Moore confronts the smear artists.
Filmmaker Michael Moore went on offense on Facebook today, pushing back at the attacks upon him over a comment he made on Twitter about military snipers by listing the multitude of ways he has supported veterans, before calling on Fox News to “quit making sh*t up about me.”
Moore has become the target of conservative fans of the film American Sniper who have claimed he attacked the subject of the film, Chris Kyle, when he tweeted: “My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren’t heroes. And invaders r worse.”
Since that time Fox News hosts, television commentators Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, and other celebrities have hammered Moore, calling him “Un-American,” while pointing out that he never served in the military.
On Facebook, Moore detailed his extensive history of support for veterans, saying those who supported sending the troops into a “senseless war Iraq in the first place,” are the ones who should be apologizing.
“I would like to address this one insane mantra that the right-wing has twisted my tweet into: ‘Michael Moore hates the troops,’ ” Moore wrote. “Well, who would know better about hating our troops than those who supported sending them into a senseless war Iraq in the first place? And, for 4,482 of them, a senseless, unnecessary and regrettable death.”
He continued, “Republicans and Democrats who backed this war, then you are the ones who have some ‘splainin’ to do. Not me. You.”
Moore went on to explain that the U.S. propped up Saddam Hussein in the years prior to the invasion and that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.
He wrote “… only “haters” of our brave young men and women would recklessly send them into harm’s way for something that had absolutely nothing to do with defending the United States of America.”
Moore then called out Fox News specifically, writing, “I’M the one who has supported these troops – much more than the bloviators on Fox News,” before listing support he has extended to veterans through the years; pushing businesses to hire veterans like he has done, raising money for wounded veterans, offering free admission to veterans and their families at the theaters he owns in Michigan, and allowing his theaters to be used free of charge to veterans groups counseling those suffering from PTSD.
Moore also noted that he is showing American Sniper at one of his theaters, writing, “I am currently showing “American Sniper” at my theater that I helped restore and that I program and help run in Manistee, MI. Not because I like it, but because, unlike the other side, I’m not a censor. I trust smart people and people of good heart will know what to do. ”
He then concluded by calling Fox News and other media outlets “cowards” hiding behind “falsehoods.”
“So, Fox News and the other lazy media — quit making shit up about me! You look ridiculous. If you want to have a debate with me about the ISSUES and the POLICIES, then let’s have it. If you want to debate a movie that’s trying to rewrite history, then let’s have that,” he wrote. “But when you hide behind falsehoods and then use them to try and manipulate the public, then all you are is afraid. Afraid of me, an unarmed American, and the truth I bring along as my sidekick. Only cowards have to lie.”
“Be brave. Report the truth. It will feel good.”Related Stories
Maher wants to know why America is glorifying Chris Kyle.
Bill Maher blasted Clint Eastwood’s film American Sniper during the Real Time panel discussion on Friday, comparing it unfavorably to Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker.
“Hurt Locker made $17 million, because it was a little ambiguous. And thoughtful,” Maher said. “And this one is just ‘American hero, he’s a psychopath patriot and we love him.’”
Maher also criticized the subject of Eastwood’s movie, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, and his statements in his autobiography regarding killing Iraqi “savages.”
“I dunno, [President Dwight] Eisenhower once said, ‘I hate wars as only a soldier who has lived it can.’ I just don’t see this guy in the same league as Eisenhower, I’m sorry,” Maher said. “And if you’re a Christian — I know this is a Christian country — ‘I hate the damn savages, I don’t give a f*ck what happens to them’ doesn’t seem like a Christian thing to say.”
Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist Bret Stephens pushed back against Maher, saying he could not believe that was the host’s impression of the film.
“What I saw was a movie that treats what veterans and soldiers go through in a way that was subtle,” Stephens said. “It was not just about war — it was about PTSD, it was about what the wives of soldiers go through.”
Maher’s fellow comedian, Bill Burr, also took issue with his viewpoint on Kyle.
“You can’t sum up a man by one quote taken out of context,” Burr said. “You don’t know how he said that. I think if you’re fighting a war, you say a lot of f*cked up sh*t in the middle of it.”
“That was after the war,” Maher countered, adding, “I’m just saying, the idea that Americans can not see any ambiguity, that somebody has to be either ‘pure hero’ or ‘pure traitor,’ is ridiculous.”
Washington Post political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson said that one reason American Sniper has grossed more than $90 million at the box office was that it fell in line with a tradition of Americans searching for the next “totemic war hero,” with Kyle fitting in alongside the likes of Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch.
“At some point, Americans want to do some sort of patriotic act,” Henderson said. “I think at some point, for people who went to go see this movie, it was sort of a patriotic act. People wanted to feel good about this war. You look at the polls, most Americans think this war wasn’t worth fighting.”
Former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean, however, argued that there was a political element to the film’s success.
“I bet you if you look at a cross-section of the Tea Party and people who go see this movie, there’s a lot of intersection,” Dean argued.
Watch the discussion, as posted online on Friday, below.
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee writes to Bradley Cooper and Clint Eastwood requesting action as threat complaints triple.
American Sniper continues to draw record-breaking audiences as it barrels into its second weekend in wide release, but a group representing Arab-Americans says the rate of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim threats resulting from the Oscar-nominated war film has already tripled.
Citing what an executive for the group told the Guardian was a “drastic increase” in hate speech on social media, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee wrote letters this week to actor Bradley Cooper and director Clint Eastwood to ask them to speak out “in an effort to help reduce the hateful rhetoric”.
The film, which was nominated for six Academy Awards including best picture, depicts the story of Chris Kyle, the famed US navy Seal notorious for the highest known single kill count in US military history. But its all-American depiction on screen has drawn heavy criticism from combat veterans and viewers alike – and especially about viewers themselves, many of whom have emerged from theatres desperate to communicate a kind of murderous desire.
A quick search on Twitter leads down a rabbit hole of anger.
“Great fucking movie and now I really want to kill some fucking ragheads,” read one tweet, in a set of screenshots that quickly went viral after being collated by journalist Rania Khalek for the online publication Electronic Intifada. “American sniper makes me wanna go shoot some fuckin Arabs,” read another.
One tweet read: “Nice to see a movie where the Arabs are portrayed for who they really are - vermin scum intent on destroying us.” While the word “vermin” is not uncommon in threads about the film, that tweet was tagged not only #AmericanSniper but, mystifyingly, #DeBlasio as well.
Even the actor James Woods got in on the action, tweeting: “Every time an American Armed Forces sniper pulls a trigger, those who would kill or maim an American warrior are no longer a threat.”
Abed Ayoub, the national legal and policy director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), told the Guardian that complaints from his organisation have skyrocketed the movie’s wide release – and $90m box-office take, an all-time high for the month of January.
“The last time we saw such a sharp increase was in 2010, around the Ground Zero mosque,” he said.
The ADC sent letters on Thursday to Cooper and Clint Eastwood, the director, imploring them to condemn the threats being made against Arab and Muslim Americans.
“We want Mr Eastwood or Mr Cooper to say, ‘Don’t use our film to promulgate hatred or bigotry. Don’t use our film to push hate and bigotry, and use it as a platform for these racist views,’” Ayoub said.
“If they want to go further, they can say Arabs in America are just as American as the next person,” he added.
Representatives for Cooper and Eastwood did not respond to requests for comment.
The tweets, especially the picture made by Khalek, garnered a backlash of their own. One response read: “That’s not what you should’ve gotten out of the film. Idiots.”
Actor Seth Rogen tweeted that the film reminded him of the Nazi sniper propaganda film showing in the third act of Inglourious Basterds. In Los Angeles, the word “Murder!” was spray-painted onto a billboard advertising the film.
It's not your imagination — this was a bad week for women
Let’s just call this week a total wash and start again Monday, shall we, womankind? It’s been a real extravaganza for progress deferred – and I’m not even going to bother delving into Mike Huckabee’s strange Beyonce fixation here.
And it all started out so promisingly, too. Earlier this week, the News Corp owned Times reported authoratively that Murdoch’s notorious tabloid, The Sun, was ending its 45 year tradition of displaying topless young women on its Page 3, news that was greeted with enthusiasm by the activists who have justifiably argued that “boobs aren’t news.” But then, in a move that can only be regarded as a massive middle finger to readers who prefer their news without T&A, the paper swiftly turned around and offered a topless model with an apology that it had suffered “a mammary lapse.” And the paper’s head of PR, Dylan Sharpe, rather brattily tweeted a picture of a winking Page 3 girl to the No More Page 3 campaigners, journalists, and a female MP. As Gaby Hinsliff explained this week in the Guardian, the whole move felt like “an act of defiance, not generous acquiescence to the public mood.”
Things did not improve from there. There was the unveiling of the Carl’s Jr. “au naturel”west coast Super Bowl ad, featuring amply endowed model Charlotte McKinney strutting around seemingly in the altogether, obstructed by symbolic tomatoes and melons, while the men around her literally cannot control their hoses or their rhythmic, back and forth movements. Because breasts! Because the breast ogling segment of the audience is the most important demographic of them all! And who cares if women make up nearly half of the Super Bowl audience anyway? Not when there’s a hamburger-based teenage boy masturbation fantasy to be made!
But what else have you brought us, this week of suck? How about the new line of smart, dinosaur-themed Natural History Museum shirts and pajamas from UK retailer Marks & Spencer – available only for boys? In the wake of strong public criticism, the chain does now promise that moving forward, it’s “working with the Natural History Museum on expanding the range to include products for girls.” How generous. How wonderful that the idea the girls might be interested in science and history is a total manufacturing afterthought.
And for one final bummer to ride out on, there’s what went down at the Australian Open, where interviewer Ian Cohen asked Wimbledon runner-up Eugenie Bouchard, during an on-court interview, “Can you give us a twirl?” When she incredulously asked, “A twirl?” he clarified, “A twirl, like a pirouette, here you go” – and she somewhat uncomfortably obliged. Bouchard later said, “An old guy asking you to twirl, it was funny.” But Serena Williams chimed in, “A commentator asked me to twirl. I wouldn’t ask Rafa or Roger to twirl.” No you would not.
So let’s just chalk this week up, note that Emma Watson did deliver another powerful speech on gender equality Friday, watch the awesome trailer for “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” until the pain subsides, and get back to smashing the patriarchy again on Monday. And ladies, if you feel like twirling, twirl because you want to, not because you’re told to.
A New York Times piece seems to treat the poor and middle class as almost interchangeable. Thus Mitt Romney vowing to "end the scourge of poverty" is equated with Mitch McConnell calling for a focus on "the stagnant middle class."
As Arsalan Iftikhar suggested, Bobby Jindal does devote considerable effort to criticizing minority groups who have done less to fit the the American majority image. This strategy was on full display in Jindal's softball interview with Fox News host Neil Cavuto.
Kids, parents and some administrators are up in arms about the new privacy-violating policy.
Amid hysteria about social media and its potential for cyber-bullying, Illinois school districts have started to quietly eliminate their students' right to privacy. In 2013, Illinois passed a law requiring schools to ask elementary and secondary students to provide passwords to their social media accounts if they believe that they violated a rule or policy.
The policy went into effect this month, and one school district, the Triad Community Unit School District #2, already sent out letters to parents informing them of the new policy. “It’s one thing for me to take my child’s social media account and open it up, or for the teacher to look or even a child to pull up their social media account, but to have to hand over your password and personal information is not acceptable to me,” said Sarah Bozarth, one of the parents in the district.
But opposition to the new law remains even among school administrators. The Illinois Principals Association’s associate director Brian Schwartz told the paper that his organization isn't in favor of the new procedure. A number of lawmakers from other states agree. Bills prohibiting schools from accessing social media information have been introduced in Hawaii, Indiana, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Rhode Island. It should be noted that laws similar to this one in Illinois such as an anti-cyberbullying law in Albany County, New York, have been ruled unconstitutional.
The news channel has been roasted for its erroneous depiction of Muslim-linked no-go zones.
While much attention has been paid stateside to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo’s public threat to sue Fox News this week, less focus has been given to the network’s ridiculous behavior that prompted the call to begin with.
But here in Paris, Fox’s claims of the existence of Islamist-run “no-go zones,” here and in other areas in Europe, have been lampooned with relish.
Reeling in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Paris-based newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher market, the French equivalent of the David Letterman show, “Le Petit Journal,” managed to convey some much-needed comic relief to a national prime-time TV audience in France where much of the country grieved.
The Petit Journal’s broadcast of the Parisian neighborhoods could not have more patently depicted the absurdity of Fox’s portrayal of Paris, where, in reality, people of different ages, religions and ethnic origins freely go about their business, running errands, pushing strollers, etc.
Le Petit Journal correspondents were shown visiting the “no-go zones,” prompting guffaws from both the live studio audience and the incredulous passersby who were asked if their safe streets were comparable to those in Iraq or Afghanistan, if they ever saw someone wear bin Laden T-shirts, or other absurd questions. The U.S. equivalent would be asking people on the streets in Manhattan if Shariah law was the law of the streets there.
In another broadcast, Le Petit Journal cast members dressed up like U.S. journalists ventured into the “Most Dangerous City in the Universe.” They confronted such dangerous situations as a man with a “terrorist beard” driving a taxi or the site of a couscous restaurant. The sounds of a jackhammer are taken for gunfire as the fake TV reporter rolls on the ground in terror.
Neighborhoods under Shariah law? Hardly. Some of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in Paris are home to inhabitants of predominantly North African origin where the unemployment rates are indeed among the highest in France. But while you might not choose to walk through these neighborhoods alone at night, the homicide rate is significantly lower than that of many of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the United States.
But while the Petit Journal’s portray of Fox’s broadcast brought smiles to the faces of millions of French TV audiences, Paris’ mayor did not mince words when she told CNN that Fox faced legal action for harming Paris’ reputation.
“Its message is shocking and stupid—this is not how you solve these kinds of problems,” Hidalgo said, during an interview with CNN. “The broadcasts have tarnished the image and the reputation of my city.”
In the wake of international ridicule levied against the ill-reputed network, Fox issued a rare public apology last week for its inaccurate depictions of purported Islamist-controlled communities in Europe.
In one broadcast, self-declared radical Islam expert Nolan Peterson compared areas in Paris to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. He claimed that many parts of Paris are under Shariah law where French police will not enter.
“It was pretty scary. I’ve been to Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir, India, and at times it felt like those places in the no-go zones,” Peterson said. “You see young men wearing Osama bin Laden T-shirts. In a hookah shop, I saw a speech by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was leading an insurgency against American troops in Iraq at the time. It just, it seemed very mainstream and very accepted.”
The U.K., as well as France, was singled out as a source of Fox’ fabricated claims. Among other erroneous reports about Europe’s Muslim communities in Europe, Fox interviewed self-described “terrorism analyst” Steve Emerson who elaborated on “no-go zones” where only Muslims could go.
“In Britain, it’s not just no-go zones,” Emerson said. “There are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim, where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron responded: “When I heard this, frankly, I choked on my porridge and I thought it must be April Fools’ Day,” David Cameron said on ITV television. “This guy’s clearly a complete idiot.”
Fox also last week published on its website and communicated in its news broadcasts a refuted study from Russian news agency Rossiya Segodnya that claimed 15 percent of French citizens “had a positive opinion” of ISIS.
While it was not enough for Paris’ mayor to repair the harm she said Fox has done, Fox’s Julie Banderas issued a correction: “Over the course of this last week, we have made some regrettable errors on air regarding the Muslim population in Europe, particularly with regard to England and France.
“Now this applies especially to discussions of so-called no-go zones, areas where non-Muslims allegedly are not allowed in and police supposedly won’t go,” Banderas continued. “To be clear, there is no formal designation of these zones in either country and no credible information to support the assertion that there are specific areas in these countries that exclude individuals based solely on their religion.”
Fox may have grudgingly retracted the misinformation that served to incite even more hatred against Muslims, after painting such a blatantly false picture of segments of Europe, and in particular, French and British society. And France’s Le Petit Journal was able to somehow put Fox’s and Emerson’s absurd claims in a humorous light, but ultimately, they are anything but funny.Related Stories
The film has promoted a host of lies about the origins of the Iraq war.
As controversy rages over American Sniper, many supporters of the movie have suggested that it's apolitical and shouldn't be construed as supportive of war or bigotry; that it's merely a character study of a tortured soldier. The problem with that analysis is that the film isn't focused on a group of soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or the difficulties with being reacquainted with civilian life, or the inadequacies of the Veterans Administration.
The movie is about Chris Kyle, a remorseless sniper who said his job was “fun” and wished he could return to Iraq to fight even more, and who made millions of dollars and gained worldwide fame writing about his exploits. If anything, Kyle is the absolute worst soldier one could pick to talk about soldiers coming home and our need to take care of them. The way he wrote and talked about his time in Iraq, one would think the war was the best thing that ever happened to him.
Filmmaker Clint Eastwood has responded to critics by noting he was against going to war in Iraq, and was skeptical of the war in Afghanistan as well. This doesn't explain why Eastwood chose to base his film on a soldier who viewed the war as both just and enjoyable, and it doesn't excuse him rendering the Iraqi characters of the film into mere props, either helpless civilians or evil terrorists. Nor does it justify Eastwood's use of 9/11 imagery in the film to imply that invading Iraq was revenge for terrorist attacks, which is a bastardization of history that has been used by war proponents. If Eastwood does consider himself a war critic, it appears he threw out his own principles in order to make a film that wouldn't ask its viewers any challenging questions about the war.
Whatever Eastwood's intent, the most damning indictment comes from how the film is being received. Critics of American Sniper's portrayal of Chris Kyle have received a torrent of death threats, even calls for decapitation, and the film has spawned an outpouring of anti-Muslim bigotry on social media.
In an interview with the Daily Beast, Cooper suggests that the film is apolitical and shouldn't be construed as supportive of war or bigotry:
“My hope is that if someone is having a political conversation about whether we should or should not have been in Iraq, whether the war is worth fighting, whether we won, whether we didn’t, why are we still there, all those [issues], that really—I hope—is not one that they would use this movie as a tool for,” Cooper told the Daily Beast, when asked about those targeting Kyle’s temperament. “And for me, and for Clint, this movie was always a character study about what the plight is for a soldier. The guy that I got to know, through all the source material that I read and watched, and home videos—hours and hours—I never saw anything like that.... It’s not a political discussion about war, even…It’s a discussion about the reality. And the reality is that people are coming home, and we have to take care of them.”
For a film that is supposed to be apolitical, American Sniper has become a rallying point for the political right. Fox News has done lengthy segments defending the film and decrying its critics; Sarah Palin, Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh have all become champions of Chris Kyle's reputation.
Perhaps there's a reason this Iraq war film has become politically polarizing in a way a long series of other Iraq dramas—The Hurt Locker, Green Zone, In the Valley of Elah, The Tiger and the Snow—haven't. Unlike most of the other major motion pictures about the conflict, American Sniper wants you to cheer on the morality of what Kyle is doing. Whatever the follies of the larger war may be, Kyle is the epitome of good, and the hundreds of people he does battle with are the epitome of bad.
The film hit wide release just weeks after terrorist attacks in Paris and resurgent Islamophobia, and just months after state violence was coming under heavy scrutiny in the United States following a string of police shootings of unarmed men. It gives people who want to see their country—represented by the government—as a powerful force for good against legions of swarthy, foreign masses of bad a reason to feel proud again. Troubling moral questions simply aren't good box office fodder.
The biggest shame is that the film could have sparked discussion about the tragic plight of America's soldiers. Veterans are coming home to a country that hasn't done enough to take care of them. Twenty-seven percent of veterans are disabled compared to about 14 percent of the general population; six percent of households receiving food stamp benefits have a veteran in them. The federal government estimates there are almost as many as 50,000 homeless veterans at any one time.
But Kyle is not one of those veterans. He made millions of dollars writing about his time in the military, and was eager to go back. He was a star featured by Conan O'Brien and the mega-church talk circuit. Although his family promised to donate book royalties to veterans organizations, only two percent ever actually made it to veterans. Kyle manufactured tall tales of shooting down carjackers in Texas and looters in Katrina, none of which was held against him, despite the fact that armed vigilantism is illegal.
Kyle's life story is designed to glamorize military life during the post-9/11 era, to make it seem exciting, morally unambiguous and sexy. It is about as far away as you can get from showing the very real horrors our military men and women have endured during 14 years of war: broken bodies, homelessness, unemployment, and more death than financial rewards.
When it comes to the people of Iraq, Eastwood is perhaps most faithful to Kyle's memoir, positing them simply as caricatures. No major feature film, including American Sniper, has looked at the impact of the war on the people of Iraq.
In 2006, Eastwood directed Letters From Iwo Jima to show the Japanese point of view following his film Flags of our Fathers. As far as I know, Eastwood has not planned a movie to show the vantage point of Iraqis who took up arms following the invasion and occupation. Whatever reason he may give for that, the answer is undoubtedly political. Doing so would put him in the same crosshairs as the critics of this film. Although the Imperial Japanese army killed millions of people in unprovoked warfare, it is simply more politically safe today to portray their soldiers in a humanistic light than to show the Muslim insurgents conservative America views as the greatest threat to their way of life.
American Sniper is a lot of things, and perhaps as Oscar season approaches, Eastwood's skill as a filmmaker and Bradley Cooper's talent as an actor will be rewarded. But as America continues to wage war in several Muslim countries and refuses to take a good, hard look at what the Iraq war did, both to our own veterans and to Iraqis, one thing no one can say about the film is that it's apolitical.Related Stories
The NY Times columnist is the latest critic of "Selma" for its depiction of LBJ. Here's why a new racial lens is needed.
New York Times critic Maureen Dowd saw “Selma” last week “in a theater of full of black teenagers.” Her ethnographic impressions of the “stunned” emotional responses that these D.C. teenagers had to seeing four little girls blown up in an Alabama church basement and watching civil rights leaders viciously clubbed during a march in Selma reek of the kind of voyeuristic and clueless white gaze often used to devalue and pathologize urban youth. They become fascinating objects of study to those who don’t get to spend a lot of time with them.
And it is precisely these kinds of impressions from white people, the inability to make sense of genuine black emotion, the inability to recognize what filmic representations that respect the interior lives of black people actually might look like, that have contributed to the disingenuous backlash against the Selma film.
This magnificent and powerful film has, at this point, been endlessly derided by white and black critics alike who say it fails to get the story just right. Among white critics, its cardinal sin is failure to pay proper homage to Lyndon B. Johnson for being a champion of black voting rights. He’s represented in the film as a reluctant ally in the civil rights struggle, as one whose racial views evolve over time.
Dowd rips what she calls Ava’s DuVernay’s “artful falsehood,” for having the potentially and apparently regrettable result of making the “young moviegoers [now] see L.B.J.’s role in civil rights through DuVernay’s lens.”
“Artful falsehood,” Dowd tells us, “is more dangerous than artless falsehood, because fewer people see through it.”
But the truth is, a new racial lens is exactly what America needs. In “Selma,” we learn what films look like when directors and cinematographers who love and respect black people turn their gaze on us. “Selma” artfully displaces a white gaze, and it is this unnamed and unsettling anxiety that sits at the heart of so many of the critiques of the film.
This white racial anxiety of not being at the center feels to me far more dangerous to black youth than seeing a film that tells them a story about themselves and their history. Having taught in D.C. public schools, I know D.C. youth aren’t checking for any kind of saviors, white or black. Like most adolescents, they are looking to find their path and make their mark.And they have far too few representations of what that might look like.
Among black teenagers who have acutely felt the pain of the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and Michael Brown, this film offers a long history and genealogy for black pain and black resistance. The film moves us beyond the mere spectacle of black death. For instance, we don’t just see the killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson; we are forced to watch and reckon with his grieving grandfather identifying his body at the morgue. The shot of Jimmie’s mother’s grief-stricken face at her son’s funeral could be superimposed with the face of Mamie Till Mobley, or Coretta Scott King or Sybrina Fulton or Lesley McSpadden, mothers and wives of boys and men gone too soon. As the final Selma march commences, the film cuts to a shot of Jimmie’s grieving mother rocking, crying.
That kind of storytelling is haunting and deliberate. Long after you walk away, it clings to you.
“Selma” achieves both narrative breadth and affective depth. DuVernay added 27 new characters to a screenplay heavily focused on LBJ and MLK, most of them women. That sense of elasticity in the storytelling stretches us, demanding of us a more inclusive, less-sexist vision of the black freedom struggle. Beyond that, the movie asks us to understand the spiritual weight, the indignity, the brutality, the visceral pain of racial injustice and the vision, perseverance and digging deep required every day to stand up, fight back and keep moving.
Many white people missed this, because they need the civil rights movement to be fewer dirges and more redemption songs. Just as there has been a failure of white people to truly grasp the singularity of the racial atrocities committed against black people (and indigenous people) in the name of white supremacy, there remains a studied indifference to the ways that we are, 50 years later, feeling these pains of democracy aborted all over again.
Mothers cry out and grandfathers weep that our nation’s past sins are revisited upon another undeserving generation of black people vulnerable to injustice by a system and a people that forget their capacity for brutality far too quickly.
Blood spilling from out stretched palms, the perpetrators demand absolution. Without confession. Or repentance. Or restitution.
“LBJ was good to you,” they tell us. They expect us to be solicitous in our gratitude. Gratuitous. That one wrong among many was righted, even from a man known for his gratuitous use of the N-word, deserves our scopic memorialization. White folks forget that even the abolitionists did not necessarily think black people were equal human beings. Granting our rights, as if rights are the property of white people, has never been a guarantor of white respect for black humanity.
Black youth sense these indignities even when they lack a full language of articulation. They live them daily. Especially in a massively failing public school district like D.C. Especially in a moment, when despite desegregation being the center piece of the civil rights movement, we have been reminded that more than half of all public school children live below the poverty line. That those children are disproportionately black is no accident.
Perhaps Dowd is hypersensitive about the alleged “artful falsehood” in “Selma” because racial politics in this country are a frequent and unrelenting exercise in “artful falsehoods.” That electing a black president signaled the end of racism is an artful falsehood. That police really care to protect and serve black and brown communities is artful falsehood. That racial progress is linear is an artful falsehood. These are the pretty little lies we tell ourselves to make the fictive narrative of America–the land of life, liberty and justice for all– cohere.
As I have listened in my blackademic circles to the various critiques of the ways that “Selma” did not get the story right, I am reminded that for those who are caretakers and guardians of black history, artistic license feels too risky. The real stories have yet to be fully told. How dare we subject them to the tools of representation, which often seem to be more hammer than chisel when it comes to carving out the beauty of our lives? Couldn’t we just have more Diane Nash and more Amelia Boynton? In a world where black lives and black histories mattered, they’d have their own films, alongside Ida B. Wells, and SNCC, and Fannie Lou Hamer.
But how will we ever have any of those stories if we can’t trust a black woman to tell this story? We don’t trust black women to be our philosophers and theorists, our political strategists, or our film directors. Directing, like quarterbacking, we are told to believe is the province of white men. This is why the Oscar nomination “Selma” received for best picture feels hollow—the academy clearly does not respect DuVernay’s directorial vision. Save Steve McQueen, black folks, men included, are rarely deemed fitting of recognition in any kind of academy, except music. White women are not respected as directors either. It is precisely that intersection, that double jeopardy, of blackness and womanhood that gives so many black women the exceptional ability to artfully render black life, to see it in all its fullness, to move beyond the perspectival limits of whiteness and maleness. That same intersection often becomes a liability in the quest for institutional recognition of black female genius.
Ava DuVernay surely knows that. So she made the film she wanted to make. One that features Amelia Boynton and Coretta Scott King having a conversation about what it means to be prepared, as we hear Coretta talking about her desire for a more active role in the strategy and organizing side of the movement. One in which Diane Nash reassures the men, on their car ride into Selma, that this is the next big place for movement building. One in which Annie Lee Cooper slaps the policeman who manhandles her.
In this film, we see black women resisting, organizing, strategizing and cajoling. That we want to see even more of this tells us that “Selma” is akin to being gifted a few acres of our own after too many years gleaning cotton in fields that have not belonged to us.
A black woman has gifted this to us. Ava DuVernay ushers us in “Selma” into the interior and affective lives of black people. In her directorial approach, I hear echoes of Anna Julia Cooper’s famous statement, “when and where I enter in the undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence, suing, or special patronage, then and there the whole race enters with me.”
Black men don’t tell race stories like this. This kind of film is the unique result of what black feminist scholars call the “visionary pragmatism” of black women filmmakers.
And this is what feels so false and condescending and egregious about Maureen Dowd admonishing Ava DuVernay, that “On matters of race—America’s original sin—there is an even higher responsibility to be accurate.” She didn’t levy such a critique of “Lincoln’s” failure to include Frederick Douglass, a trusted adviser of the president. But more than that, there is this.
Being more accurate does not mean one has told more truth. Read any Toni Morrison novel, and you’ll learn that novels often tell far more truth than autobiography. DuVernay tells us many truths in this film about the affective and emotive dimensions of black politics, about the intimacy of black struggle, about the spirit of people intimately acquainted with daily assaults on their humanity. The recent tragic killings of unarmed youth have surely taught us that if we don’t work from a presumption of black humanity, facts don’t mean very much in our interpretation of events.
More than that, those in power choose the “facts” that matter.
What I hope those D.C. high school students and every high school student that will get to see this film learn is that ours is a beautiful struggle. I hope they learn that despite our defeats, we’ve had our triumphs, too. I hope they see how integral women were to this struggle. I hope they have a clearer picture of what revolutionary leadership looks like – that these people ate and slept, loved and fought, shaved and got help putting on neckties, struggled with the right words to say and sometimes made mistakes. They rose to meet the challenges of their times. And we can, too.
Filmmaker Robert Greenwald: American Sniper is a 'Neocon Fantasy' in Which 'There's No Good Iraqi Except a Dead Iraqi'
In a debate on the Ed Show, Greenwald criticized the film for its deadly take on patriotism.
Filmmaker Robert Greenwald squared off against former Congressman and Iraq War veteran Patrick Murphy over the film American Sniper, the blockbuster Hollywood film about late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Greenwald implicated the film for its "strong political agenda," and said it painted a world in which "there's no good Iraqi except a dead Iraqi" -- including "dead Iraqi children."
Murphy rejected the idea that the film is "a political movie," and even said he "got choked up a couple times" watching it. "[P]eople out there who are trying to make this a controversy are conflating the issues," he suggested.
Greenwald countered by asking the ex-Congressman to "name one Iraqi who is portrayed with any kind of humanity."
He went on to suggest the film would inspire Americans to believe "we gotta go to war" to be safe, a notion he dismissed as "nonsense" and even dangerous.
Said Greenwald: "What this movie will achieve will be more Americans believing and cheering for more wars. And then more veterans being injured. More veterans losing arms and legs and families destroyed. That's the tragedy and the concern about this film."
American Sniper, which stars Bradley Cooper, brought in an astounding $90.2 million dollars its opening weekend.Related Stories
So what's wrong with comparing Barack Obama to Robin Hood? Well, aside from implying that taxation is a form of "stealing"--and aside from the fact that it's a popular theme in racist caricatures of Obama--it gives the president too much credit.
By Amy Goodman with Denis Moynihan
“Imagine if we did something different.”
Those were just six words out of close to 7,000 that President Barack Obama spoke during his State of the Union address. He was addressing both houses of Congress, which are controlled by his bitter foes. Most importantly, though, he was addressing the country. Obama employed characteristically soaring rhetoric to deliver his message of bipartisanship. “The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong,” he assured us.
From whose lives has the shadow of crisis passed? And for whom is this Union strong?
“Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?” Obama asked. “Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?”
Oxfam, the international anti-poverty organization, weighed in on the question, releasing a report the day before the speech called “Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More.” Oxfam analyzed data from the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2014 and the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires to determine some shocking facts about global inequality.
First, it found that, as of 2014, the 80 richest individuals in the world are wealthier than the bottom 50 percent of the world’s population. This bears repeating: The 80 wealthiest people, a group that could fit on a bus, control more wealth than 3.5 billion people. The wealthy are not only accumulating more wealth, but they are getting it faster. Between 2009 and 2014, Oxfam reports, the wealth of those 80 richest people in the world doubled. This, while the rest of the world was mired in the Great Recession, with rampant unemployment and people’s life savings wiped out. If current trends continue, Oxfam notes, by 2016 the richest 1 percent of the world’s population will control more wealth than the bottom 99 percent.
One way the wealthy manage to increase their wealth, Oxfam reports, is through lobbying. The report identifies two industries, finance/insurance and pharmaceutical/health care, as major sources of wealth for the richest, and as principal founts of political contributions. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent by these industries annually to shape public policy and safeguard profits.
Click here to read the rest of the column posted at Truthdig.
A review of Scott Timberg's fascinating new book, 'Culture Crash.'
Some of my friends became artists, writers, and musicians to rebel against their practical parents. I went into a creative field with encouragement from my folks. It’s not too rare for Millennials to have their bohemian dreams blessed by their parents, because, as progeny of the Boomers, we were mentored by aging rebels who idolized rogue poets, iconoclast cartoonists, and scrappy musicians.
The problem, warns Scott Timberg in his new book Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class, is that if parents are basing their advice on how the economy used to support creativity – record deals for musicians, book contracts for writers, staff positions for journalists – then they might be surprised when their YouTube-famous daughter still needs help paying off her student loans. A mix of economic, cultural, and technological changes emanating from a neoliberal agenda, writes Timberg, “have undermined the way that culture has been produced for the past two centuries, crippling the economic prospects of not only artists but also the many people who supported and spread their work, and nothing yet has taken its place.”
Tech vs. the Creative Class
Timberg isn’t the first to notice. The supposed economic recovery that followed the recession of 2008 did nothing to repair the damage that had been done to the middle class. Only a wealthy few bounced back, and bounced higher than ever before, many of them the elites of Silicon Valley who found a way to harvest much of the wealth generated by new technologies. InCulture Crash, however, Timberg has framed the struggle of the working artist to make a living on his talents.
Besides the overall stagnation of the economy, Timberg shows how information technology has destabilized the creative class and deprofessionalized their labor, leading to an oligopoly of the mega corporations Apple, Google, and Facebook, where success is measured (and often paid) in webpage hits.
What Timberg glances over is that if this new system is an oligopoly of tech companies, then what it replaced – or is still in the process of replacing – was a feudal system of newspapers, publishing houses, record labels, operas, and art galleries. The book is full of enough discouraging data and painful portraits of artists, though, to make this point moot. Things are definitely getting worse.
Why should these worldly worries make the Muse stutter when she is expected to sing from outside of history and without health insurance? Timberg proposes that if we are to save the “creative class” – the often young, often from middle-class backgrounds sector of society that generates cultural content – we need to shake this old myth. The Muse can inspire but not sustain. Members of the creative class, argues Timberg
depend not just on that original inspiration, but on an infrastructure that moves creations into the larger culture and somehow provides material support for those who make, distribute, and assess them. Today, that indispensable infrastructure is at risk...
Artists may never entirely disappear, but they are certainly vulnerable to the economic and cultural zeitgeist. Remember the Dark Ages? Timberg does, and drapes this shroud over every chapter. It comes off as alarmist at times. Culture is obviously no longer smothered by an authoritarian Catholic church.
Art as the Province of the Young and Independently Wealthy
But Timberg suggests that contemporary artists have signed away their rights in a new contract with the market. Cultural producers, no matter how important their output is to the rest of us, are expected to exhaust themselves without compensation because their work is, by definition, worthless until it’s profitable. Art is an act of passion – why not produce it for free, never mind that Apple, Google, and Facebook have the right to generate revenue from your production? “According to this way of thinking,” wrote Miya Tokumitsu describing the do-what-you-love mantra that rode out of Silicon Valley on the back of TED Talks, “labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient.”
The fact is, when creativity becomes financially unsustainable, less is created, and that which does emerge is the product of trust-fund kids in their spare time. “If working in culture becomes something only for the wealthy, or those supported by corporate patronage, we lose the independent perspective that artistry is necessarily built on,” writes Timberg.
It would seem to be a position with many proponents except that artists have few loyal advocates on either side of the political spectrum. “A working artist is seen neither as the salt of the earth by the left, nor as a ‘job creator’ by the right – but as a kind of self-indulgent parasite by both sides,” writes Timberg.
That’s with respect to unsuccessful artists – in other words, the creative class’s 99 percent. But, as Timberg disparages, “everyone loves a winner.” In their own way, both conservatives and liberals have stumbled into Voltaire’sCandide, accepting that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. If artists cannot make money, it’s because they are either untalented or esoteric elitists. It is the giants of pop music who are taking all the spoils, both financially and morally, in this new climate.
Timberg blames this winner-take-all attitude on the postmodernists who, beginning in the 1960s with film critic Pauline Kael, dismantled the idea that creative genius must be rescued from underneath the boots of mass appeal and replaced it with the concept of genius-as-mass-appeal. “Instead of coverage of, say, the lost recordings of pioneering bebop guitarist Charlie Christian,” writes Timberg, “we read pieces ‘in defense’ of blockbuster acts like the Eagles (the bestselling rock band in history), Billy Joel, Rush – groups whose songs…it was once impossible to get away from.”
Timberg doesn’t give enough weight to the fact that the same rebellion at the university liberated an enormous swath of art, literature, and music from the shadow of an exclusive (which is not to say unworthy) canon made up mostly of white men. In fact, many postmodernists have taken it upon themselves to look neither to the pop charts nor the Western canon for genius but, with the help of the Internet, to the broad creative class that Timberg wants to defend.
Creating in the Age of Poptimism
This doesn’t mean that today’s discovered geniuses can pay their bills, though, and Timberg is right to be shocked that, for the first time in history, pop culture is untouchable, off limits to critics or laypeople either on the grounds of taste or principle. If you can’t stand pop music because of the hackneyed rhythms and indiscernible voices, you’ve failed to appreciate the wonders of crowdsourced culture – the same mystery that propels the market.
Sadly, Timberg puts himself in checkmate early on by repeatedly pitting black mega-stars like Kanye West against white indie-rockers like the Decembrists, whose ascent to the pop-charts he characterizes as a rare triumph of mass taste.
But beyond his anti-hip-hop bias is an important argument: With ideological immunity, the pop charts are mimicking the stratification of our society. Under the guise of a popular carnival where a home-made YouTube video can bring a talented nobody the absurd fame of a celebrity, creative industries have nevertheless become more monotonous and inaccessible to new and disparate voices. In 1986, thirty-one chart-toppers came from twenty-nine different artists. Between 2008 and mid-2012, half of the number-one songs were property of only six stars. “Of course, it’s never been easy to land a hit record,” writes Timberg. “But recession-era rock has brought rewards to a smaller fraction of the artists than it did previously. Call it the music industry’s one percent.”
The same thing is happening with the written word. In the first decade of the new millennium, points out Timberg, citing Wired magazine, the market share of page views for the Internet’s top ten websites rose from 31 percent to 75 percent.
Timberg doesn’t mention that none of the six artists dominating the pop charts for those four years was a white man, but maybe that’s beside the point. In Borges’s “Babylon Lottery,” every citizen has the chance to be a sovereign. That doesn’t mean they were living in a democracy. Superstars are coming up from poverty, without the help of white male privilege, like never before, at the same time that poverty – for artists and for everyone else – is getting worse.
Essayists are often guilted into proposing solutions to the problems they perceive, but in many cases they should have left it alone. Timberg wisely avoids laying out a ten-point plan to clean up the mess, but even his initial thrust toward justice – identifying the roots of the crisis – is a pastiche of sometimes contradictory liberal biases that looks to the past for temporary fixes.
Timberg puts the kibosh on corporate patronage of the arts, but pines for the days of newspapers run by wealthy families. When information technology is his target because it forces artists to distribute their work for free, removes the record store and bookstore clerks from the scene, and feeds consumer dollars to only a few Silicon Valley tsars, Timberg’s answer is to retrace our steps twenty years to the days of big record companies and Borders book stores – since that model was slightly more compensatory to the creative class.
When his target is postmodern intellectuals who slander “middle-brow” culture as elitist, only to expend their breath in defense of super-rich pop stars, Timberg retreats fifty years to when intellectuals like Marshall McLuhan and Norman Mailer debated on network television and the word “philharmonic” excited the uncultured with awe rather than tickled them with anti-elitist mockery. Maybe television back then was more tolerable, but Timberg hardly even tries to sound uplifting. “At some point, someone will come up with a conception better than middlebrow,” he writes. “But until then, it beats the alternatives.”
The Fallacy of the Good Old Days
Timberg’s biggest mistake is that he tries to find a point in history when things were better for artists and then reroute us back there for fear of continued decline. What this translates to is a program of bipartisan moderation – a little bit more public funding here, a little more philanthropy there. Something everyone can agree on, but no one would ever get excited about.
Why not boldly state that a society is dysfunctional if there is enough food, shelter, and clothing to go around and yet an individual is forced to sacrifice these things in order to produce, out of humanistic virtue, the very thing which society has never demanded more of – culture? And if skeptics ask for a solution, why not suggest something big, a reorganization of society, from top to bottom, not just a vintage flotation device for the middle class? Rather than blame technological innovation for the poverty of artists, why not point the finger at those who own the technology and call for a system whereby efficiency doesn’t put people out of work, but allows them to work fewer hours for the same salary; whereby information is free not because an unpaid intern wrote content in a race for employment, but because we collectively pick up the tab?
This might not satisfy the TED Talk connoisseur’s taste for a clever and apolitical fix, but it definitely trumps championing a middle-ground littered with the casualties of cronyism, colonialism, racism, patriarchy, and all their siblings. And change must come soon because, if Timberg is right, “the price we ultimately pay” for allowing our creative class to remain on its crash course “is in the decline of art itself, diminishing understanding of ourselves, one another, and the eternal human spirit.”
in his State of the Union analysis, Wolf Blitzer suggests advocating progressive economic policies could "hurt Democrats"--even though polls show widespread support for such measures, including, in many cases, from Republican voters.
Groundbreaking Writer Jeff Chang Talks Bill O'Reilly's 'Racist Love,' Twitter Beefs and Obama's Best Next Steps
The author of the multicultural history "Who We Be" sits down with AlterNet to take stock of where we are on race, and how we got here.
It’s easy to look back at 2008 with a sort of bittersweet nostalgia. A jaded remembrance of the last moment in which our collective naïveté – or hope, rather – allowed us, if only momentarily, to believe in the possibility that America might someday get beyond race.
We all know what happened next. Obama’s election, once heralded as a moment of transformative possibility, became the catalyst for the reengagement of culture wars launched with Nixon’s cynical deployment of the Southern Strategy in the late 1960s. Our most recent history is marked by state-sanctioned murders of unarmed black men including Michael Brown and Eric Garner, nationwide protests around police brutality, “white privilege” as a mainstream talking point, the rise of the Tea Party, and the most vociferously rightwing Republican party in generations. In the midst of our current national conversation about race, it seems worthwhile to retrace our steps to understand quite how we got here.
Enter Jeff Chang’s cultural history tome Who We Be: The Colorization of America. Chang’s exhaustive and beautifully written book traces the trajectory of American multiculturalism, from its beginning as a simple descriptor for America’s increasing cultural diversity, to the complex nexus of academic programs, artistic expressions, ideas and philosophies it grew to encompass. A consummate historian, Chang deftly guides us through the history of multiculturalism – as well as the culture wars that have inevitably followed each move toward progress – via the prism of art, both high and low. He argues that artists are visionaries who “help people to see what cannot yet be seen, hear the unheard, tell the untold,” and that cultural shifts are both shaped by and visible within their work.
From Morrie Turner, the African-American artist behind the Wee Pals comic strip, the first to feature characters of multiple races; to the controversial and groundbreaking 1993 Whitney Biennial, in which artists of color challenged viewers with uncompromising and often racially charged images; to the often under-recognized Asian-American, Latino and African-American artists working both in and outside of the mainstream, Chang assembles an incredibly detailed look at the rise and fall of multiculturalism via the culture of visual art itself. All the while, he examines how artists create output that reflects and embraces new and emerging ideas while also influencing our ideas of ourselves. Artistic movements, Change suggests, both broaden and maintain our notions around race, nudging and pushing at the path of racial progress, and re-defining its contours.
AlterNet sat down with Chang, whose last book, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, won an American Book Award, to discuss Who We Be, his thoughts on Obama’s legacy, the difficulty of talking about race with willfully obtuse audiences and the ongoing Twitter feud between two of today’s biggest female rappers.
Kali Holloway: First of all, congratulations on writing such an amazing and beautiful book.
Jeff Chang: Thanks. Appreciate it.
KH: What have you thought of hip-hop's response to Ferguson and Eric Garner and everything that’s happening?
JC: I’ve really been proud of it. What I loved about it, too, is that, it hasn't been this kind of thing of folks sort of saying, ‘Look how down I am doing this shit.’ People are just quietly going about the work, you know what I mean? All the people that showed up at Ferguson, it just goes on and on, you know what I mean? I feel like this year is going to be a year in which the art is going to sort of reach new heights. I mean, shit, D’Angelo kind of like raised the bar for everybody, you know what I mean?
The whole crew that did the “Hands Up” posters, they raised the bar for everybody.
Hank Willis Thomas, he raised the bar for everybody. The Yams Collective, they raised the bar for everybody. They all were working on race before this happened and then after this happened. And so, I feel like there's going to be just a whole period of creativity that's going to blow up this year.
I've been around long enough to kind of see how these things kind of go down. I was there in Los Angeles after the L.A. riots. Which, what you saw sort of leading up to and after the riots was these massive shifts that people couldn’t have predicted. There's the rise of gangsta rap but there was also the really intense rise of avant-garde type stuff where people were going back to looking at Horace Tapscott and black art collectives that had been formed in Los Angeles and Chicago and all these different types of places. Afrofuturism was jumping off.
It was this explosion of ideas that came through at that particular moment, and '93, '94 and '95 were really fertile years. I feel like we're in that kind of a moment right now. It gets me excited. I'm always really interested to see what my students are up to and I'm kind of really looking forward to whether between now and the end of the school year – April, May, June -- when things are starting to cohere for them and their voices are getting a little bit more solidified around what it is that they want to do. It's going to be a really interesting year.
KH: Early on in Who We Be you mention that Obama's rise, in general, sparked the book. But I just wondered if there was a precise moment in which you knew that you had to write this book – and specifically via the prism of so many different cultural moments?
JC: I actually started thinking about the book right after I finished Can't Stop Won't Stop. I was lucky enough to be part of a cohort of folks who were thinking about and working in hip-hop aesthetics in a really deep kind of way, that had been convened by Roberta Uno, who is a program officer at the Ford Foundation.
One of the things that kept coming up in conversation was multiculturalism: the aesthetics of multiculturalism, the culture wars of the '80s and the '90s, and a lot of the ideas that had been pushed by avant-garde artists and critics during the '80s and the '90s.
The question came up whether or not hip-hop was an advance off of that particular intervention and the positions that people had taken in the culture wars. If we had moved forward or moved backward from the culture wars.
It's a really interesting question to rethink the artists and the critics who came after the Black Arts movement and after the aesthetic impulses of the mid '60s through the late '60s that so much of the Golden Age hip-hop heads were saying they’re all about.
This is like, 2005, and we're past the point of hip-hop being at the peak market, but still have a lot of conversations about hip-hop and commodity culture. And I thought this is kind of interesting, and I didn't really talk about it too much in Can't Stop Won't Stop. I kind of referred to it in sort of sideways kinds of ways. There's mention of Amiri Baraka and there's talk about the anti-apartheid rallies. And there's references to the generation gap and the discussion between Angela Davis and Ice Cube, but there wasn't anything in which I had kind of taken it on straight ahead. It felt like a really big hole.
We decided to put together a big public discussion that we held at the Ford Foundation on hip-hop in the age of post-multiculturalism. At that time, I had no idea what I was talking about. I didn't know what post-multiculturalism [was]. I had no idea what folks were going to talk about. I just was like, let's get some really smart motherfuckers in this room and kind of figure this out.
So, [author of The Hip Hop Wars] Tricia Rose was going to be on the panel but she couldn't make it at the last minute, she was sick. Greg Tate was going to emcee the panel, which was kind of a funny thing. Brian Cross, an old friend of mine -- amazing photographer, Irish immigrant -- and Mark Anthony Neal, brilliant dude from Duke University. And the great Vijay Prashad from Trinity College. And everybody had a different take.
Vijay was like, multiculturalism is a farce, it's a lie. It's basically the state bending to neoliberalism and it's all bullshit. We've all been fooled.
Mark was like, it was a hustle for me. I don’t think about multiculturalism anymore. But when I was in college, it was a hustle. It was a way that we got funding for the black student union.
And Brian was like, well look, I came from Ireland – in '86, I guess he came, right in the middle of the cultural wars, especially as they were raising that in the Bay Area. And he was the one closest to my position. I was staking my politics based on what I was seeing out there. And Greg, being older, was like, ‘Well I always thought of it as the heir to cultural nationalism and, so, I was down with it.’
Everybody had a completely different take on it and I was like, ‘Huh, this could be something really amazing.’
The second part of that day was a panel that we did at the Bronx Museum that was curated by Lydia Yee in conjunction with this exhibition that they had done, called "One Planet Under a Groove.” Which was the first big exhibition to really look at hip-hop aesthetics in contemporary art.
She laid out this narrative in which she talked about the importance of the direct attack on multiculturalism in the 1993 [Whitney] biennial, and that artists [who] had come of age after that particular period had had their entire careers shaped by this denigration of "identity art."
I'm like ‘Wow, okay, so that sounds exactly like the kinds of stuff that I've been dealing with around "identity politics" on the left.’ So, I could totally relate. Then I was like, holy shit. So for about two years after that, I wrote version of the proposal after version of the proposal, and each time my editor at St. Martin’s – god bless her soul – would laugh at me like, ‘Nobody cares about multiculturalism. Who cares about multiculturalism?’ You know, you look out the window and there's like a Diddy billboard. This is like 2006, 2007. We were all kind of taking a victory lap, right?
So, it didn't really turn until 2007 and Obama starts getting himself ready to run for office and all of this race stuff starts coming out. First from the Clinton camp, from Mark Penn. And then from the far right when it looks like Obama's really going to be the dude.
Then she and I looked at each other and were like, okay, let's look back at this and let's kind of figure this out. Because there's actually something here that we’ve got to do.
KH: Then you spent six years writing it, right?
JC: Yeah, I had been writing different pieces and parts and all that kind of stuff the whole time. It started as a way both to ease myself in and also as a way to kind of begin the book, because it wasn't like now. At this particular moment in history – we're at a moment in which it's too hard, I think, for folks not to be able to see what's actually going on.
I was proceeding, I think, from some of the same things I was criticizing. Like the idea that, in order to talk to white people about race, you have to soft-pedal it. Which, I thought, okay, shit – let me start talking about this wonderful guy, Morrie Turner, who talked about these things using bits for years.
KH: Right, via comics.
JC: Yeah, so that was the first piece that I think I wrote for the book, and it appeared in The Believer. And people seemed to dig it. And I was like okay, where do we go from here?
I had the outline of it all and I began writing it. But you know, the other thing that happened was that when we first started working on this, Obama had been elected and we're all like, "Yay!” Irrational exuberance and all that kind of shit. And just sort of full of energy. And I'm like, ‘I'm going to write this book.’ I told [my agent], ‘I'm going to write this book in a year. It's going to be done. We're going to get this out. It's going to be a victory lap, and we’re going to be awesome.’
Then, of course, immediately, the culture wars kicked back in. And then, it all just got deep after that. (Laughs.)
So it took a lot longer to actually get the book done. And I had to fight off all kinds of doubts and all that kind of stuff to get to an authentic voice to write the book with.
KH: What was the most difficult part of researching it? Because it’s so incredibly thorough. I also thought maybe you could talk about the difficulty of writing it from any number of vantage points.
JC: I never actually have any problem researching. I'm so...what do they call it? There's an actual name for this. It's research ecstasy. Like, I could stay in and research something all day and all night and for weeks and years and never actually write. You just get caught up in your own research ecstasy.
KH: But I just mean – like the number of people you talk to. The minutiae you bring to the surface. I feel like it must've taken a tremendous amount of time and effort and tracking down people…
JC: Yeah, that's just, I guess, my mode. I'm not good at doing small. I'm trying to learn how to do that better and I think it's really, really key, and the next book is going to be big ideas but written in much more of a small way. That's what I'm developing.
I guess part of your question is about sort of what became difficult about the process because, shit, it has taken me six years since signing – more than six years now – and it's been like seven or eight years since conception. And it was a real difficult book.
It's kind of a tough thing to get up. It's not like hip-hop. Everybody wanted to talk about hip-hop [for Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop]. Versus, if I'm talking about art or visual culture. It's about a topic that is not necessarily easily entered. So I had to kind of go through that whole thing of experimenting and trying out different kinds of voices.
There's a section, I think, in chapter six that I wrote and rewrote a million times. And I think right up until to the very end I was still rewriting it, because I just didn't know how to strike the right kind of – the whole thing was around modulation. I didn't know how to modulate my tone correctly, you know?
Do you want to be snarky? Do you want to be sarcastic? Do you want to be sort of ironic? Do you want to be post-racially humorous, a la Sarah Silverman, about this shit? Like, what do you want to do? All these choices you have to figure out how to make. That was the most difficult part.
Because there's no sort of mid-point any more about this stuff. Either we don't talk about it at all or we talk about it intensely and intently amongst people that we trust and love. But I certainly wanted this to be something that was going to reach beyond that.
So who is that median person out there? I didn't even know who that median person was who was going to read or want to read it. I still don't, actually.
It was a problem. It was a writing problem, actually.
KH: At one point you quote [pollster] Cornell Belcher talking about the problem with equality and he says the way people see it is, “They're trying to get equality, which means I'm losing something.” And that quote reminded me very specifically of a poll I saw that found that white Americans believe that race is a zero sum game and, that it's one that they're losing at this point.
KH: In light of all that and having done all this research I wonder, how hopeful do you feel about race and racism at this point?
JC: It's hard. Some days I'll go out and do a radio show and the conversation will be deep and wonderful and just really hopeful amongst white folks. And then other days I'll go out and I'll do a radio show in my own backyard, in the [San Francisco] Bay Area, where you would hope that people would know better because you have to live with these motherfuckers every day.
KH: Right. (Laughs.)
JC: (Laughs) And people will just be like – they'll be getting down in, ‘Well you're not making a distinction between race and culture and ethnicity.’ All kinds of strange and crazy justifications to actually not have to deal with the question or the topic that's at hand.
All of these very weird and perverted amalgamations and variations on color blindness that people have, and then you leave feeling exhausted. I admire somebody like Hari Kondabolu who can go out there and do this every fucking night.
KH: He’s my favorite comedian.
JC: Yeah, he's the best, right? I just admire him because he can go out and do that. He doesn't lose his fire or his clarity -- I think "clarity" is the word -- about what it is that he's trying to say and what it is that he needs to understand.
Because I feel like I have none of that. I'm sort of on the opposite end of that and I really admire what it is that he does.
Yeah, I don't know. It's tough. It's weird.
KH: As a person of color, how do you define yourself within this book? Meaning, in what way did the process of writing this book and tracing this history impact your view of yourself, an Asian-American man living in this hyper-racialized culture we all exist in.
JC: It's a really good question, actually. I don't know. It's interesting. God. There's so many threads to disentangle there.
The first is that part of my intention, personally and in terms of writing the book, was to go back to this period in which I'd come of age intellectually, which is the late '80s through the late '90s. The decade between, say, about '86 and '97, when I was getting to the points of view that I pretty much hold today, and the evolution of that and trying to go through and attack the things that I had so much certainty about and then to be certain about all the things that I was really unclear about. That was part of it.
Part of that is knowing that, to my family and friends who had known me for that time, I love them and they always support me. And I write a book – and they don't know what the fuck I'm doing anyways. And I'm always a little on edge when we're at family parties, when everybody’s like, ‘Ah, I got your book. I started reading it.’ And then you're like, here comes the hammer, right? And then it doesn't happen. Then you’re happy like, ‘Whew, got through that one.’
Then the next person comes up, same thing. There's part of that. There's a sort of seeing them seeing me type of thing. Like, where am I in relationship to myself? To their perception of me? And all that kind of stuff.
I think the larger thing, like the outside world type of stuff, is I'm actually a little bit more – not a little bit, I'm a lot more – comfortable with going out and talking about it to people in a broad way. Because I'm much more certain of who I am and comfortable about who I am and about what my values are now in middle age. As a parent, as an activist, as an organizer, as a writer, as an artist. All those kind of things. I'm much more clear about.
I think the book helped me to understand much better and much more intimately and in a much more nuanced way all these different parts of the spectrum that people have to live on, on a day-to-day basis.
From dealing with a myriad of microagressions to being someone like Thelma Golden. Who on the one hand is thinking strategically, really long term, at the same time that she understands that almost every interaction is charged with people perceiving her as a Black woman.
That was a revelation to me. And it made me much, much more appreciative about people like her who have to walk this high wire that you're balancing on day to day to move these very large projects that make big change and really shape people's productions in each language.
I suppose in that regard, I'm a lot more aware of what it takes to actually bring about change than I was before. A lot of things that I took for granted – a lot of the nuances of people’s sort of minute day-to-day shifts around different types of things – I can appreciate that a lot more. Trying to incorporate that, I guess, into my own sort of living.
KH: I'm sure you're aware of how someone like Bill O'Reilly consistently cites the example of the success of Asian-Americans as an argument against white privilege, and I think tacitly for black pathology. I wanted talk generally about that with you.
JC: Yeah, it's so interesting. And what I love about it is the way in which it totally reveals that racist love is pretty much the same as racist hate.
All the model minority stuff, the compliments, the wonderful, ‘Oh, you're so good, you're wonderful, you're great, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah’ Behind that is just a little bit of, well, like shit -- if you're going to attack me you're going to have to attack these folks first.
Which is basically Bill O'Reilly's position on this. And I love that because it'll take the scabs off of a lot of eyes of Asian-Americans who believe in this stuff.
Okay, if you're really listening to Bill O'Reilly, don't you think he's actually kind of fucking with you? I like that. I like that that stuff is coming out right now. I’ve talked about this a lot I guess in recent years but not as much as I feel I could be or should be.
A lot of the trigger points for a lot of the campus organizing over the last three years have come from bullshit that Asian-Americans have raised. If you look at the UC Irvine blackface video – I don't know if you heard about this – the “Suit and Tie” video that the Asian-American fraternity was putting out there. They're in blackface and the whole –
KH: I don’t know about this.
JC: You didn't hear about this? Okay. So, [a few] years ago there was an Asian-American fraternity that put online, or somebody related to the fraternity put online, a video of them lip syncing to "Suit and Tie." What happens is all the kids are in their suit and ties and they're all looking cool and everything when they're singing the Justin Timberlake part. Then when the Jay-Z verse comes on, this kid comes out in blackface and starts rapping it.
Now this is at Irvine, and Irvine's just sort of an interesting place. It was the first UC campus to go predominantly Asian-American. And it's a place that's been a central hub for Asian-American cultural production. What I mean by that is, you think of all of the dance crews that have come out on ABDC, almost all of them can trace themselves back to organizations or dancers that came out of UC Irvine or that UC Irvine-centered fraternity sorority scene.
It's at UC Irvine that they started stepping competitions. In the '90s they would imitate black fraternities and sororities and do stepping competitions parallel with them. Back then there was a lot of cultural traffic between the two Greek systems.
There was very much a strong understanding of what you can and can't do. These are kids that are coming out of hip-hop in Los Angeles after the riots, okay? You've got the whole picture.
What you then get is the next generation of kids come into this stuff and they don't necessarily know what the history is or the story of it is. They can affect all of these kinds of hard-earned, what [writer and activist] Kenyon Farrow would call “accoutrements of cool," you know?
The “Suit and Tie” video basically shows you that you've got Asian-Americans trying to be down until they want to be white. And that's basically how they're trying to get down.
There was that situation and then about two years ago at the University of Michigan. You probably remember the hashtag #BBUM campaign that started? Being Black at University of Michigan, #BBUM. This sort of preceded “I, Too, Am Harvard.” It was the same year, but it preceded it and it sparked the action on the Harvard campaign.
The University of Michigan campaign was started by black students who were justifiably angry at the fact that a historically white fraternity, but which is headed up by Asian-Americans -- like the president, leadership, the whole cabinet was Asian-American or predominantly Asian-American -- was throwing a “ratchet” party
They put out this video in which there's a Black guy dancing with a Black woman who's in stripper-type clothing and it was all bullshit. The University, at the behest of African-American student groups, shut the party down before it could even happen. But this was, again, a situation in which Asian Americans were involved in, if not putting together the video and putting it out there, at least being complicit in all of this.
My point is, it's been at these elite universities where Asian-Americans are – if they're not a minority, like at Michigan, they're certainly the predominantly entitled minority for sure. And at Michigan as well, same type of thing.
It's a type of situation where it just really pains me. You kind of can't let this stuff slide anymore. But, by the same token, we have such a weak infrastructure, I think, of cultural institutions in Asian America that there's no real strong way to critique it and have it hold, generationally. It's pretty much by geography, by place, ad hoc, and that kind of thing.
So the best thing that I can do in the role that I play is basically just to be able to go out and reflect a really strong aesthetic and politic that sort of represents calling out anti-black racism where it’s showing up.
I recognize that because I’ve done this book on hip-hop and that kind of thing that folks are going to be calling on me for that. It is what it is, I guess.
KH: Then springboarding off that, what do you think has been people's response to the book as far as you've been able to gather? And do you feel like it’s the response that you wanted?
JC: I don't know; it's been interesting. There's been the curse of good timing, I guess, around this book.
In so many ways, what's happening in the streets has outrun, I think, what my goals were for the book. I think the conversation is at a completely different point than I would've expected it would've been.
Yet there's still a very strong sense in which, part of what's happening right now, when you see, say, Bill O'Reilly trying to raise, ‘Well, hey if you're against White privilege, you should be talking about Asian privilege too!’ There's this sort of on-the-fly, spontaneous re-thinking of how to recruit for a colorblindness amidst all of this stuff.
I feel like we've already gone into that new phase. Because at this particular point, with Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the point that I was trying to make about seeing race, it's pretty patently obvious and plain, you know? That in so many ways, the ways we haven't changed how we see race continues to impact us. I think that's key. And so, it's easier, I think, for Bill O'Reilly to be able to remark upon Asian privilege because of the obvious difference that we present visually. Much more difficult, probably, to do it with Latinos, in that regard.
They haven't had to re-think that yet. And they are probably still hopeful that they'll get the Latino vote for 2016.
It's all sort of in flux right now and I feel like the conversation in that sense is kind of moved to a completely different level. Where it hasn't yet moved [and] where the book is still really relevant is in regards to the way that the left understands race and the sort of really kind of tested, I think, support that we've seen happening from white quarters around a lot of the protests.
You see a lot of young folks in the streets, but you don't see a lot of folks my age trying to re-think this. And it's the sort of, what George Lipsitz calls a "possessive investment.” There's this investment that other people have in it and they're not willing to question that. And I don't know how to get at that. My main job, I think, is to raise the questions and hopes that these kinds of conversations might start.
KH: I'm going to get a little bit lighter here…
KH: That was at the end of December, and I feel like Iggy has doubled down on a lot of stuff. More recently, she complained that she was being targeted as a white woman, which is a little amazing since I feel like black male rappers keep running to her rescue. And there's a whole vulnerable white woman trope that's happening there. And it's a little bit like, ‘Um, be a rapper. Use your words.’
JC: (Laughs.) Yeah, yeah.
KH: I feel like she's been repeating this line she's been fed by a handler who told her when these questions of appropriation come up, that she should reference the Rolling Stones and Elvis and these predecessors who appropriated black music and culture. And that's kind of been her go-to line.
JC: God, I haven't thought about Iggy Azalea for about a week and a half. All the stuff you just dropped on me is brand new. I guess it's a luxury not to have to think about Iggy Azalea. (Laughs) It's interesting. That's really interesting.
You said that she's been citing the Rolling Stones and the Beatles and all those different acts?
KH: Yeah, more than once. I've seen her mention it maybe three times recently. I feel like it's an idea that someone gave her a while ago and she keeps using over and over.
JC: She keeps on using it. Yeah, she didn't strike me as a particularly deep thinker.
I think it's interesting. Somebody should be telling her, ‘Dude, you're not Paul McCartney. You know, you're not John Lennon, come on. You're not Keith Richards, you're not Mick Jagger.’
You have one hit. You have one album out that's been decently received. You have no track record. I think it's just bad advice – whoever is giving you advice in that regard probably should go back and tell her she's a little bit out of hand there.
I mean, shit. Iggy Azalea is one of those folks where I go, "God, this too shall pass," you know?
What's interesting is that she seems to have some sort of – at least right now anyway – she seems to have some sort of a staying power because of social media. If it were just up to her music and her performance she wouldn't be around. She's not going to be around in a couple of weeks, you know what I mean?
KH: Right. (Laughs.)
JC: Really, honestly, you know? Who remembers Vanilla Ice had a second album?
JC: I don't even know what the name of it was, you know what I mean?
She's living by her tweets and she's not necessarily living by her art. She may be interesting as a social figure but so is M.I.A. and sadly, M.I.A. didn't do so well at her second album, either. Even though I thought it was better than the first.
If we're taking a long arc of history on this, I feel like Iggy Azalea will pass, unless she starts getting her shit together and starts making stuff that people care about. But I can't imagine artists lining up to guest on her next record. After the events of the past three weeks or so.
KH: I think it's been a kind of disastrous for her. Every time [something like] this happens I just think, she must have handlers. Why isn't someone taking over her Twitter? But maybe her handlers are as clueless as she is.
The response wasn't great. I've disagreed with [Azaelia Banks] a lot in the past, and I don't necessarily think that Twitter is the best medium to express every thought or to settle every beef that you have. But you know, she's kind of nailed it lately. So, yeah. It was kind of a tone deaf response [from Iggy Azaelia].
JC: Yeah, and I think this is clearly a battle that [Banks] won, and I think that she raised a lot of really, really important points.
One of the things that I was really happy to see happen out of this whole thing – because my editor at the Guardian was like, "You should write about this." I'm like, "No, please. Are you kidding?"
I walked around a little bit for an hour or two and I was like, actually, there's a lot of stuff going on here that really needs to be brought out. And I thought what was particularly salient about Azaelia Banks’s response on Hot 97 was – talk about it in theoretical terms, right – linking the affect to the erasure, right? Her basically linking her personal feelings to this larger question of the dehistoricization of pop and that kind of thing. And then talking about it, I think, too, explicitly from the point of view of being a black woman. And a queer black woman at that. A bisexual black woman at that.
I thought this is really actually a huge moment in the pop culture to be able to make an intervention. She didn't intend to but she so clearly made that. And so the critique of my piece in the Guardian was that I didn't go in enough on those questions, and people are absolutely correct about that. But within hours of my piece appearing, two or three really good friends were already weighing in on that on Facebook. And then the next day or maybe the next week, a good friend of mine, [hip-hop writer] Kris X, went in really deeply on that. And so it was great. It was one of those moments in which the discussion that had to be had reached critical mass in a really, really quick kind of way. So I was really happy about that.
We were able to take it away from, “Oh [Azaelia Banks] is crazy. She's bipolar.”
All the other shit that came along with that. ‘Look at all the people that she's attacked on twitter. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.’ I'm like all right, all right, all right, all right, cool but what about this? This is real, is it not? So, I think that was really the salient type of thing.
That's the cool thing. Those are the moments in pop culture where as writers we're like, fuck. You wake up one morning and some shit happens and then all of a sudden you're writing about it and then it can reach that kind of level. It was a beautiful thing. So thank you to Azaelia.
KH: What are you listening to right now and is there anything you're listening to that you think might have the same urgency as an agent of cultural change as the art that you cite in Who We Be?
JC: I mean, let's see. I'm always listening to shit. Here's a left field one. I was listening to some podcasts that Moshe Kasher has been putting together. He has this podcast with Neal Brennan, who is the co-creator of the “Chappelle Show.” And Moshe is a comic from the Bay Area.
KH: I've only heard an interview with him on Mark Maron's show.
JC: Okay, yeah. So, Moshe's been doing some really intersecting discussions of late. He did one with Reza Aslan on being brown in America. And it just seems like it happened before all the Charlie Hebdo stuff, but it was so on point. And I think the same week it had an episode around the Garner [verdict], which had just broken. Actually him and Neal, let me pull this up here.
I think he had done both of those in the same week. It was with Baratunde Thurston.
Both of these are brilliant. They were amazing. They're really insightful, they're funny, kind of laugh until you cry, cry until you laugh type of thing. And so timely. And I was like ‘Yeah, that's the way these race conversations should be going.’ So yeah. I've been listening to that.
Musically, shit. End of the year is when I catch up on everything that I missed during the year. So I have massive stacks of shit in here. Let me see, what have I been listening to. Actually, I was telling somebody yesterday this. Public Enemy, right now, seems really relevant, actually.
I think the other stuff that I'm just waiting for is, I just want Erykah Badu to be out with some stuff right now.
The other artist I really like is this woman called Fatima al Qadiri. She's sort of this conceptualist artist who makes post-dubstep shit which is really, really, really interesting. It's conceptual. She did something basically around the Iraq War – that was her first album. And [on] this next album she’s using Chinese samples and Chinese artists and that kind of thing even though she's never been to China. It's work that's kind of engaging with the mystique of China but in this really beautiful, non-Orientalizing kind of way. She's from Kuwait. So, how do you, as one who's been Orientalized, treat another culture that you don’t know too much about? Can't speak the language or anything. And she does it sonically, which is a really interesting kind of experiment to me, and it really works. I'm really digging her stuff too.
Catching up on all the footwork stuff.
Oh, and Vince Staples, who's kind of dope.
KH: One of my favorite quotes from the book is, "Calling someone else PC means never having to apologize for being racist."
JC: Dude, that was a line that I worked on for – that's the line that I was talking to you about, that's the passage.
KH: Oh, that's funny.
JC: I had a super cynical, super mocking, super snarky [tone]. And then I kind of dialed it back and that's what I finally ended up with. I think if I still had the book in my hand I'd still be thinking, ‘Should I soften that?’ I don’t know.
KH: No! I love it. It’s such a great, concise way of putting down a thought that I’ve had so many times. And it also recalls that old movie, "Love Story." So it's great on so many levels.
I've been thinking a lot about that phrase just as we all are sort of thinking aloud about Charlie Hebdo, which was obviously a huge tragedy. But that doesn't negate the need for us to critique and discuss the magazine itself. And so, I wanted to see if you want to express your thoughts on that.
JC: The only comment I made on that on Twitter was to retweet something that (comedian) W. Kamal Bell had posted. Here it is: ‘Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful, and only aimed at the powerful. And when satire is aimed at the powerless it's not only cruel it's vulgar.’ And it's Molly Ivins's quote. And I was just like, yeah. I'm with that.
KH: I totally agree.
Just sort of using the Angela Davis quote [that appears in Who We Be] about Obama having been “a canvas onto which many of us are painting our desires and our dreams and our hopes.” I wonder what you now think Obama's legacy will be moving forward. How will history treat Obama's legacy?
JC: I think it's going to actually be a positive one. I think that a lot of us have been really, really disappointed, especially in his foreign policy. And other areas on which he hasn't moved the ball forward that we'd like to. And certainly there's a lot to be said about the fact that inequality – racial inequality – has increased under his watch.
I'm not even the kind of person who wants to let him off the hook and be like, ‘Well, he's black,’ you know what I mean? ‘What more could he have done?’ Because it's a line. It's a line that you hear from a lot of folks of color, especially. ‘Well he could've got more done if he wasn't black, and people didn't hate him because of that.’
It's a line that, I think, sort of speaks to common sense understandings, but actually is not that truthful.
I think it's obviously truthful to a large extent. I think that he has been punished for talking about race.
JC: But that he could've also chosen to still stand his ground on that. You know at some point maybe there's a piece to be written about [New York City Mayor Bill] de Blasio versus Obama on race and whether what we're seeing there is balls or entitlement or white privilege, you know what I'm saying? Does de Blasio have bigger balls than Obama, or does he have white privilege? I think that's a really good debate for us to have.
I'm not going to be the one, though, who's going to be like, ‘Let's let him off the hook because he was the first.’ I think that in the end, his legacy is going to be seen as something that wasn't necessarily transformative, but that was positive. And I put a lot of that down to Obamacare, because we haven't seen the impact of that. I think that in the long run when we do – that is, if we’re able to defend it – It's going to be seen as transformative in some ways.
I say that and also that it'll be interesting to see how he shows up his last lame duck years because in a lot of ways he has nothing to lose anymore. He doesn't have to bow to leadership in Congress at all. And as ironic as it may be to the Republicans, what they've shown him is that if he plays hardball politics, that would be the best way for him to rally the base.
It's simply electoral politics that will get played out at this point, you know? And the best that he can do at this particular point is to move left – consolidate the left. Because what that'll do is force Hillary [Clinton] further left on a lot of issues than she would have liked to have been. And it'll shore up the base for her that could be lost when you don't have a candidate of color on the ticket.
So it's good political strategy, as well as good politics. And the right can complain about that. So he has all the incentive actually to move left and to move towards more racial justice stuff in the last couple of years. And it would be good to see if he does.
KH: If change, as you say in the book's opening, is “a process that, like the ocean, never stops moving” what does the latest wave tell us?
JC: I mean I think that, again, I think what we're going to see is a lot of unforeseen things coming out of what's happening right now. For instance, with Occupy, people are like, ‘It was a failure as a movement.’ But at the same time we've got the grounds for this Abolish Debt movement -- the sort of debt jubilee stuff that's happening. And we have a language now that people can rally around regarding inequality that we didn't have before.
I think in that same kind of way, a simple hashtag like #BlackLivesMatter helps to shine a light on anti-blackness in ways that we only had very theoretical ways to acknowledge before.
I don't want to be too critical, but what I want to say is that it opens up a more interesting dialogue than some of the strains of academic nationalism would have. While getting at the same kind of points that everybody agrees with, they open up a politics that makes things possible.
What I'm down on I guess is sort of academic nationalism that doesn't open up a politics of possibility.
The point is that the culture has to be transformative but the politics have to be transformative as well.
I should say I'm really partial to the lives of thinkers who are looking historically, laterally and really deeply at anti-black racism. And that's where I'm at, too. But it has to enact a politics that's open to transformation.
I want a politics that is not disabling but enabling. I feel like #BlackLivesMatter comes from that kind of place. I know the people who are involved, I know where they're coming from. They're coming from queer politics, they're coming from pro-immigrant politics. They're coming from a politics that is based in a deep sort of understanding of humanity and where we all need to go.Related Stories
The Washington Post's Dana Milbank complains that Obama's State of the Union address didn't have enough terrorism in it. Why, it only mentioned "terrorism," "terror" or "terrorists" nine times!
No one needed or desired these products to be more sex-specific.
If I had a dollar for every time I wished they made earplugs just for women, I’d still have only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men. And yet! The marketing world never sleeps and R&D has a job to do, so lady earplugs are a reality. As are a whole range of other genderized products no one ever asked for or needed. And so we present, for your reading pleasure, 10 of the most useless products “for him” and “for her.”
1) Pink Guns and Lady Gun Accessories
You love shooting to kill but hate the way blue steel butches up your outfit. No worries! There’s actually a bustling cottage industry built on manufacturing the lady guns you want, which obviously come in pink and lavender and “Tiffany blue.” How will you carry all that adorable firepower? Well, there are a handful of retailers that sell accessories for your pretty pistols, from gun holster bras to conceal-carry purses. One company even makes pink bullets (here’s a video of them being manufactured), sales of which they claim help support finding a cure for breast cancer. Because what better way to help save a life than by shooting something to death?
2) Candles for Him, or Mandles
You know how regular candles are like tiny beacons of light, illuminating your shortcomings as a man? Man candles, or mandles, are the opposite of that. Burning them around the house will cause you to spontaneously grow a second nutsack so manly it will fight your old nutsack just for hanging around on its turf. Mandles come in scents like “Black Leather Jacket” and “Hickory Smoked Bacon.” The “Fart” mandle, which the product description reassures us “smells like a FART” is, sadly, out of stock.
3) Bounce Dryer Sheets for Men
We all know the worst thing about regular dryer sheets is that they make you smell like you have ovaries and daddy issues. With Bounce’s dryer sheets for men, you can instead smell like sports and unearned confidence. They’re still totally toxic, but at least they’re not, you know, feminine.
4) Men's Clothes Hangers
It’s always been difficult for men to use lady hangers, seeing as they’re made of chamomile tea and tampons, which instantly collapse into tears when you try to hang your manliest clothes on them. Luckily, Unbar has developed a hanger made out of industrial-grade reinforced steel, which means it can also be used as a weapon to kill any man who calls your masculinity into question. The Man Hanger -- which is its actual name because who needs subtlety -- retails for $25 a pop. Jacket with the word “Douchebag” emblazoned across the back sold separately.
5) Pink and Flower-Covered Tools for Women
Sometimes, something breaks around the kitchen and no man is around to repair it, so women are forced to try and fix it themselves. These pink and flower-covered tools give them something pretty to look at while they inevitably make the problem worse. From tape measures decorated with peonies to cotton candy-colored power tools with “Little Pink Drill” inscribed in girly cursive, these are perfect for the aspiring -- and obviously, totally deluded -- handywoman in your life.
6) Kleenex for Men
It’s the most common complaint in America: “Tissues only come in sizes chicks can use!” Meanwhile, men in the UK have had it easy for at least the last 50 years, because Kleenex has been making “mansize” tissues there the whole time. (Here’s a real ad for them from way back in 1964.) The good news is, Amazon will deliver them to your door no matter what country you live in. The bad news is, we all know what you’re using using them for. Just make sure to wipe down your keyboard with your “mansize” tissues when you’re done.
7) LEGOs for Girls
Not to be confused with those awesome Lego female mini-figurines, which depict lady Lego people in various STEM-related professions, like scientists, doctors and astronauts. Instead, Legos for girls are just the classic plastic blocks reconfigured into girly things. There’s a princess castle, pretty purple ponies and -- the pièce de résistance -- a romantic Valentine’s Day restaurant setting you’re supposed to send your Lego figurines to on a date. It actually comes with a tiny golden engagement ring, because it’s never too soon for little girls to start worrying about spinsterhood.
8) Pens for Women
Ladies, our long national nightmare of having to write with men’s pens is finally over, thanks to Bic, which introduced its “Cristal for Her” line back in 2012. You can tell these pens are for women because they’re made in the pastel colors we love and they cost double what normal man pens cost. (See Ellen Degeneres’s bit on how stupid this whole thing is.) There are thousands of Amazon reviews of Cristal for Her, each one a little ingot of comedy gold, like the customer who notes that “not surprisingly, these pens cannot be used to do math problems more complicated than 5th grade level.” Another woman laments, “I was so tirwd of writimg with penz meant for men and ﬁnall7 someone made thi5 proct8… damm!t!! This stupid keybrd is clearly$ made 4 guys I can”t work the ke7s rught.…”
9) Lady Earplugs
Until now, earplugs were made for two kinds of people: men and giantesses. Now it looks like the rest of us will finally get some peace and quiet. These earplugs are not only pink (because how the hell else would our undersized lady brains know they’re for women?), but they also claim to be “cute,” and “silky soft,” although I’m pretty sure they already had us all at “cute.”
10) Laxative for Women
Unlike regular man laxatives, these lady laxatives presumably make your poop smell even more like roses.Related Stories
Read the first chapter of the book, "Guantánamo Diary," written by Mohamedou Ould Slahi. It is the first and only public account written by a still-imprisoned Guantánamo detainee. Slahi has been imprisoned since 2002. The United States has never charged him with a crime. A federal judge ordered his release in 2010, but he remains in custody.
Click here to watch our interview with Slahi's editor, Larry Siems, his lawyer, Nancy Hollander, and retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis. Davis says he met with Slahi shortly before he resigned as the former chief military prosecutor at Guantánamo Bay in 2007, and argues he is "no more a terrorist than Forrest Gump."
Read Chapter 1 of Guantánamo Diary below.
Democracy Now! has regularly covered the stories of those imprisoned at the U.S. detention facility located in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, since former President George W. Bush began the so-called war on terror. The first captives arrived at the detention camp on January 11, 2002. Browse an archive of our reports here.
Excerpted from the book "Guantánamo Diary" by Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Diary and annotated diary copyright © 2015 by Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Introduction and notes copyright © 2015 by Larry Siems. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company.
The American Team Takes Over ... Arrival at Bagram ... Bagram to GTMO ... GTMO, the New Home ... One Day in Paradise, the Next in Hell
July __, 2002, 10 p.m.
The music was off. The conversations of the guards faded away. The truck emptied. I felt alone in the hearse truck. The waiting didn’t last: I felt the presence of new people, a silent team. I don’t remember a single word during the whole rendition to follow.
A person was undoing the chains on my wrists. He undid the first hand, and another guy grabbed that hand and bent it while a third person was putting on the new, firmer and heavier shackles. Now my hands were shackled in front of me.
Somebody started to rip my clothes with something like a scissors. I was like, What the heck is going on? I started to worry about the trip I neither wanted nor initiated. Somebody else was deciding everything for me; I had all the worries in the world but making a decision. Many thoughts went quickly through my head. The optimistic thoughts suggested, 'Maybe you’re in the hands of Americans, but don’t worry, they just want to take you home, and to make sure that everything goes in secrecy.' The pessimistic ones went, 'You screwed up! The Americans managed to pin some shit on you, and they’re taking you to U.S. prisons for the rest of your life.'
I was stripped naked. It was humiliating, but the blindfold helped me miss the nasty look of my naked body. During the whole procedure, the only prayer I could remember was the crisis prayer, Ya hayyu! Ya kayyum! and I was mumbling it all the time. Whenever I came to be in a similar situation, I would forget all my prayers except the crisis prayer, which I learned from life of our Prophet, Peace be upon him.
One of the team wrapped a diaper around my private parts. Only then was I dead sure that the plane was heading to the U.S. Now I started to convince myself that “every thing’s gonna be alright.” My only worry was about my family seeing me on TV in such a degrading situation. I was so skinny. I’ve been always, but never that skinny: my street clothes had become so loose that I looked like a small cat in a big bag.
When the U.S. team finished putting me in the clothes they tailored for me, a guy removed my blindfold for a moment. I couldn’t see much because he directed the flashlight into my eyes. He was wrapped from hair to toe in a black uniform. He opened his mouth and stuck his tongue out, gesturing for me to do the same, a kind of AHH test which I took without resistance. I saw part of his very pale, blond-haired arm, which cemented my theory of being in Uncle Sam’s hands.
The blindfold was pushed down. The whole time I was listening to loud plane engines; I very much believe that some planes were landing and others taking off. I felt my “special” plane approaching, or the truck approaching the plane, I don’t recall anymore. But I do recall that when the escort grabbed me from the truck, there was no space between the truck and the airplane stairs. I was so exhausted, sick, and tired that I couldn’t walk, which compelled the escort to pull me up the steps like a dead body.
Inside the plane it was very cold. I was laid on a sofa and the guards shackled me, mostly likely to the floor. I felt a blanket put over me; though very thin, it comforted me.
I relaxed and gave myself to my dreams. I was thinking about different members of my family I would never see again. How sad would they be! I was crying silently and without tears; for some reason, I gave all my tears at the beginning of the expedition, which was like the boundary between death and life. I wished I were better to people. I wished I were better to my family. I regretted every mistake I made in my life, toward God, toward my family, toward anybody!
I was thinking about life in an American prison. I was thinking about documentaries I had seen about their prisons, and the harshness with which they treat their prisoners. I wished I were blind or had some kind of handicap, so they would put me in isolation and give me some kind of humane treatment and protection. I was thinking, What will the first hearing with the judge be like? Do I have a chance to get due process in a country so full of hatred against Muslims? Am I really already convicted, even before I get the chance to defend myself ?
I drowned in these painful dreams in the warmth of the blanket. Every once in a while the pain of the urine urge pinched me. The diaper didn’t work with me: I could not convince my brain to give the signal to my bladder. The harder I tried, the firmer my brain became. The guard beside me kept pouring water bottle caps in my mouth, which worsened my situation. There was no refusing it, either you swallow or you choke. Lying on one side was killing me beyond belief, but every attempt to change my position ended in failure, for a strong hand pushed me back to the same position.
I could tell that the plane was a big jet, which led me to believe that flight was direct to the U.S. But after about five hours, the plane started to lose altitude and smoothly hit the runway. I realized the U.S. is a little bit farther than that. Where are we? In Ramstein, Germany? Yes! Ramstein it is: in Ramstein there’s a U.S. military airport for transiting planes from the Middle East; we’re going to stop here for fuel. But as soon as the plane landed, the guards started to change my metal chains for plastic ones that cut my ankles painfully on the short walk to a helicopter. One of the guards, while pulling me out of the plane, tapped me on the shoulder as if to say, “you’re gonna be alright.” As in agony as I was, that gesture gave me hope that there were still some human beings among the people who were dealing with me.
When the sun hit me, the question popped up again: Where am I? Yes, Germany it is: it was July and the sun rises early. But why Germany? I had done no crimes in Germany! What shit did they pull on me? And yet the German legal system was by far a better choice for me; I know the procedures and speak the language. Moreover, the German system is somewhat transparent, and there are no two and three hundred years sentences. I had little to worry about: a German judge will face me and show me whatever the government has brought against me, and then I’m going to be sent to a temporary jail until my case is decided. I won’t be subject to torture, and I won’t have to see the evil faces of interrogators.
After about ten minutes the helicopter landed and I was taken into a truck, with a guard on either side. The chauffeur and his neighbor were talking in a language I had never heard before. I thought, What the heck are they speaking, maybe Filipino? I thought of the Philippines because I’m aware of the huge U.S. military presence there. Oh, yes, Philippines it is: they conspired with the U.S. and pulled some shit on me. What would the questions of their judge be? By now, though, I just wanted to arrive and take a pee, and after that they can do whatever they please. Please let me arrive! I thought; After that you may kill me!
The guards pulled me out of the truck after a five-minute drive, and it felt as if they put me in a hall. They forced me to kneel and bend my head down: I should remain in that position until they grabbed me. They yelled, “Do not move.” Before worrying about anything else, I took my most remarkable urine since I was born. It was such a relief; I felt I was released and sent back home. All of a sudden my worries faded away, and I smiled inside. Nobody noticed what I did.
About a quarter of an hour later, some guards pulled me and towed me to a room where they obviously had “processed” many detainees. Once I entered the room, the guards took the gear off my head. Oh, my ears ached so badly, and so did my head; actually my whole body was conspiring against me. I could barely stand. The guards started to deprive me of my clothes, and soon I stood there as naked as my mother bore me. I stood there for the first time in front of U.S. soldiers, not on TV, this was for real. I had the most common reaction, covering my private parts with my hands. I also quietly started to recite the crisis prayer, Ya hayyu! Ya kayyum! Nobody stopped me from praying; however, one of the MPs was staring at me with his eyes full of hatred. Later on he would order me to stop looking around in the room.
A __________________________ medic gave me a quick medical check, after which I was wrapped in Afghani cloths. Yes, Afghani clothes in the Philippines! Of course I was chained, hands and feet tied to my waist. My hands, moreover, were put in mittens. Now I’m ready for action! What action? No clue!
The escort team pulled me blindfolded to a neighboring interrogation room. As soon as I entered the room, several people started to shout and throw heavy things against the wall. In the melee, I could distinguish the following questions:
“Where is Mullah Omar?” “Where is Usama Bin Laden?” “Where is Jalaluddin Haqqani?”
A very quick analysis went through my brain: the individuals in those questions were leading a country, and now they’re a bunch of fugitives! The interrogators missed a couple of things. First, they had just briefed me about the latest news: Afghanistan is taken over, but the high level people have not been captured. Second, I turned myself in about the time when the war against terrorism started, and since then I have been in a Jordanian prison, literally cut off from the rest of the world. So how am I supposed to know about the U.S. taking over Afghanistan, let alone about its leaders having fled? Not to mention where they are now.
I humbly replied, “I don’t know!”
“You’re a liar!” shouted one of them in broken Arabic.
“No, I’m not lying, I was captured so and so, and I only knowAbu Hafs..” I said, in a quick summary of my whole story.
“We should interrogate these motherfuckers like the Israelis do.”
“What do they do? ” asked another.
“They strip them naked and interrogate them!”
“Maybe we should!” suggested another. Chairs were still flying around and hitting the walls and the floor. I knew it was only a show of force, and the establishment of fear and anxiety. I went with the flow and even shook myself more than necessary. I didn’t believe that Americans torture, even though I had always considered it a remote possibility.
“I am gonna interrogate you later on,” said one, and the U.S. interpreter repeated the same in Arabic.
“Take him to the Hotel,” suggested the interrogator. Thistime the interpreter didn’t translate.
And so was the first interrogation done. Before the escort grabbed me, in my terrorizing fear, I tried to connect with the interpreter.
“Where did you learn such good Arabic? ” I asked.
“In the U.S.!” he replied, sounding flattered. In fact, he didn’t speak good Arabic; I just was trying to make some friends.
The escort team led me away. “You speak English,” one of them said in a thick Asian accent.
“A little bit,” I replied. He laughed, and so did his colleague. I felt like a human being leading a casual conversation. I said to myself, Look how friendly the Americans are: they’re gonna put you in a Hotel, interrogate you for a couple of days, and then fly you home safely. There’s no place for worry. The U.S. just wants to check everything, and since you’re innocent, they’re gonna find that out. For Pete’s sake, you’re on a base in Philippines; even though it’s a place at the edge of legality, it’s just temporary. The fact that one of the guards sounded Asian strengthened my wrong theory of being in the Philippines.
I soon arrived, not at a Hotel but at a wooden cell with neither a bathroom nor a sink. From the modest furniture — a weathered, thin mattress and an old blanket — you could tell there had been somebody here. I was kind of happy for having left Jordan, the place of randomness, but I was worried about the prayers I could not perform, and I wanted to know how many prayers I missed on the trip. The guard of the cell was a small, skinny white _______, a fact which gave me more comfort: for the last eight months I had been dealt with solely by big, muscular males.
I asked about the time, and ____ told me it was about eleven, if I remember correctly. I had one more question.
“What day is it?”
“I don’t know, every day here is the same,” _ –_ replied. I realized I had asked too much; _ –_ wasn’t even supposed to tell me the time, as I would learn later.
I found a Koran gently placed on some water bottles. I realized I was not alone in the jail, which was surely not a Hotel.
As it turned out, I was delivered to the wrong cell. Suddenly, I saw the weathered feet of a detainee whose face I couldn’t see because it was covered with a black bag. Black bags, I soon would learn, were put on everybody’s heads to blindfold them and make them unrecognizable, including the writer. Honestly, I didn’t want to see the face of the detainee, just in case he was in pain or suffering, because I hate to see people suffering; it drives me crazy. I’ll never forget the moans and cries of the poor detainees in Jordan when they were suffering torture. I remember putting my hands over my ears to stop myself from hearing the cries, but no matter how hard I tried, I was still able to hear the suffering. It was awful, even worse than torture.
The _______ guard at my door stopped the escort team and organized my transfer to another cell. It was the same as the one I was just in, but in the facing wall. In the room there was a half-full water bottle, the label of which was written in Russian; I wished I had learned Russian. I said to myself, a U.S. base in the Philippines, with water bottles from Russia? The U.S. doesn’t need supplies from Russia, and besides, geographically it makes no sense. Where am I? Maybe in a former Russian Republic, like Tajikstan? All I know is that I don’t know!
The cell had no facility to take care of the natural business. Washing for prayer was impossible and forbidden. There was no clue as to the Kibla, the direction of Mecca. I did what I could. My next door neighbor was mentally sick; he was shouting in a language with which I was not familiar. I later learned that he was a Taliban leader.
Later on that day, July 20, 2002, the guards pulled me for routine police work, fingerprints, height, weight, etcetera. I was offered _________ as interpreter. It was obvious that Arabic was not ____ first language. ____ taught me the rules: no speaking, no praying loudly, no washing for prayer, and a bunch of other nos in that direction. The guard asked me whether I wanted to use the bathroom. I thought he meant a place where you can shower; “Yes,” I said. The bathroom was a barrel filled with human waste. It was the most disgusting bathroom I ever saw. The guards had to watch you while you were taking care of business. I couldn’t eat the food — the food in Jordan was, by far, better than the cold MREs I got in Bagram — so I didn’t really have to use the bathroom. To pee, I would use the empty water bottles I had in my room. The hygienic situation was not exactly perfect; sometimes when the bottle got filled, I continued on the floor, making sure that it didn’t go all the way to the door.
For the next several nights in isolation, I got a funny guard who was trying to convert me to Christianity. I enjoyed the conversations, though my English was very basic. My dialogue partner was young, religious, and energetic. He liked Bush (“the true religious leader,” according to him); he hated Bill Clinton (“the Infidel”). He loved the dollar and hated the Euro. He had his copy of the bible on him all the time, and whenever the opportunity arose he read me stories, most of which were from the Old Testament. I wouldn’t have been able to understand them if I hadn’t read the bible in Arabic several times — not to mention that the versions of the stories are not that far from the ones in the Koran. I had studied the Bible in the Jordanian prison; I asked for a copy, and they offered me one. It was very helpful in understanding Western societies, even though many of them deny being influenced by religious scriptures. I didn’t try to argue with him: I was happy to have somebody to talk to. He and I were unanimous that the religious scriptures, including the Koran, must have come from the same source. As it turned out, the hot-tempered soldier’s knowledge about his religion was very shallow. Nonetheless I enjoyed him being my guard. He gave me more time on the bathroom, and he even looked away when I used the barrel.
I asked him about my situation. “You’re not a criminal, because they put the criminals in the other side,” he told me, gesturing with his hand. I thought about those “criminals” and pictured a bunch of young Muslims, and how hard their situation could be. I felt bad. As it turned out, later on I was transferred to these “criminals,” and became a “high priority criminal.” I was kind of ashamed when the same guard saw me later with the “criminals,” after he had told me that I was going to be released at most after three days. He acted normally, but he didn’t have that much freedom to talk to me about religion there because of his numerous colleagues. Other detainees told me that he was not bad toward them, either.
The second or the third night _________ pulled me out of my cell himself and led me to an interrogation, where the same ___________Arabic already had taken a seat. _________________________________________________
“Ja Wohl,” I replied. ___________ was not _____________ but his German was fairly acceptable, given that he spent ___
, “Wahrheit macht frei, the truth sets you free.” When I heard him say that, I knew the truth wouldn’t set me free, because “Arbeit” didn’t set the Jews free. Hitler’s propaganda machinery used to lure Jewish detainees with the slogan, “Arbeit macht frei,” Work sets you free. But work set nobody free.took a note in his small notebook and left the room. ________ sent me back to my room and apologized___________________.
“I am sorry for keeping you awake for so long,” “No problem!” ___ replied.
Detainees were not allowed to talk to each other, but we enjoyed looking at each other. The punishment for talking was hanging the detainee by the hands with his feet barely touching the ground. I saw an Afghani detainee who passed out a couple of times while hanging from his hands. The medics “fixed” him and hung him back up. Other detainees were luckier: they were hung for a certain time and then released. Most of the detainees tried to talk while they were hanging, which made the guards double their punishment. There was a very old Afghani fellow who reportedly was arrested to turn over his son. The guy was mentally sick; he couldn’t stop talking because he didn’t know where he was, nor why. I don’t think he understood his environment, but the guards kept dutifully hanging him. It was so pitiful. One day one of the guards threw him on his face, and he was crying like a baby.
We were put in about six or seven big barbed-wire cells named after operations performed against the U.S: Nairobi, U.S.S. Cole, Dar-Es-Salaam, and so on. In each cell there was a detainee called English, who benevolently served as an interpreter to translate the orders to his co-detainees. Our English was a gentleman from Sudan named __________________. His English was very basic, and so he asked me secretly whether I spoke English. “No,” I replied — but as it turned out I was a Shakespeare compared to him. My brethren thought that I was denying them my services, but I just didn’t know how bad the situation was.
Now I was sitting in front of bunch of dead regular U.S. citizens. My first impression, when I saw them chewing without a break, was, What’s wrong with these guys, do they have to eat so much? Most of the guards were tall, and overweight. Some of them were friendly and some very hostile. Whenever I realized that a guard was mean I pretended that I understood no English. I remember one cowboy coming to me with an ugly frown on his face:
“You speak English? ” he asked. “No English,” I replied.
“We don’t like you to speak English. We want you to die slowly,” he said.
“No English,” I kept replying. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction that his message arrived. People with hatred always have something to get off their chests, but I wasn’t ready to be that drain.
Prayer in groups wasn’t allowed. Everybody prayed on his own, and so did I. Detainees had no clues about prayer time. We would just imitate: when a detainee started to pray, we assumed it was time and followed. The Koran was available to detainees who asked for one. I don’t remember asking myself, because the handling by the guards was just disrespectful; they threw it to each other like a water bottle when they passed the holy book through. I didn’t want to be a reason for humiliating God’s word. Moreover, thank God, I know the Koran by heart. As far as I recall, one of the detainees secretly passed me a copy that nobody was using in the cell.
After a couple of days, _____________________ pulled me to interrogate me. ___________ acted as an interpreter.
“Tell me your story,” _________ asked.
“My name is, I graduated in 1988, I got a scholarship to Germany...” I replied in very boring detail, none of which seemed to interest or impress _________. He grew tired and started to yawn. I knew exactly what he wanted to hear, but I couldn’t help him.
He interrupted me. “My country highly values the truth.
Now I’m gonna ask you some questions, and if you answer truthfully, you’re gonna be released and sent safely to your family. But if you fail, you’re gonna be imprisoned indefinitely. A small note in my agenda book is enough to destroy your life. What terrorist organizations are you part of ?”
“None,” I replied.
“You’re not a man, and you don’t deserve respect. Kneel, cross your hands, and put them behind your neck.”
I obeyed the rules and he put a bag over my head. My back was hurting bad lately and that position was so painful; _________ was working on my sciatic problem. _________ brought two projectors and adjusted them on my face. I couldn’t see, but the heat overwhelmed me and I started to sweat.
“You’re gonna be sent to a U.S. facility, where you’ll spend the rest of your life,” he threatened. “You’ll never see your family again. Your family will be f **cked by another man. In American jails, terrorists like you get raped by multiple men at the same time. The guards in my country do their job very well, but being raped is inevitable. But if you tell me the truth, you’re gonna be released immediately.”
I was old enough to know that he was a rotten liar and a man with no honor, but he was in charge, so I had to listen to his bullshit again and again. I just wished that the agencies would start to hire smart people. Did he really think that anybody would believe his nonsense? Somebody would have to be stupid: was he stupid, or did he think I was stupid? I would have respected him more had he told me, “Look, if you don’t tell me what I want to hear, I’m gonna torture you.”
Anyway, I said, “Of course I will be truthful!” “What terrorist organizations are you part of ?”
“None!” I replied. He put back the bag on my head and started a long discourse of humiliation, cursing, lies, and threats. I don’t really remember it all, nor am I ready to sift in my memory for such bullshit. I was so tired and hurt, and tried to sit but he forced me back. I cried from the pain. Yes, a man my age cried silently. I just couldn’t bear the agony.after a couple of hours sent me back to my cell, promising me more torture. “This was only the start,” as he put it. I was returned to my cell, terrorized and worn out. I prayed to Allah to save me from him. I lived the days to follow in horror: whenever _________ went past our cell I looked away, avoiding seeing him so he wouldn’t “see” me, exactly like an ostrich. _________ was checking on everybody, day and night, and giving the guards the recipe for every detainee. I saw him torturing this other detainee. I don’t want to recount what I heard about him; I just want to tell what I saw with my eyes. It was an Afghani teenager, I would say 16 or 17. _________ made him stand for about three days, sleepless. I felt so bad for him. Whenever he fell down the guards came to him, shouting “no sleep for terrorists,” and made him stand again. I remember sleeping and waking up, and he stood there like a tree.
Whenever I saw _________ around, my heart started to pound, and he was often around. One day he sent a ________________ interpreter to me to pass me a message. “_________ is gonna kick your ass.”
I didn’t respond, but inside me I said, May Allah stop you! But in fact _________ didn’t kick my rear end; instead ___________ pulled me for interrogation. He was a nice guy; maybe he felt he could relate to me because of the language. And why not? Even some of the guards used to come to me and practice their German when they learned that I spoke it.
Anyway, he recounted a long story to me. “I’m not like _________. He’s young and hot-tempered. I don’t use inhumane methods; I have my own methods. I want to tell something about American history, and the whole war against terrorism.”was straightforward and enlightening. He started with American history and the Puritans, who punished even the innocents by drowning them, and ended with the war against terrorism. “There is no innocent detainee in this campaign: either you cooperate with us and I am going to get you the best deal, or we are going to send you to Cuba.”
“What? Cuba? ” I exclaimed. “I don’t even speak Spanish, and you guys hate Cuba.”
“Yes, but we have an American territory in Guantánamo,” he said, and told me about Teddy Roosevelt and things like that. I knew that I was going to be sent further from home, which I hated.
“Why would you send me to Cuba?”
“We have other options, like Egypt and Algeria, but we only send them the very bad people. I hate sending people over there, because they’ll experience painful torture.”
“Just send me to Egypt.”
“You sure do not want that. In Cuba they treat detainees humanely, and they have two Imams. The camp is run by the DOJ, not the military.”
“But I’ve done no crimes against your country.”
“I’m sorry if you haven’t. Just think of it as if you had cancer!”
“Am I going to be sent to court?”
“Not in the near future. Maybe in three years or so, when my people forget about September 11.” _________ went on to tell me about his private life, but I don’t want to put it down here.
I had a couple more sessions with _________ after that. He asked me some questions and tried to trick me, saying things like, “He said he knows you!” for people I had never heard of. He took my email addresses and passwords. He also asked the ___________________ who were present in Bagram to interrogate me, but they refused, saying the ________ law forbids them from interrogating aliens outside the country. He was trying the whole time to convince me to cooperate so he could save me from the trip to Cuba. To be honest, I preferred to go to Cuba than to stay in Bagram.
“Let it be,” I told him. “I don’t think I can change anything.” Somehow I liked _________. Don’t get me wrong, he was a sneaky interrogator, but at least he spoke to me according to the level of my intellect. I asked _________ to put me inside the cell with the rest of the population, and showed him the injuries I had suffered from the barbed wire. _________ approved: in Bagram, interrogators could do anything with you; they had overall control, and the MPs were at their service. Sometimes _________ gave me a drink, which I appreciated, especially with the kind of diet I received, cold MREs and dry bread in every meal. I secretly passed my meals to other detainees.
One night _________ introduced two military interrogators who asked me about the Millennium plot. They spoke broken Arabic and were very hostile to me; they didn’t allow me to sit and threatened me with all kind of things. But _________ hated them, and told me in _______, “If you want to cooperate, do so with me. These MI guys are nothing.” I felt myself under auction to whichever agency bids more!
In the population we always broke the rules and spoke to our neighbors. I had three direct neighbors. One was an Afghani teenager who was kidnapped on his way to Emirates; he used to work there, which was why he spoke Arabic with a Gulf accent. He was very funny, and he made me laugh; over the past nine months I had almost forgotten how. He was spending holidays with his family in Afghanistan and went to Iran; from there he headed to the Emirates in a boat, but the boat was hijacked by the U.S. and the passengers were arrested.
My second neighbor was twenty-year-old Mauritanian guy who was born in Nigeria and moved to Saudi Arabia. He’d never been in Mauritania, nor did he speak the Mauritanian dialect; if he didn’t introduce himself, you would say he was a Saudi.
My third neighbor was a Palestinian from Jordan named __________. He was captured and tortured by an Afghani tribal leader for about seven months. His kidnapper wanted money from __________ family or else he would turn him over to the Americans, though the latter option was the least promising because the U.S. was only paying $5,000 per head, unless it was a big head. The bandit arranged everything with_______ family regarding the ransom, but managed to flee from captivity in Kabul. He made it to Jalalabad, where he easily stuck out as an Arab mujahid and was captured and sold to the Americans. I told ____________ that I’d been in Jordan, and he seemed to be knowledgeable about their intelligence services. He knew all the interrogators who dealt with me, as ____________ himself spent 50 days in the same prison where I had been.
When we spoke, we covered our heads so guards thought we were asleep, and talked until we got tired. My neighbors told me that we were in Bagram, in Afghanistan, and I informed them that we were going to be transferred to Cuba. But they didn’t believe me.
The combination of arrogance and lack of self-reflection makes him a maddening public figure.
Bill Maher, whose prominent atheism has put him in the news after the anti-blasphemy terrorist attacks in Paris, is a mess of contradictions. He likes to imagine himself a freedom-loving liberal, but all too often he wallows in gross racism and sexism that subtracts from the freedom of everyone who isn’t a white man. He loves to think of himself as a rationalist, but holds a lot of irrational beliefs. Few public figure inspire the “yes, but” reaction like Bill Maher.
Here’s a list of five times he was right on a subject and five times he ruined it all by turning around and being terribly wrong.
1. Bill Maher is right about free speech.
Maher had some interesting things to say about blasphemy and free speech in a recent segment of his show Real Time. He denounced the pope and Bill Donohue for suggesting that people who commit blasphemy are somehow inviting a violent reaction, arguing, “Because whether you’re representing the prince of peace or the religion of peace threatening violence is a great way to drive home the point that you’re secure in your medieval beliefs.” He correctly compared this to blaming rape victims for the clothes they wear.
1A. Bill Maher is wrong about free speech.
In the same segment, Maher tossed out a double standard, whining, “Liberals hate bullying, all right. But they’re not opposed to using it. When they casually throw out words like ‘bigot’ and ‘racist,’ it does cow people into avoiding this debate.” Sorry, Bill, but you don’t get to have it both ways. The same right that allows you to make fun of people’s “medieval beliefs” allows others to use names like “bigot” and “racist” to describe what they believe, for good reason, is your tendency to treat Islam as if it’s uniquely violent, despite the fact that nearly all religions have had believers commit murder in their name. If you can make fun of faith, people should be able to make fun of you. It’s only fair.
2. Bill Maher is right about violence against women.
Maher made headlines recently with his comments in support of the women accusing Bill Cosby of sexual assault and denouncing the idea that women come forward because they’re gold-diggers or attention whores. “This is 24 accusers over three or four decades — that’s a lot of smoke. You have to look at motivation. What motivation could Beverly Johnson have?” he said. “There’s no glamour in saying an old creep forced himself on you.” Maher is right. The stereotype of the attention-seeking fake victim is more a product of misogynous thinking than a common real-world occurrence and most women who allege rape are telling the truth.
2A. Bill Maher is wrong about violence against women.
In the same interview, Maher insinuated that the accusations against Woody Allen were likely false, despite the large amount of corroborating evidence. No big surprise there. Maher has an ugly history of sexism under his belt and was recently in the news for writing a gross tweet making light of domestic violence. “Dealing w/ Hamas is like dealing w/ a crazy woman who's trying to kill u —u can only hold her wrists so long before you have to slap her.” Not only was he trafficking in ugly stereotypes, he was also subtly endorsing the excuses all wife beaters like to make, that it was in self-defense when it rarely is in real life.
3. Bill Maher is for science and rationality.
When Maher is talking about religion, he doesn’t hold back when expressing skepticism of supernatural or unscientific claims. In an ad for the Openly Secular campaign, Maher says, “It seems to me the most obvious decision a person could make in their life: do I want to make real-world policy decided on the basis of proven facts and the reaches of what humans have gotten to do in science? Or do I want real-world decisions made based on ancient myths written by men who didn’t know what a germ or an atom was, or where the sun went at night?” It’s an admirable sentiment in support of empiricism of the sort we really need to hear more often.
3A. Bill Maher is against science and rationality.
Too bad Maher’s enthusiasm for science dries up the second the topic switches from religion to healthcare and nutrition. Even though there’s no scientific reason to fear GMOs, for instance, Maher doesn’t hesitate to fear-monger over foods whose genes have been modified in a lab instead of by more traditional cross-breeding methods. Maher also fear-mongers over vaccinations, which made Bill Frist--Bill Frist!--look like the voice of reason in comparison. Indeed, Maher is a veritable cornucopia of anti-science beliefs when it comes to healthcare and food, opposing not just vaccination and GMOs, but even germ theory.
4. Bill Maher is right about controlling other people’s bodies.
Maher, correctly, tends to be skeptical of the American habit of trying to control what other people do in bed. Back in 2012, Maher said, ““Why do we punish sex so much more than anything else? Clinton lied about a blowjob, got impeached. Bush lied about a war, didn’t.” He’s right that America has a prudish streak that tends to blow sex scandals way out of proportion compared to other, more serious scandals that involve loss of life or bankrupting innocent people.
4A. Bill Maher is wrong about controlling other people’s bodies.
Maher is also a big-time prude when it comes to women using their bodies the way they want. In 2007, Maher went on a rant against women who breast-feed in public, “And finally, new rule—and I never thought I'd be the one to say this—but don't show me your tits!” Tits are only for titillating him, not for feeding babies, apparently. He invoked a series of misogynist stereotypes, accusing women of attention-seeking and wanting praise for what he, a man, deemed an easy task of birthing and nourishing a baby. “And by the way, there is a place where breasts and food do go together. It's called Hooters!” he concluded, in case there was any doubt that he’s only against controlling other people’s bodies if hisgratification is threatened.
5. Bill Maher denounces pandering to conservatives.
In a recent episode of Real Time, Maher had some great insights about how the Democrats lose and Republicans win: “It was a simple message for a simple people — screw Obama. And it worked. Because none of the Democrats came out for Obama.” He argued that Republicans are willing to pander and fear-monger while Democrats are afraid to speak out about their actual values. All very true and a wonderful call to avoid pandering to the public’s worst impulses and to demand more of your audiences.
5A. Bill Maher panders to conservatives.
Too bad Maher is not above being like a Republican politician and pushing simple-minded, bigoted beliefs to conservatives when it suits him. Maher joined in the ridiculous conservative panic over Ebola that dried up immediately after the elections, demonstrating that it was little more than an attempt to scare the public into voting Republican. And Maher continues to hammer at the right-wing idea that Islam is somehow uniquely conducive to committing terrorism, even though terrorism committed by Christians and other assorted right-wing extremists is a bigger problem in the United States than Islamic terrorism.
Bill Maher is hardly the only public figure who is a bundle of contradictions. Most of us, pundits included, have a bunch of contradictory beliefs and assorted hypocrisies to contend with. But Maher exceeds in being even less self-aware than most on this front, always portraying an arrogant sense of righteousness even as he says something that completely contradicts what he was just saying a few moments before. That combination of arrogance, self-righteousness and lack of self-reflection makes him a particularly maddening public figure.Related Stories