Revolution is in the Air: 3/30/11: repression in Bahrain: not in the US press

INDEX

The WikIileaks News & Views Blog for Wednesday, Day 123

from The Nation Blogs: Media Fix by Greg Mitchell

EVENTS

IMPERIALISM IN WORD & DEED

HISTORY & ANALYSIS

Headlines for March 30, 2011

The WikIileaks News & Views Blog for Wednesday, Day 123

from The Nation Blogs: Media Fix by Greg Mitchell
EVENTS

repression in Bahrain: not in the US press

Another source in Bahrain sent me this:  “They are arresting people left and right now.  Its crazy.  EVERYONE is getting arrested.  It doesn’t matter who.  They even arrested Bahraini blogger Mahmood Al Yousif (at 3 am by the way).  I really have no idea why he would be arrested.  I mean look at his blog.  Its really tame.  All he is known for is making “No Sunni No Shii just Bahraini” badges and calling for my internet freedom.  I mean, yes he supported the February 14 movement but really thats about it.  Arresting him is a new low.  Now that he is arrested, they might as well arrest everyone who has ever blogged, tweeted, or posted facebook messages calling for reform (because he was calling for reform and not regime change).  Basically – we can no longer have opinions in Bahrain.  Here is his blog.”

Hundreds of thousands march in Yemen; al-Qaeda back in action?

from World War 4 Report blogs by WW4 Report

Hundreds of thousands of protesters again took to the streets in Yemen on March 30—despite a new offer from the President Ali Abdullah Saleh to remain in office until the end of the year but only in a ceremonial role. Opposition officials negotiating with the president said that Saleh’s offer would see him handing over the bulk of his powers to a transitional ruling council until elections are held at the end of the year. The opposition said it is still considering its response, but protesters accused Saleh of stalling and seeking unduly to influence the appointment of his successor. “The president throws his different cards here and there every minute and every day and manoeuvres… in an attempt to remain in power,” said Mohammed Qahtan the parliamentary opposition’s spokesman. (The Telegraph, March 30)

read more

Qaddafi Forces Advance on All Fronts Despite Bombardment

from Informed Comment by Juan

Leaders of much of the world agreed that Qaddafi must go on Wednesday morning at a conference in Europe.

Canadian jets pounded an ammunition dump on Wednesday morning near the beleaguered city of Misrata. US naval vessels launched Tomahawks at munitions storage points in Tripoli. And US ships fired on and chased away ships of the Libyan navy, which had been harassing merchant vessels carrying goods to the harbor of Misrata.

Qaddafi’s forces continued to try to take all of Misrata on Tuesday, pounding the city center with tank and artillery fire. The rebels made a stand at the harbor district and insisted that they continued to control it.

Likewise, Qaddafi sent reinforcements to the tank brigade that has been attacking the southwestern rural town of Zintan, among the first cities to have defied him

Qaddafi’s forces also pushed back the rag tag military forces from Ben Jawad. back to Ra’s Lanuf.

Qaddafi’s response to the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 calling for the protection of Libyan civilians has been to launch a wideranging war against his opponents, with an eye toward consolidating his territory in the west (Zintan, Misrata, Ra’s Lanuf) in ways that the no-fly zone cannot impede.

Likely these advances will provoke further aerial intervention in coming days, leveling the playing field for the rebels.

Euronews has video:

Libya: Qaddafi surges east again as rebels appeal for aid

from World War 4 Report blogs by WW4 Report

Moammar Qaddafi’s forces pushed the Libyan rebels back to the east March 20, re-taking towns they had ceded just days ago. Rebel forces have now been pushed east of Brega and are headed for Ajdabiyah. Even amid Qaddafi’s advance, his foreign minister Moussa Koussa defected to the UK. The first Allied air-strikes on Libya’s east in two days were carried out, to check the Qaddafi forces’ advance on Ajdabiyah. The Obama administration has reportedly sent teams of CIA operatives into Libya to establish ties with the rebels, amid growing calls for the US to arm the rebel forces. “No decision has been made about providing arms to the opposition or to any groups in Libya,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney. “We’re not ruling it out or ruling it in.” French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe also raised the possibility. “This is not allowed by either Resolution 1973 or Resolution 1970. For the time being, France is sticking to the strict application of these resolutions,” Juppe said. “Having said that, we are prepared to discuss this with our partners.” (NYTNYT, March 31; APReuters,ReutersPTIMiddle East Online, March 30)

read more

Meet the “leaders” of the Libyan “revolution”

“But oddly, the Libyan revolution has been led by inauspicious technocrats from within the Gadhafi regime. One of these is Mahmoud Jibril, a US-educated professor who became secretary of the national planning council under Gadhafi.   Jibril spent years working with Gadhafi’s son Saif on political and economic reforms, and while many of those efforts were stifled by reactionary elements in the regime, the job put him in contact with international diplomats…But the chairman of the National Council is Mustafa Abdel Jalil, who was much more of a public figure under Gadhafi. He rose through Libya’s legal system to become justice minister...” (thanks Sultan)

Sharif Abdel Kouddous Transitions from Democracy Now! Senior Producer to Middle East Correspondent

Play_sharif3Democracy Now! bids a fond farewell to Sharif Abdel Kouddous, our senior news producer for the past eight years. Kouddous joined Democracy Now! in 2003 just as the United States invaded Iraq. He was soon covering Iraq and then returned to produce the daily show, traveling to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, to the climate change conferences in Copenhagen, Bolivia and Cancun, and together with Amy Goodman to Haiti to cover the return of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide just weeks ago. During the popular uprising in Egypt, Kouddous became the eyes and ears of Cairos’ Tahrir Square as he reported throughout the uprising. Kouddous is heading home to Egypt and will continue his work reporting as a Democracy Now! correspondent.

IMPERIALISM IN WORD & DEED

Tunisia speaks: Israel surprised

“On Sunday, the Israeli cabinet signed off on a package of funding to help Tunisian Jews move to Israel, citing “the worsening of the Tunisian authorities’ and society’s attitude toward the Jewish community, as well as the difficult economic situation that has been created in the country since the revolution.”   That drew a furious response from the Tunisian foreign ministry, which condemned Israel’s “interference” in the country’s internal affairs by offering financial incentives to encourage Jews to emigrate.  It also prompted the leader of the Jewish community in Tunisia to criticise the Israeli government for its offer and say that “no Jew is going to leave the country.”  The ministry expressed “great regret” over what it described as “a malicious call to Tunisian citizens to immigrate to Israel in an attempt to damage the image of Tunisia after the revolution and to create suspicion about its security, its economy and its stability.  “Tunisia is outraged by the statements… (from) a country which still denies the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, shamefully defying international law,” it said.   The strongly worded statement sparked surprise in Israel.”

Is the Libyan opposition Kosher, asks a top US diplomat?

“Gene A. Cretz, the American ambassador to Libya, said last week that he was impressed by the democratic instincts of the opposition leaders and that he did not believe that they were dominated by extremists. But he acknowledged that there was no way to know if they were “100 percent kosher, so to speak.””
HISTORY & ANALYSIS

FYI: On Libya

from Raj Patel by Raj

The staff at Focus on the Global South put together this announcement last week. Given today’s news from Syria, and President Assad’s finger-pointing at outside intervention, Focus’ position is prescient and pressing. Original here.

End the US-led Armed Intervention in Libya

(Statement of Focus on the Global South, March 22, 2011)

Focus on the Global South supports the democratic opposition in Libya that seeks to end the 43-year-old dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi. Focus shares the Libyan people’s desire to be free of a corrupt and repressive ruler who does not hesitate to employ massive force against his own people to hang on to power.

Focus cannot, however, support the massive armed intervention launched by the United States, France, and Britain on Sunday, March 20.

A “No Fly Zone” to protect civilians is one thing. An armed assault aimed at regime change is another thing altogether. The latter is the intent of the US/UK/French-led intervention, which, although displaying the figleaf of a United Nations Security Council resolution, goes far beyond the defensive aims of a no-fly zone to cross over into aggression against Libya.

Firing on ground troops and preemptively and indiscriminately destroying anti-aircraft installations will bring about precisely that loss of life that the intervention ostensibly seeks to prevent. Civilians are being killed by the western assault when civilians were supposedly the very people the action was supposed to protect.

The fight for democracy waged by the Libyan people must be supported, but not by western military action that is an instrument of regime change. This action may ostensibly have humanitarian objectives, but its main objective is to reassert western hegemony in a region that is caught up in the winds of democratic change.

Owing to its support for authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, the US has lost much of its credibility among the Arab peoples. Indeed, the US may be said to be one of the targets of the Arab democratic revolution. In this context, the intervention in Libya for regime change is Washington’s belated attempt to appear as a pro-democratic force, shore up its tattered legitimacy, and remind the Arab nations of its strategic hegemony in the region. Yet the world will not miss the hypocrisy of a hegemon which shouts that it is supporting democracy in Libya while it stands on the side as a reactionary regime it has armed and supported, Saudi Arabia, has invaded and is crushing democratic forces in Bahrain.

The West’s “armed intervention for democracy “ will not advance the cause of democracy. Indeed, it will discredit it by associating democracy with a western show of force. The intervention in Libya risks stoking forces as powerful as the democratic movement: Arab nationalism and Islamic solidarity. It will end up creating conflicts among movements which should be complementary, and the only victor will be western hegemony.

We in Focus on the Global South call for an immediate end to the US/UK/French-led war on Libya.

We call on global civil society and on governments throughout the world to support the Libyan people’s struggle for democracy against Gaddafi.

We ask especially the democratic movements in Tunisia and Egypt to come to the aid of the Libyan people.

We call for an end to all efforts to maintain or reassert US hegemony in the Middle East.

WEDNESDAY, MAR 30, 2011 11:31 ET

The wisdom and legality of arming Libyan rebels

The wisdom and legality of arming Libyan rebels

AP/Anja Niedringhaus
A Libyan rebel outside of Bin Jawaad on Tuesday.

Whatever one thinks about the U.S. involvement in the war in Libya – some substantial portion of my readers support it, though Republicans are more enthused about the U.S. taking a leading role — it has unquestionably departed far from the claims that were made about in the beginning. The no-fly zone was established long ago; the focus is now on attacking Gadaffi’s ground forces, enabling rebel advancements, and regime change. Despite claims about Arab League and French leadership, the U.S. has provided the overwhelming bulk of bombs, jet fighters, intelligence and other resources. And now there is what The New York Times calls a “fierce debate” within the administration about whether to arm the Libyan rebels. Two points about all of this:

First, The Washington Post yesterday reported that “the U.S. military dramatically stepped up its assault on Libyan government ground forces over the weekend, launching its first missions with AC-130 flying gunships and A-10 attack aircraft designed to strike enemy ground troops and supply convoys.” The Post article aptly explained the significance of this development:

The use of the aircraft, during days of heavy fighting in which the momentum seemed to swing in favor of the rebels, demonstrated how allied military forces have been drawn deeper into the chaotic fight in Libya. A mission that initially seemed to revolve around establishing a no-fly zone has become focused on halting advances by government ground forces in and around key coastal cities. . . . AC-130s were used to great effect during the two U.S. offensives in Fallujah, a stronghold of the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq in the early days of the Iraq war.

Moreover:

Military officials consider AC-130s and A-10s well suited to attacks in built-up areas, although their use has led to civilian deaths. Unlike fighter jets and bombers, which typically carry 500- or 1,000-pound bombs, the AC-130s and A-10s deliver more discriminate but still devastating machine-gun fire.

That the war expanded that quickly and that substantially is an obviously significant fact to know. But, as FAIR’s Peter Hart notesthe Post knew about this development for at least a week but concealed it from their readers at the Government’s request; The article included this sentence: “The Washington Post learned of their deployment last week but withheld reporting the information until their first missions at the request of U.S. military officials.”

The classic case for when newspapers justifiably withhold war information is “troop movements” — learning but not reporting in advance where the U.S. intends to deploy troops or mount an attack. But this was not that case. The fact that the U.S. intended to deploy AC-130s was obviously known to the Libyan forces targeted by them; the true significance of reporting this would have been to reveal that the U.S. was involved in a more extensive war effort than was being suggested, and that it extended beyond merely creating a no-fly zone to protect Benghazi. To me, this concealment is more justifiable than, say, theNYT‘s concealment of Raymond Davis’ CIA employment or its year-long non-disclosure of the Bush illegal NSA program — at least there’s an argument to make that disclosing this in advance could help the Enemy by revealing war plans in advance — but it still seems to be a clear case where an American newspaper is acting “patriotically” by withholding newsworthy information to help the U.S. Government propagandize its citizens.

Then there’s the question of the legality of arming Libyan troops. Salon‘s Justin Elliott reported on Monday that the administration was actively considering arming the rebels despite an absolute arms embargo imposed by U.N. Resolution 1970 (“imposing an arms embargo on the country”). Today, The Guardian elaborates by citing numerous legal experts insisting that it would be a violation of the U.N. Resolution for the U.S. to arm the rebels. For its part, the U.S. insists that it is legally entitled to do so, with Hillary Clinton announcing that the arms embargo has been “overriden” by the broad mandate of U.N. Resolution 1973, allowing “all necessary measures” to be used to protect Libyan civilians.

On the strictly legal issue, this seems to be a close question. Can the specific arms embargo really be “overriden” by a general clause allowing the protection of civilians? That seems redolent of the Bush arguments that specific prohibitions in the law (such as the ban on warrantless eavesdropping) were “overriden” by the broad war powers assigned by the AUMF. More to the point, can it really be said that arming Libyan rebels is necessary for the protection of civilians? That sounds much more like what one does to help one side win a civil war.

Ultimately, though, does anyone really think these legal niceties will matter at all if the U.S. decides it wants to arm the Libyan rebels (and yesterday on Democracy Now, University of Trinity Professor Vijay Prashad claimed that one of the key rebel leaders lived in the U.S. — in Vienna, Virgina — for the past 30 years, “a 10-minute drive from Langley, and returned to Benghazi to, in a sense, I think, hijack the rebellion on behalf of the forces of reaction”)? If the U.S. wants to arm the rebels, it will do so regardless of whether it violates any U.N. arms embargo, and few supporters of this war — most of whom justify it by pointing to these U.N. Resolutions — will care very much, if at all. Once wars begin, and positions harden, nothing matters less than legalities.

The real question is the wisdom of this escalated involvement. How many times do we have to arm one side of a civil war — only for that side to then become our Enemy five or ten or fifteen years later — before we learn not to do that any more? I wrote earlier on Twitter, ironically, that one good outcome from arming the Libyan rebels is that it will lay the foundation for our new war 10 years from now — when Commander-in-Chief George Prescott Bush or Chelsea Clinton announce that we must wage war to stop the Libyan faction from threatening its neighbors and supporting Terrorism (with the weapons we provided them back in 2011). One of the most reliable ways that the posture of Endless War has been sustained is by our flooding the world with our weaponsonly to then identify various recipients as our new (well-armed) enemy. Whether this is a feature or a bug, it is a very destructive outcome of our endless and always-escalating involvement in military conflicts around the world.

More on Turkey/Syria

On Monday, I blogged that I thought Turkey’s role in helping urge/midwife a successful push for reform in Syria could be key. I gave a few reasons for this– chiefly, the good relations between the two countries and the length (800 miles) of their common border.

Yesterday, Turkey’s intel chief Hakan Fidan was in Damascus, and reported to have been discussing the need for reform with his hosts. (Meanwhile, Turkish PM Erdogan was in the Kurdish-Iraqi capital of Irbil and the Shiite-Iraqi capital, Najaf. As I tweeted at the time: “It’s hard work running a neo-Ottoman empire!” But really: Erdogan’s outreach to neighbors all round, including to Kurds, has been very notable.)

I’ve written quite a lot about Turkey and Syria on this blog over the past two years– check out the archives, including for reporting from good trips I’ve made to the two countries since summer 2009.

Based on all this, I could summarize my views on what Turkey can “offer” to a democratizing Syria– and, perhaps, to a number of other truly democratizing Middle Eastern countries– as follows:

    * Between them, Turkey’s current AK Party government and its longstanding and increasingly sturdy democratic constitution offer a great model for how a country can both be an open, west-friendly liberal democracy and be ruled by a party that is intentionally mildly Islamist. Turkey’s political history– through the aggressive secularism and tight ethnonationalism of the Kemalists, to the point it has arrived at today– is fascinating. The Kemalists made several good contributions to the country’s political and economic development. But it took the AKP to transcend the boundaries of ethnonationalism that constrained Ankara’s ability to have good relations with most of its neighbors– and indeed, with all those of its own citizens who are not ethnic Turks.

* Turkey offers a great example of a generally peaceful transition from a regime in which the military used to have a commanding sway (underlined by periodic coups and soft coups against the elected government) to one in which the democratic principle of civilian control of the military is now much more deeply entrenched and respected. For Syria, this could be a very valuable lesson– though we need to remember that Syria is still in a state of war with Israel, which continues to occupy (and indeed, has annexed) the strategic Golan region. So the military’s role in politics and society is more complex there than in Turkey. Of course, a truly engaged and fair-minded U.S. diplomacy could– and should– speedily bring an end to Israel’s occupation of the Golan. That would be one of the best contributions Washington could make to democratization in Syria! The record of the peace negotiations of the 1990s (about part of which, I wrote a book for USIP) is a great basis from to start.

* Turkey offers a great economic model to Syria and other Middle Eastern democratizers. The Turkish economy has been booming in recent years– including during the period after the west’s financial collapse of September 2008. It seems to be sturdily structured; and Turkish business leaders (like many other Turkish institutions) have done a great job of extending their contacts, their contracts, and their influence into many areas of the former Ottoman space– as well as the former Soviet space.

* Turkey has offered a great “social” model to Syrians and other Middle Easterners, as well. Syrians at different levels of society with whom I have spoken in recent years emphasize that they strongly welcome the Turkish model as much more attractive than the Iranian model of society, which is the other major pole of influence on governmental thinking.
Indeed, it is not too much of an exaggeration to say that for the past few years many Syrians have been deeply in love with Turkey– for a number of reasons. One of these, certainly, has been the straightforward, principled stance that the AK government has adopted toward Israel. Remember that in 2008, Ankara did a lot to spearhead and facilitate a very promising round of quiet peace talks between Syria and Israel. Then, in December 2008 Israeli PM Olmert abruptly broke off the proximity talks he was holding in Turkey in connection with that effort– and he returned to Israel to launched the assault against Gaza that was so appropriately named “Cast Lead.” The Turks felt completely betrayed and used by Olmert in that regard– a fact that led to Erdogan’s stiff behavior toward Israeli Pres. Shimon Peres at Davos shortly after. But Erdogan felt betrayed precisely because he had been deeply committed to the success of the earlier peace talks. That good motivation and good energy should certainly not be forgotten.

Syrians across the board also really appreciate the kind of lifestyle model they find when they visit Turkey– as, increasingly, they do in droves, thanks to the abolition of visa requirements across the long shared border. Syrian intellectuals wonder earnestly how long it would take their country to catch up with the kind of economy and life they see in eastern Turkey– and that they see portrayed on the many Turkish soap operas that now compete very well, along with their own, Damascus-produced soaps, across the whole Arab media market.

One notable thing that’s happened along the way is that the resentment that an earlier generation of Syrians still felt at the fact that colonial France had gratuitously (in their view) “given away” the whole ethnic-Arab province of Alexandretta to Turkey on the eve of WWII has now just about completely dissipated. That province, now Hatay in Turkey, is just another part of Turkey that Syrians like to visit.

… Well, I don’t have time to write more here about this. Democratizing this regime in Syria is not an easy prospect for anyone to undertake, even if Pres. Asad has the best of intentions. (And, as I noted, trying to do this while a belligerent Israel still occupies Mount Hermon and an additional huge chunk of Golan, and makes periodic belligerent declarations towards Syria makes it even harder.) But as I noted in my last blog post, Turkey has a strong incentive to try to undertake the task successfully. The suggestion I lightheartedly made there that Syria might benefit from having its own AK Party– a moderately Sunni-Islamist party that delivers good governance in a climate of great respect for ethnic and religious minorities, and that deals generally successfully with the complexities of disentangling the military from the reins of governance– is actually one that might be worth exploring further… Though we should note that Turkey’s AK (“Justice and Development”) Party took many years, and several rounds of serious problems, before it was able to come to power.

And what might Washington’s position in all this be? I am still very concerned that the State Department holds far too many people at high levels who furthered their careers under the aggressively Israeli-controlled parameters of the Clinton and GWB administrations, and who therefore harbor far more kneejerk opposition to this Turkish government than is warranted. (As we saw, indeed, with their disgraceful response to the Mavi Marmara incident last year.) But it is high time Washington overcame those biases and sensitivities. Indeed, given how deeply involved the Obama administration has now, willy-nilly, become in issues of hands-on governance in numerous Arab countries, those old-fashioned biases toward Israel are now much more of a burden than they ever were before. So let’s hope that– at least when dealing with decades-long NATO ally Turkey, and its role in the Middle East– they can figure out a different, more constructive way to proceed.

The Symphony Way

from Raj Patel by Raj

Before the Soccer World Cup last year, I was asked to write a foreword to an anthology of life stories told by South African pavement dwellers, living on Symphony Way. The stories blew me away. It was very easy to write the short introduction below, just as it’s easy to encourage you to take a look at it now. The book is called No Land! No House! No Vote! Voices from Symphony Way, and it’s available here.

On Symphony Way

For those outside South Africa, particularly for the generation of activists who fought apartheid, it’s tempting to imagine that after Mandela was freed from Robben Island, and lines snaked outside polling booths in the first free elections, and after the ANC won, and the national anthem became Nkosi Sikelele Afrika, and after Nelson Mandela held high the Rugby World Cup trophy, that even while the Soviet Union collapsed and capitalism crowed triumphantly from the United States, all was well in the Rainbow Nation.

But despite the close-harmony singing and the holding aloft of leaders, South Africa isn’t The Lion King. It’s more like Animal Farm. Orwell ends ‘Animal Farm’ with a scene in which we see the pigs and the humans whom they displaced, sharing a meal together, and it being hard to tell pig from human. Over the past two decades, a few black South Africans have become very wealthy, as Steve Biko predicted in 1972:

“This is one country where it would be possible to create a capitalist black society, if whites were intelligent, if the nationalists were intelligent. And that capitalist black society, black middle class, would be very effective … South Africa could succeed in putting across to the world a pretty convincing, integrated picture, with still 70 percent of the population being underdogs.”

For many, the struggle against apartheid never ended, because apartheid continues to live. The introduction of neoliberal economic policies have led to falling levels of social welfare for the poorest. In South Africa, human development levels are now lower than in Palestine.[1] The ascent of a new black capitalist class isn’t, however, the end of the narrative. The state itself, in trying to stamp out the uncomfortable appearance of poverty, and in behaving in ways similar to the Apartheid regime, has done much to fan the flames of dissent, and to continue the story of the fight against apartheid.

Think, for instance, of over one hundred families living in backyards across Delft, who thought that Christmas had come early in 2007. They received letters from their local councilor inviting them to move into the houses they had been waiting for since the end of Apartheid. They left their backyard shacks, to occupy their new homes along the N2 highway. For a brief moment, all was as well as can be expected. The quality of housing on the N2 project is an ongoing scandal, but at least the homes were theirs. Then the families received another notice. They were to be evicted. The original letters authorizing them to move into their new homes had been sent illegally. The local councilor who sent them suffers the modest indignity of being suspended for a month. The N2 residents are treated altogether more harshly. They are kicked out of their homes with nowhere to go – their former backyard shacks having been rented to new families the moment the old ones left. The city tried to move them to the temporary relocation areas, many kilometers away from the communities they have grown up with. The units that pass for housing here are tin shacks, ‘blikkies’, ramshackle blocks of metal in the sand, wind and baking sun, sealed in by armed police yet beset with crime. The evicted families refused to move to ‘Blikkiesdorp’. They organized, setting up a temporary camp on the pavement of Symphony Way. The government threw its might into the legal system, extracting an eviction order that, by October 2009, soon after the letters in this book were written, moved all 136 families to the sandy wastes of Blikkiesdorp, in time for the tin shacks to bake in the summer heat.

Apartheid ends and apartheid remains.[2]

The squires of the new order bicker among themselves for the spoils.

The poor, who fought and died for justice, wait for it long after its arrival has been announced. Movements arise to hasten the day when apartheid’s remains can be swept away. The movements are crushed. At the beginning of 2010, when this preface is being written, the South African government has gone on the offensive against organizations of poor people across the country, from refugee camps to mob attacks against the leadership of the Kennedy Road Development Committee in Durban, to the residents of Symphony Way in Cape Town.

So why should you care about the pavements of Symphony Way when there’s no one there anymore, just in time for the 2010 World Cup tourists? The readiest answer is that while the government can take the people out of Symphony Way but they can’t take Symphony Way out of the people. As the residents themselves announced, “Symphony Way is not dead. We are still Symphony Way. We will always be Symphony Way. We may not be living on the road, but our fight for houses has only just begun. We warn government that we have not forgotten that they have promised us houses and we, the Symphony Way Anti-Eviction Campaign, will make sure we get what is rightfully ours.”

This book is testament to what it is to be Symphony Way. Written toward the end of the struggle on the pavements, this anthology of letters is both testimony and poetry. The power of the words comes not simply from confession, but through the art with which these stories are told. Every struggle has its narrators, but some on Symphony Way are wordsmiths of the highest order. When Conway Payn invites you to “put your shoes into my shoes and wear me like a human being would wear another human being,” he opens the door to a world of compassion, of fellow-suffering, that holds you firm.

The letters do not make for easy reading. Lola Wentzel’s story of the Bush of Evil, of the permanent geography of sexual violence, will haunt you long after you close the pages of this book. In here you will find testimony of justice miscarried, of violence domestic and public, of bigotry and tolerance, of xenophobia and xenophilia. There’s too much at stake shy from truth, and the writers here have the courage to face it directly, even if the results are brutal. Amid this horror, there is beauty, and the bundle of relationships between aunties, husbands, wives and children, of daughters named Hope and Symphony. All human life is here.

A few visitors have seen this already. Indeed, Kashiefa, Sedick, Zakeer and Sedeeqa Jacobs remark on the cottage industry of visitors, students and fellow travelers who visit —  “Everyday there is people that come from everywhere and ask many questions, then we tell them its not lekker to stay on the road and in the blikkies.” But this book isn’t an exercise in prurience. It’s a means to dignity, a way for the poors to reflect, be reflected and share with you. This book is testimony to the fact that there’s thinking in the shacks, that there are complex human lives, and complex humans who reflect, theorise and fight to bring change. This book is a sign of that fight, and in reading it, you have been conscripted. Mon semblable, mon frère[3] – you are addressed, reader, not as a voyeur, but as a brother or sister, as someone whose eyes dignify the struggle.

If your tears fall from your eyes as did from mine, you have will have been touched by the idea, the incredible realization!, that the poor can think for themselves, write for themselves, and will continue to fight for their humanity to be recognized. Whether or not you’re going to the 2010 World Cup, come to this book with open eyes, and you’ll leave with an open heart.


[1] http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/[2] This ambiguity is one soon to be explored by Sharad Chari in his ‘Apartheid Remains’ project.

[3] T his is a line from the poetry of Charles Baudelaire, whose finger-pointing to the reader was a little more accusatory. http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/039250.html

This entry was posted in Afghanistan, Background & Analysis, Bahrain, Egypt, Events, Imperialism, Imperialist Interference & Views, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Military, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, US Foreign Policy, Yemen. Bookmark the permalink.

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