Tuesday, 01 November 2011 13:19

Fahrenheit 9/11

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By Katha Pollitt

I had a swell time at Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore's documentary about George Bush's dubious progress from Florida to Iraq. It's his best movie – funny, heartbreaking, outraged and outrageous – and deserves its huge success. When did you last see a muckraking exposé of events that are still unfolding? The film should make the media blush for its torpor and fake judiciousness and embedment with the Administration. Moore displays footage never before seen of events most Americans know nothing about, unless they read The Nation, because the media haven't told them. Did you know, for example, that the Congressional Black Caucus could not get a single Democratic senator to lend the required signature to its formal protest of the certification of Bush's victory in 2000? Did you know Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador, dined with Bush on September 13, 2001, the day before flights began that would carry more than a hundred Saudis out of the country, including dozens of members of the extended bin Laden family? Have you seen wounded and dead Iraqis on TV, or interviews with mutilated soldiers, disillusioned soldiers--or with parents of dead GIs? If Joe Darby hadn't jump-started the Abu Ghraib scandal with those photos, you might well be seeing the brutalization of Iraqi prisoners for the first time in a brief scene in Fahrenheit 9/11.

Moore keeps his impish-blimpish on-screen presence down, but there are some hilarious bits--learning that Congress hadn't read the Patriot Act before passing it, he drives around the Capitol in an ice cream truck blasting it through the sound system. The best comedy, as always with Moore, is the found kind: He interviews Craig Unger (House of Bush, House of Saud) across the street from the Saudi Embassy and is immediately accosted by a Secret Service agent ("I'll take that as a yes," he replies genially when the agent won't comment when Moore asks if it's unusual for the Secret Service to guard foreign embassies). He tags along with two oleaginous Marine recruiters on the prowl in a down-market Flint, Michigan, shopping mall and films them as they swoop down on one young black man and practically offer him a recording contract on the spot when he mentions he's interested in music.

The odd thing is, I found the movie immensely cheering and energizing, even though I don't agree with its main thesis, drawn from Unger, that Bush's oil-business interests, particularly his close financial and personal connections with the Saudis, drove his post-9/11 decisions to go easy on Saudi Arabia and invade Afghanistan and Iraq. I think President Gore might well have invaded Afghanistan too--although, who knows, maybe the Republicans would have thwarted him out of spite. I also think that key promoters of the war in Iraq--Wolfowitz, Perle, Rumsfeld--were motivated by a sincere, if deranged, belief that overthrowing Saddam would usher in US- and Israel-friendly capitalist democracies all over the Middle East. They had, after all, been pushing for regime change for years. Like all Moore's movies, Fahrenheit 9/11 is somewhat muddled and self-contradictory. Just as Bowling for Columbine excoriated the NRA while arguing that guns don't kill people, Americans kill people, Fahrenheit 9/11 simultaneously argues that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are wrong and unnecessary and that we need to send more troops; that the Bush Administration does too much and too little to protect the country from another terrorist attack; that Bush is an idiot and a lightweight and that he is a master of calculation. Actually, come to think of it, that's not such a contradiction – but I wish Moore had acknowledged Bush's obvious political skills. It's not easy to fool 40 percent of the people 100 percent of the time.

Well, OK, so Moore isn't Mark Twain, he's a propagandist who can be funny and angry at the same time. He takes a lot of cheap shots--Paul Wolfowitz slicking back his hair with saliva, John Ashcroft crooning a patriotic anthem of his own composition, Bush smirking and looking shifty while waiting to go on air and announce the invasion of Iraq--but the point of these vignettes is not just to make us laugh and feel superior, it's to undo the aura of assurance and invincibility with which this Administration cloaks itself while it spreads fear across the land. Watching Bush sit in that elementary classroom pretending to read My Pet Goat for seven long minutes after being notified of the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center, you see a man who is paralyzed and stunned, who hasn't a clue, because there's no one there to tell him what to do, no stage set, like the flight deck of USS Abraham Lincoln, and no audience before which to look manly and resolute.

Moore's critics are going over the movie frame by frame, but he's phrased his most controversial contentions, about the Saudi flights, carefully. He doesn't actually say they took off while the airports were closed, and he doesn't say the bin Ladens weren't interviewed, although a viewer could get that impression. Other complaints seem trivial. Does it really matter if Moore says only one child of a congressperson or senator is serving in Iraq, and doesn't mention that a few others are in the armed forces, just not there? Of course, the scene in which Moore tries to hand out recruitment literature to politicos is unfair: It's not as if parents can enlist their kids. The scene works, though, because Moore's basic point is right: Politicians whose own kids are safely ensconced in the Ivies send off to die in Iraq the children of women like Lila Lipscomb, the vibrant working-class Flint woman Moore follows in the second half of the movie, who puts out the flag every morning and who has always encouraged her kids to join the military as a path to a better life. Her grief and rage when her son is killed in Iraq are unbearable to watch. Surrounded by her large, interracial family, she reads her son's last letter home: "He got us out here for nothing whatsoever. I'm so furious right now, Mama." There are plenty of mothers and fathers like her--but you don't see Katie Couric ("Navy SEALs rock!" ) interviewing them.

Take your friends, your relatives, your book club, your drinking buddies, take teenagers (it's R-rated), take that nice Republican in the office, take David Brooks and the staff of The Weekly Standard, and the Council of Economic Advisers! And then send your ticket stub to George W. Bush, so he'll know you're watching.

Tuesday, 01 November 2011 13:19

The Feast of the Nine Virgins

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By Jameela Siddiqi This is an interesting book by an standards and deserves to be read.
Tuesday, 01 November 2011 13:17

First Word

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One nation, united in hope By: Zahid Rajan I beg to differ. Amid all the pessimism in Kenya today I firmly believe that there is much to be hopeful about and that is what my message is centred on – HOPE. For 40 years since independence we have fervently hoped and been massively betrayed. But now there is change on the horizon – as Awaaz goes to press the Kenyan people have received an apology from KANU, unimaginable in the past! I HOPE that the democratic wing within KANU will triumph and offer new leadership to this country. There are…
Tuesday, 01 November 2011 13:17

EDWARD SAID - AN INDIVISIBLE WHOLE

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By Mahmood Darwish I CANNOT quite say goodbye to Edward Said, because he remains so present among us and alive in the world. He was our conscience and our ambassador to the world, who never tired of resisting the new world order and defending equity, humanity and the sharing of civilizations and cultures. But he has finally tired of the long and absurd fight with death. For 12 years he was heroic in his battle with illness, heroic in his constant creative renewal, through writing, music, chronicling the humanist spirit, continuing the vital quest for meaning and essence and the…
Tuesday, 01 November 2011 13:16

LANGUAGE OF THE KANGA

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By Zarina Patel with Christel de WIT Christel de Wit describes the kanga as ‘a colourful and cleverly designed rectangular piece of fabric, part of a pair. It has a central theme, a full border pattern and a text message and it continues to evoke the same old charm and appeal it has had over a hundred years ago.’ The story of how it all began and where it is headed was told in an exceptional and widely researched exhibition that was held at the French Cultural Centre. Christel de Wit, the researcher, producer and curator displayed her superb collection…
Tuesday, 01 November 2011 13:16

WHITHER ‘INDIA SHINING’?

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By Gitanjali Surendran Never in the history of the Great Indian Election has there been a more riveting election campaign by political parties nor more startling a result. Not only did the victory of Congress a-nd its allies shock the world, it shocked the nation. But perhaps the biggest story was not the Congress – Left victory, but the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) failure to win a second term. After all, according to its leaders and many a political and economic pundit, India was ‘shining’. India was ‘feeling good’. And in many ways, it has been shining. Who can…
Tuesday, 01 November 2011 13:15

INDIANS IN EAST AFRICA

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By Pheroze Nowrojee The Asian African community might believe that there is little pictorial record of their activities in Kenya and East Africa during the period of the East Africa Protectorate, 1895-1920. The Asian African Heritage Exhibition currently on at the National Museum in Nairobi, confirms that documentary and photographic records of its activities and achievements are available, and that research and reference reveal much. What the exhibition has also shown to the community is that a substantial part of this material was within its own possession, though not looked at, and its worth and power unrecognized, for too long.…
Tuesday, 01 November 2011 13:14

“ALWAYS SHUN THE DIDACTIC”!

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By John Sibi-Okumu In this and subsequent issues of Awaaz, John Sibi-Okumu, a teacher and media personality, uses personal anecdote as the starting point for observation and comment on a culture different from his own. “Always shun the didactic!” This was the advice, from a teacher of my youth, that informed me when I sat down to write my first original play, first performed in June 2004. I determined that ‘Role Play’, as it was inauspiciously to be called, would incite people to thought without telling them exactly what to think. With ‘A Journey into the Kenyan Psyche’ as its…
By Viva Magazine At the turn of this century, there were a few Muslim families who had come Kenya to build the Railway from Mombasa to Kampala. Amongst them were a few enterprising people who saw the need for various Muslim Institutions. In the process they acquired land for Qabristan (cemetery), and started building mosques (the very first mosque built was Muthurwa Mosque alongside the Railway Landies, since the original Muslims who had come were mostly residents of the Gian Singh Shamba and employees of the Kenya-Uganda Railway). Most of the offspring of the early settlers had little or no…
Tuesday, 01 November 2011 13:13

RELIVING THE UGANDAN UHURU

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By Jameela Siddiqi Dedicated to the memory of my feisty mother The word "Independence" entered my psyche in 1961, the year I first started to read the rest of the Uganda Argus, instead of going straight to Moomin's cartoon strip. The word "appendicitis" was also learnt that same year since my best friend at school had had to have hers taken out. It felt very grown up to have a friend who had had surgery. But the two words frequently got mixed up in my head. I remember having to write out INDEPENDENCE two hundred times in neat handwriting for…
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