’t shared that plan with Angelina. A family friend tells me, “If Brad wants turkey, he will have to cook it himself. For Angie, it will be another day when America tries to rewrite history.” (Source)

The REAL Story of Thanksgiving

Most of us associate the holiday with happy Pilgrims and Indians sitting down to a big feast. And that did happen – once.

The story began in 1614 when a band of English explorers sailed home to England with a ship full of Patuxet Indians bound for slavery. They left behind smallpox which virtually wiped out those who had escaped. By the time the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts Bay they found only one living Patuxet Indian, a man named Squanto who had survived slavery in England and knew their language. He taught them to grow corn and to fish, and negotiated a peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Nation. At the end of their first year, the Pilgrims held a great feast honoring Squanto and the Wampanoags.

But as word spread in England about the paradise to be found in the new world, religious zealots called Puritans began arriving by the boat load. Finding no fences around the land, they considered it to be in the public domain. Joined by other British settlers, they seized land, capturing strong young Natives for slaves and killing the rest. But the Pequot Nation had not agreed to the peace treaty Squanto had negotiated and they fought back. The Pequot War was one of the bloodiest Indian wars ever fought.

In 1637 near present day Groton, Connecticut, over 700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe had gathered for their annual Green Corn Festival which is our Thanksgiving celebration. In the predawn hours the sleeping Indians were surrounded by English and Dutch mercenaries who ordered them to come outside. Those who came out were shot or clubbed to death while the terrified women and children who huddled inside the longhouse were burned alive. The next day the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared “A Day Of Thanksgiving” because 700 unarmed men, women and children had been murdered.

Cheered by their “victory”, the brave colonists and their Indian allies attacked village after village. Women and children over 14 were sold into slavery while the rest were murdered. Boats loaded with a many as 500 slaves regularly left the ports of New England. Bounties were paid for Indian scalps to encourage as many deaths as possible.

Following an especially successful raid against the Pequot in what is now Stamford, Connecticut, the churches announced a second day of “thanksgiving” to celebrate victory over the heathen savages. During the feasting, the hacked off heads of Natives were kicked through the streets like soccer balls. Even the friendly Wampanoag did not escape the madness. Their chief was beheaded, and his head impaled on a pole in Plymouth, Massachusetts — where it remained on display for 24 years.

The killings became more and more frenzied, with days of thanksgiving feasts being held after each successful massacre. George Washington finally suggested that only one day of Thanksgiving per year be set aside instead of celebrating each and every massacre. Later Abraham Lincoln decreed Thanksgiving Day to be a legal national holiday during the Civil War — on the same day he ordered troops to march against the starving Sioux in Minnesota.

This story doesn’t have quite the same fuzzy feelings associated with it as the one where the Indians and Pilgrims are all sitting down together at the big feast. But we need to learn our true history so it won’t ever be repeated. Next Thanksgiving, when you gather with your loved ones to Thank God for all your blessings, think about those people who only wanted to live their lives and raise their families. They, also took time out to say “thank you” to Creator for all their blessings.

By Susan Bates

View complete text, a video and photos at the origin:
http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2012/10/angelina-jolie-refuses-to-celebrate.html

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