Sunday, 19 January 2014

New Blog

After a number of years of not updating this blog, I have finally gotten around to restarting my blogging.  I am doing so at so please check me out there.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Hanzala: The Conscience of Palestine

I have been busy at work recently and have not been motivated when I come home to update my blog even though there were a few issues I wanted to write about. I am going to do a little “cheating” and backdate some entries in the next few days. Today’s post is about Naji al-Ali, the Palestinian artist who died on August 29th, 1987 after being shot in London a few weeks before on July 22nd.

Ali was born in Palestine in 1937 but the creation of Israel and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their ancestral homelands meant that in 1948, he was forced to leave for Ain Al-Helwa, a refugee camp in Lebanon.

It was this experience of forced exile as a young boy and growing up in a refugee camp that one witnesses in his creation of the cartoon character Hanzala. Hanzala, which means bitterness, was born homeless, in a refugee camp in southern Lebanon, and quickly became a symbol of the loss, the despair, the courage and the hope of Palestinian refugees everywhere. In all of the hundreds of images in which he is featured, Hanzala’s face is either obscured or turned away from viewers and his hands clasped behind his back. Hanzala it is said, will never show his face until he returns home to Palestine.

In an article on Hanzala, Ali wrote:

"I had friends with whom I shared my work, protests, and prison days until one day they became "tanabel" running businesses and buying stocks. I was worried about myself from turning to a "tanabal" too and being consumed. In the Gulf I gave birth to this child and offered him to the people. He is committed to the people that will cherish him. I drew him as an ugly child, with hedgehock-like hair because the hedgehock uses its hair as a weapon.

Hanzala is not a fat spoilt comfortable child, he is bare footed like the other bare feet from the refugee camps. He is an icon that protects me from wrong and disarray and despite his looks he has a pure heart with a conscience that smells like musk and unbar and for his sake I am ready to kill anyone who intends to harm him. His hands are clasped behind his back as a sign of rejection during a phase that this region is undergoing with "solutions" offered by the US and "the system". I made the shape of his hands after the October war when I smelt the scent of developments in Kissinger's briefcase.

Hanzala was born at the age of ten and will always remain ten. At that age I left my country and only when Hanzala returns to Palestine will he grow up and exceed the age of ten. The rules of nature do not apply on him. He is an exception and things will only be natural in his case when he returns to Palestine. The child is a symbolic representation of myself and the group who lives and endures the situation we are all in. I offered him to the readers and called him Hanzala as a symbol of bitterness. In the beginning I offered him as a Palestinian child and with the development of his awareness he had a patriotic and a human outlook."

In another explanation, he stated:

"This child, as you can see is neither beautiful, spoilt, nor even well-fed. He is barefoot like manychildren in refugee camps. He is actually ugly and no woman would wish to have a child like him. However, those who came to know 'Hanzala', as I discovered and later adopted him because he is affectionate, honest, outspoken, and a bum. He is an icon that stands to watch me from slipping. And his hands behind his back are a symbol of rejection of all the present negative tides in our region."

Though he was never aligned to any political party or movement, his art was inherently political and critical of not only the brutal Israeli occupation and its American patrons but also the Arab governments who had let their Palestinian brothers down. His angry, sarcastic cartoons which sometimes bordered on despair won him many enemies but Ali believed his work was part of the fight against injustice and oppression:

"I started to use drawing as a form of political expression while in Lebanese jails. I was detained by the Deuxi'me Bureau (the Lebanese intelligence service) as a result of the measures the Bureau were undertaking to contain political activities in the Palestinian camps during the sixties. I drew on the prison walls and subsequently Ghassan Kanafani, a journalist and publisher of al-Huria magazine – he was assassinated in Beirut in 1971 - saw some of those drawings and encouraged me to continue, and eventually published some of my cartoons."

"Working for al-Safir newspaper in Beirut in 1971 was the best part of my life, and the most productive. There, surrounded by the violence of many army, and finally by the Israeli invasion, I stood facing it all with my pen every day. I never felt fear, failure or despair, and I didn't surrender. I faced armies with cartoons and drawings of flowers, hope and bullets. Yes, hope is essential, always. My work in Beirut made me once again closer to the refugees in the camps, the poor, and the harassed."

"When I was younger I thought I would actually be able to help achieve all our aspirations for independence, unity, justice. Many died for those aspirations and things are only getting worse. That, certainly, can make one; despair. But more than ever, I feel a sense of duty to go on doing what I have to and can do."

Ali was assassinated at the beginning of the first Palestinian Intifada. Twenty years later, images of Hanzala continue to persist throughout Palestine, the Middle East and indeed the world and his legacy remains strong as dozens of artists throughout the region use him as an inspiration. Hanzala will one day return home and turn to face us, smiling.

The official Naji Al-Ali website can be found here, while these (1, 2, 3 and 4) are some interesting sites with articles etc.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Let Your Motto Be Resistance

African-American history and the fight of black Americans for their rights is a subject that is of great interest to me. In addition, I love photography, so it was natural that I thoroughly enjoyed an exhibit I went to see on Saturday at the International Center of Photography entitled Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits. The exhibition explores African-American history and achievements through the medium of photography and included portraits by both famous photographers such as James VanDerZee, Gordon Parks, Irving Penn and Carl Van Vechten and unknown or lesser-known known photographers.

Information about the exhibition can be seen on the ICP website.

I then spent about four hours in Bryant Park talking with a friend about topics ranging from but not limited to racism, black and white America, Barbados and the Caribbean to climate change, genetic engineering and organic food and New York. All in all, an intellectually fulfilling day!

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Literacy and Healthcare: Cuba, Venezuela and the USA

Education and healthcare are considered by most countries to be a right and not a privilege. Sadly many developing countries struggle to provide even the most basic of health and education to their citizens due to the fact that they simply cannot fiscally afford to. There are also a few countries rich enough to provide both to their population but don’t view either as a right.

I read an article today which noted that one in four Americans did not read a book last year and it brought to mind another article I read recently about a unique approach to promoting literacy in Venezuela. The programme uses mules to transport books to remote communities which would not normally have access to libraries.

Health care and insurance are major political issues in the US, the world’s richest country, where so many people are unable to afford basic healthcare and one of the news items today concerned a city health department report which states that one in six New Yorkers do not have health insurance. It made me recall an article of a few weeks ago about Cuban trained US doctors.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Of Migratory Birds, Recycling Roma, Palm Oil and Disappearing Deltas

Some interesting articles I came across in the past few weeks and thought I would share:

Article one is about the destruction of ancestral land and rainforest in Western Kalimantan in order to grow palm oil plants. The growing demand for palm oil products in India, China and Europe and which Indonesia is hoping to cash in on is having a negative effect on the native Dayak Kanayan people. I had posted about Borneo, palm oil and the Penan people in a previous post.

The second article is also about environmental degradation, this time in the Indus river delta region in southern Pakistan. Keti Bandar was once a thriving river port but it is now struggling to keep from being submerged and it appears as if it will go the way of another nearby town, Kharo Chhan, which in 1946 used to be part of the mainland but is now an island about 30 minutes’ boat ride from the shore. Significant irrigation infrastructure and over extraction of water are the causes cited by experts for this sad situation- displacement of people, dwindling poultry and livestock, sea intrusion, shortage of drinking water etc.

The third article is about a rare colony of flamingos leaving Camargue, a marshy region in southern France. The birds have nested on an artificial island in the delta of the River Rhone for thirty years but a strike at the local saltworks has meant that no saltwater from the Mediterranean has been pumped into the lagoon in which the island sits. The brine shrimp in the area and its relative safety provide ideal breeding ground for the flamingo. There is however hope for the flamingos as the saltworks and employees seem to be heading to a solution which will include conservation efforts.

Climate change is being blamed for a drop in the numbers of migratory birds visiting Britain each winter and is the subject of the fourth article.

Philosophy and Recycling in Albania is about the Roma community in Albania and their efforts at recycling and reusing scrap. One of the persons mentioned in the article is a chemist whose job is to assess the toxic levels of the country’s dumps but whose real passion is translating the works of Bertrand Russell from English into Albanian.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Of Colonialism, Partition and Legacies

I have an absolute hatred of colonialism and imperialism and I don’t mince my words about this. As far as I am concerned Europe’s imperialism and colonialism were brutal, exploitative, oppressive systems and there was nothing positive about it. There are apologists including from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East who try to point to supposed benefits of European domination such as education systems, infrastructure and governmental structures. The fact is that all those places that the Europeans went to possessed their own way of living, dynamic cultures and systems of governance and the only positives from the experience were felt by Europe who enriched herself at the expense of black and brown people and on their blood, sweat and tears. Obviously there were cronies and traitors who collaborated with the oppressors for a few pieces of silver.

All of this brings me to the date August 15th when the British formally ended their physical colonisation of India and two nations were born through a disastrous partition- India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan celebrated their 60th anniversary of independence on August 14th and 15th respectively.

60 years on, India rivals China and Brazil for the status of new economic power while Pakistan grapples with political unrest and economic stagnation. The central question that remains to this day is whether partition was the correct decision. It is a difficult question to answer.

Oppressed people inevitably rise up to fight their oppressors and it was no different in India. By the end of the 19th century, nationalist movements had started to become stronger and by the beginning of the 20th century were calling for the end of the British presence. The were organised largely along the lines of religion- Hindu and Muslim- with the Congress Party representing the majority Hindu population and the Muslim League representing the minority Muslims. British divide and rule policies which worked so well throughout its empire also reaped much success for them in India and allowed for their dominance.

The 1930s and 1940s saw increased calls by the Muhammad Ali Jinnah led Muslim League for a Muslim state to accompany the exit of the British and this was not helped by the non-reconciliatory position of the Congress Party which further convinced Jinnah and his party that a separate state was the only solution. The end of World War Two and the economic realities of Britain made it clear that the practical move for the British would be to grant India independence. The Labour Party won the 1945 elections and Lord Mountbatten was dispatched to India as the last viceroy in March 1947 with an agenda to transfer power as quickly as possible. The deadline for British withdrawal was brought forward from June 1948 to August 1947 and on August 15th, the British formally ended their rule of India. The months preceding the exit had witnessed all manner of discord, rioting, communal fighting and unrest and this only served to cement the British view that they needed to leave as quickly as possible.

Many historians have argued that this hasty withdrawal was one of the major causes for what happened next- the largest ever migration of people as 10 million Hindus and Muslims made the move into India/ Pakistan. Ironically, the borders of the new states were only announced on August 17th. They had been drawn up by a British lawyer, Cyril Radcliffe, who had no knowledge of local conditions and who used outdated maps and census information. Communities and families were cut into two and estimates put the figure of people killed in the resulting slaughter and riots at one million- a tragic loss of human life.

While both countries inherited ruined economies, poverty, social and economic malaise and instability, in 1947 it was obvious that India had gained much more than Pakistan from the partition. Pakistan was a state made up of two parts separated by India- West Pakistan and East Pakistan- and this logistical nightmare for effective governance would result in East Pakistan becoming independent Bangladesh in 1971 after a brutal civil war in which India intervened on the side of East Pakistan. Pakistan only inherited 17.5% of the colonial government’s financial reserves and by the time the army was paid, there was no funding remaining for economic development. Its economy was mostly agricultural and controlled by feudal elites while 90% of the subcontinent's industry, and taxable income base remained in India, including the largest cities of Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta. The core of the Muslim League’s support was based in central north India- Utter Pradesh- and as such, those Muslims had to migrate westwards into Pakistan. This meant competition with local populations for access to resources and employment, a recipe for conflict.

The issue of Kashmir also erupted shortly after independence and resulted in a war between the two new states. Kashmir was a princely state with a Muslim population but ruled by a Hindu Maharaja who faced with an uprising at partition fled Kashmir and decided to cede it to India. Pakistani tribals moved into the area and clashed with Indian troops and this intensified into outright war. The war ended in 1948 and a ceasefire came into effect on Dec 31st, 1948. Kashmir was divided into two with the ceasefire line known as the Line of Control demarcating the pseudo-border. The UN Security Council called for a plebiscite in the region to enable the people there to determine their own future. While Pakistan claims that it in principle accepts a plebiscite, India has refused to agree to one. In 1989 an armed insurgency rose up against the Indian presence and it continues to this day. I visited Kashmir in 1999 for a few weeks during my four month trip to India. It is a beautiful place and it is so sad that the wonderful people there have had to live in the midst of political conflict. I am sure if they are given the chance, they would overwhelmingly choose to be an independent nation.

Jinnah’s death, ethnic and religious differences and the inability to agree on a constitution paved the way for a military coup in 1958 and since then Pakistan has mostly been ruled by the army. Indian secularists managed to gain an upper hand, a constitution was ratified and democratic elections were held in 1951, making India the world’s largest democracy. India has however not spared from ethnic and religious conflict and tensions between Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs and Hindus have often turned violent. While India’s economy continues to grow phenomenally, the disparities between rich and poor are extreme and in both India and Pakistan a large proportion of the population live in poverty.

A look at India and Pakistan today makes one wonder if all the bloodshed, suffering and billions of dollars spent on defence were worth it. On the one hand, an undivided Indian subcontinent would have been much more economically viable and definitely so for Pakistan and Bangladesh. It also is rather ironic that in 1947 far more Muslims were left in India than incorporated into the Muslim state. One wonders about the political strength of this combined Muslim body in an undivided India. While it would still be a minority bloc it would be much larger than what it is today. On the other hand, the violence met out to Muslims at different points since independence and most recently in Gujarat in 2004, the rise of Hindu fanaticism, the election of Hindu nationalists who view India solely as a Hindu country to government and events such as the destruction of the Ayodha mosque in 1992 seem to confirm the fears of the Muslim League for Muslims in a majority Hindu India.

It is a complex situation that historians will continue to grapple with and disagree about for years to come. What is most striking though is that while millions of people go hungry every day and lack access to basic health, water and education in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, billions of dollars are spent on arms and weapons.

Monday, 13 August 2007

New York City, Indian Victories, Biomechanics and Left-handedness

I’ve been lazy about writing recently even though there were a number of issues that I had thoughts about. I’ve decided to just do a “digest” today!

New York City

New York City experienced an unforgettable summer in 1977: scorching heat, a crippling July power blackout which saw widespread arson and looting and resulted in millions of dollars worth of damage, a serial killer dubbed the Son of Sam, rising crime and financial crisis.

Fast forward thirty years and there seems to be no improvement. A few inches of rain last week caused total chaos in the city, disrupting the entire transport system for hours. A few weeks ago a manhole cover blew up causing one death and traffic chaos in mid-town Manhattan up until a few days ago. Add to that the huge power outage in Queens last year and the black out that affected the entire North East corridor in 2004. In other words NYC is pretending to be a first world city when in reality it isn’t. The subway system is archaic, nasty, inefficient and expensive, the city streets are dirty and smelly and sidewalks are forever overflowing with garbage bags and stink of dog urine and faeces. The traffic is unbearable and the air polluted. Housing standards are poor unless you are rich and can afford decent accommodation. Similarly if you cannot afford insurance forget about proper health care. Now, don’t get me wrong- I generally like living in NYC because there is so much else to it beyond some of the negatives I have listed. My problem is with those Americans and New Yorkers who act as if their way of life is the only way to live, as if their city/country is the best in the world and who complain incessantly about the minutest of inconveniences they experience when travelling overseas.

Speaking of New York City, Thursday, August 9th marked 10 years since the day Abner Louima was beaten, brutalised and sexually assaulted by NYPD officers. Louima had intervened in a fight between two women and was arrested by police who were summoned. He was beaten up on the way to the police station and then further beaten up and sodomised with a plunge while there. Louima suffered massive internal injuries as a result and several of his teeth were also broken when the plunger was forced into his mouth! When he was finally taken to the hospital, the police alleged he had received them from abnormal homosexual activities- a nurse who doubted the claim raised the alarm. The police tried to cover up but protests and public outrage meant that some of the guilty persons were punished. Some were acquitted because of technicalities! Fox News and one of its right wing ideologues Sean Hannity backed the police and insisted that Louima had sustained his injuries through homosexual activity. The main perpetrator Justin Volpe confessed to sodomising Louima with the help of another officer and changed his plea to guilty during the trial. Fox News still continues to spread its right wing propaganda and lies and 10 years later, black or indeed Muslim men would be foolish to assume that their basic human rights are assured in this city!

Indian Overseas Victory

India won a rare overseas victory and their first in England since 1986 when the last test was drawn. A 1-0 margin may not seem great but to rebound and totally outplay England in the last two matches after fighting to save the Lord’s test is testament to the team unity, belief and spirit in this team that combined youth and experience. The English are as usual whinging! What makes the Indian victory even more gratifying to everyone who dislikes the English team is that it came in the face of sledging and unsportsmanlike behaviour from most of the England players.

Foot and Knee

Therapy for my knee is coming along fine and I finally got rid of the cane over the weekend. I had actually stopped using it for two days in between but had to start back because my limp came back with a vengeance! My foot is still not used to all the walking, weight bearing and work shoes and I have decided to wear semi-casual shoes/loafers and no tie to work in August as there are hardly any meetings going on. If there is a meeting I wear a suit and proper footwear. I was actually becoming worried about my painful foot and went to the podiatrist last week Tuesday. His partner was there and attended to me as he has done the other two times I was there. Basically it is just a matter of my foot getting accustomed to normal usage and until it does so I will feel discomfort. Biomechanics also play a part as some tendons are still tight from lack of use and so other tendons overcompensate and then hurt.

Lefthanders Day

Today is left-handers day- A day for left-handed people to celebrate their left-handedness and raise public awareness about being left-handed. I have no idea if I am right of left-handed. The usual indicator used by society is the hand one writes with so on that basis I would be considered right-handed. However, I can also write with my left hand but having never practised, not very well- not that my writing done with my right hand looks much better! I play all sports with my left hand/foot. There are some things I can do comfortably with both, some with only one, for example, if I am hammering I use my right but if I am chopping with a cutlass I have to use my left, I prefer to use a mouse with my left but I can also use it with my right, I dial and text on my mobile with my left but I dial on my home phone with my right, when I point at something or I react if something is dropped it’s with my left hand, I stir coffee or pots with either and I serve food from pots and bowls with either, I use the remote control in my left and I cannot imagine shifting gears with my right. I always thought that I read magazines and newspapers from back to front because of being taught Arabic and Urdu (Arabic and Urdu script like most Eastern languages go from right to left) from a young age but it seems as if most lefthanders also do this!

Left-handedness is genetic and about 10% of people worldwide are left-handed. One of my four sisters is totally left-handed and cannot do anything with her right. She has a left-handed daughter. The other three are right-handed but one of them has two children that are both left-handed. As for me, I like to think I am non-conformist- physical reaction as an extension of my thought process!