Archive for December, 2008




This afternoon, over 4,000 gathered in New York City to pay our tribute of respect to those 284 massacred yesterday in Gaza and the 4781 previous Palestinians who lost their lives in the struggle for dignity by the “shining beacon of democracy in the Middle East.” They entered a stage of history, and as they were privileged to act on this mortal stage, they played their parts. Now the curtain has fallen, and they moved through the exit. And the drama of their earthly life has come to a close. They are now committed back to that eternity from which they came. 

And yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroes of a crusade for freedom and human dignity. And so this afternoon, in a real sense, they have said something to each of us in their death. They have said something to everyone who has remained silent behind the safe security of ignorance. They have said something to every politician who has fed his constituents with the rotting flesh of lies and the spoiled meat of racism.  They have said something to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of a racist state and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing Republicans. They have said something to every Arab who has passively accepted the evil system of Zionism and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They have said to all of us, Jew and Arab, Muslim and Christian, that we must substitute fear with focus, hatred with hope. They have said that we must be concerned not only with who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, and the philosophy which produced the murderers.  Their deaths have reminded us that we must work passionately, and unrelentingly for the realization of our dream. 

And so they did not die in vain. God has a way of wringing good out of even the most purest of evil. And history has proven again and again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The blood of these people may well serve as a redemptive force that will bring new light to this dark hour. The spilled blood may not cause the whole citizenry of the US to transform the “negative extremes of a dark past into the positive extremes of a bright future.” But these tragic events may cause the citizens of America to come to terms with its conscience. 

But not without our help. Not without our voices. 

And so I am here to say to all those who assembled here in New York City and nationwide, that in spite of the darkness before us, we will not despair. We will not lose faith. We believe that even the most misguided among them will learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all humanity. 

Life is hard. It has its bleak and difficult moments. Like a river, it has its drought and its floods. Like the cycle of the seasons, it has the soothing warmth of summer and the piercing winds of winter. And if one will hold on, he will discover that he does not walk alone. We do not walk alone. We walk with Gaza, and we will lift them from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope. In the chanting and the shouting we will not forget that the deaths are real. We are not only mobs of hate that most perceive us to be, but of sadness and loss as well. Here, most of us go home to houses. They do not. We go home to families. They go home to emptiness. That is a reality people need to embrace. And we will show them what they’ve ignored for so long.

From the river to the sea, from the narrow alleys of refugee camps to the massive valleys of our homeland, we will return.

We will be free.  

God Bless Gaza. God Bless Palestine. 


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Gaza, God, and Faith

“This world was designed to break your heart.” –Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

It’s times like these that usually leave us feeling vulnerable and angry, frustrated and helpless. For me, each crisis brings God to the forefront of my thoughts, puzzling over His place in all of this. Shouldn’t an all-powerful, all-knowing being be held accountable to some degree for what’s happening in the world? Or does that come with the assumption that He isn’t in control and isn’t actually doing anything? Do we really have to wait until we’re dead for a little bit of justice?

Tonight though, Shaykh Hamza’s words came to mind. The pain of watching the images of over 230 of my brethren being bombed to death by a force 100 times more powerful while the rest of the civilized world goes about its business and while Arab leaders watch comfortably from their palaces, and being acutely aware of my own helplessness and inability to stop those bombs from falling, produced a sense of stupefied, bewildered wonder. It’s almost like this world was in fact created just to break our hearts and to wear our spirits thin.

I envy the life of a mystic. They are at peace with themselves and their environment and have come to accept this world for what it is and do not worry about “fixing” it. It is a resignation that comes not from indifference, but from a deep faith in God and an abiding trust in His message. Accepting this dunya for what it is, means turning away from any hope of worldly salvation.  They are humble and unimpressed by this dunya and do not expect nor request anything of it.

This attitude reminds me of a time in my childhood when my father became very ill and was told he could possibly have cancer. We stood around him in the hospital room as he sat upright and chatted with us in a steady, calm voice. I felt myself falling apart inside, terrified that I was going to lose him.  I struggled to keep my fear from showing but I couldn’t stop imagining what life would be like without him, and before I knew it, the tears came pouring down.  My dad addressed the situation by addressing everyone in the room. He talked about death and said that if  he was diagnosed with cancer, than it was the will of God. Each one of us would one day confront the end, but if we live good lives, then there is nothing to fear or be sad about.  Although I couldn’t understand where this strength came, I felt a deep admiration for him and his attitude soothed me. I was amazed by his courage in the face of something that would shake the faith of most. Many people crave that sort of faith, the courage and resoluteness it produces in character, the ease and peace it floods the heart with, a faith that remains just as steady and protective of its keeper in times of adversity.

I really don’t believe that the power structures we live under will change in my lifetime or anytime soon after that, because people here live a distracted, detached existence, a completely different reality from those living in other, troubled parts of the world. They have no direct incentive to change the system. Despite being aware of this, some of us still refuse to accept the world for what it is and because of this, we suffer a restless existence. I’m not sure if that unwillingness on our part comes from some good part of our nature or if it’s just a symptom of weak faith. A part of me wishes that it didn’t want to understand the divine rationale for allowing the innocent to suffer. Or whether the term “allow” is even correct in this context. I wish I could be at ease, secure in my faith and comforted by it, to the point where I no longer feel distress, anger, and despair when news like this hits me. 

I read somewhere that to despair is to doubt God and I remember being bothered by that statement because it seemed unfair. But I think I understand the wisdom behind those words , although I may never reach that degree of faith where my heart can emulate them.  Nevertheless, I pray that one day I do come to possess the wisdom that comforts the heart of the mystic. <>

“All humans are dead except those who have knowledge; and all those who have knowledge are asleep, except those who do good deeds; and those who do good deeds are deceived, except those who are sincere; and those who are sincere are always in a state of worry.” ~Imam Shaf’i

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Yet another poem written in the hopes for change. 

Maybe one day. 



Sometimes I lose patience

Lost in space,

In a sea of disappointed faces.

It amazes me.

In 1948,

millions of Jews relocated by war ,

displace millions by war.

While political chameleons change colors

like monthly comic book covers.


But, with misplaced hate comes moral distaste

And I’m writing with rage as a way to keep pace.


As a way to keep faith.


But previous mistakes are hard to erase.

and I find myself chasing my own imagination.

You call this negotiation?

Say our methods are terrorist, that we target innocents?

You do too, the only difference is,


Your sieges and blockades take longer.


Starvation without representation.


Your negotiation kills, daily.


You carry the wounded on stretchers and wheelchairs,

bring them to hospitals and receive quality healthcare

while we cradle bleeding children miles before we find a paved road

Our ambulances swerving through dirt, covered with bullet holes


Your negotiation kills, daily.


And while I do regret how Israeli civilians die 

I can’t forget women giving birth to dead infants on roadsides

Dependent on teens with guns to let the doctors by.


Your negotiation kills, daily.


On empty stomachs

our children throw rocks with or without slingshots

No, we won’t be tricked with your blankets infected with small pox




You only speak to leaders who agree with you,

those more concerned with  the U.S. point of view

Forget about the refugees, U.N. Resolutions or the ICJ

the Geneva Convention,  human rights, or the nightly military raids.


Your negotiation kills, daily.


So as peaceful handshakes are replaced with empty food plates

My hope for a better day fades


So I grip house keys.


And I cling to worthless words

In the hope that they might be heard

beneath the din of the media’s standard absurdity.


The fact is we’re cast aside.

Forgotten, like so many other Native tribes.

Some say Jesus died for our sins,

When we die, we call it self defense.

Against the sins of a country hell bent on building walls and fences,

We die to defend our people’s existence, instead

We die.

‘Cause, after all

A great preacher from Atlanta once said

A man who won’t die for something


isn’t fit to live. 


– oj

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Oxfamming the Whole Black World

“Hello kitty kitty kitty Are you an orphan? Are you Sudanese? Chadian? Are you a sub-Saharan African suffering from mild mental retardation? Are you an African woman suffering from the African male? Would you like an Oxfam biscuit? Organic antiretrovirals? Have you been raped? You might not know it, but you are an orphan, a refugee. Can we fly 103 of you to France to be loved? We can breastfeed you. We can make you a Darfur orphan. Even if you are not. If you are black and under 10 years old, please come talk to us.
Come kitty kitty.

We can save you from yourself. We can save ourselves from our terrible selves. Help us to Oxfam the whole black world, to make it a better place.

We want to empower you. No, your mother cannot do this. Your government cannot do this. Time cannot do this. Evolution, it seems, cannot do this. Education cannot do this. Your IQ cannot do this.

No one can empower you except us. And if you don’t listen to us, our bad people, those RepublicanToryChineseOilConcessioningIanSmithing racists will come to get you: your choice is our compassionate breast or their market forces.

In our loving breast you will be a vegan. We will eliminate your carbon footprint, your testosterone, your addiction to religions. You will be kept away from bad bad people, like ALL MEN.

We don’t live in harmony with nature and we are farting greenhouse gases all over the place. We will teach you how to live without farting greenhouse gases.

We will shut all your industries and build our organic Jeffery Sachs-designed school inside your national parks, where you can commune with nature, grow ecologically friendly crops, trade fairly with eco-tourists and receive visitors from the United Nations every month who will clap when you dance.

Instead of sweatshops, we will have Ubuntu shops where you can arrive in biodegradable loincloths to make bone jewellery for caring people who earn $1million a year, live in San Francisco or Cape Town and feel bad about this. In our future world you will have three balanced meals a day.

In the afternoons Jeffery Sachs will come and show the boys how to build a gender-friendly communal anti-poverty village where all base human emotions — lust, greed and competition — will be sustainably developed out of your heads, along with truly dangerous ideas such as rebellion. After playing non-violent games (rope-skipping and hugging), you will write letters to your loving step-parents in Toronto. For an hour a day we will teach you how to make clothes, shelter and shoes out of recycled bottle tops in Ndebele colours.
We have learned from people and bonobos living in harmony in forests and deserts what your fate is and we will help you fulfil it. By the time we are done you will all be having non-sexist multiple orgasms, you will be pacifists (we make and market organic pacifiers), you will dance and make merry with stone-milled, recycled mango wines that contain herbs to make you experience sudden and overwhelming universal love.

Some of us believe that if you all abandon industries and grow gentle herbs, your IQs will increase by 30%, because you are not eating toxins. Others believe that if the high IQ of the West is unsustainable, it is important to lower the level of world IQs.
Whatever side we are on here, we think you are special. If we are chimps, you are bonobos. Chimps are violent because they are smarter than bonobos.

For those of you with crude oil, we will help you use this resource — sustainably, mind you — to light your eco-candles and to make locally produced hair oil. The rest of the oil is bad bad bad. Leave it alone (we’ll take it).

We will keep the Chinese out. Look how they are suffering because they abandoned Buddhism. We will allow only eco-tourists and poverty tourists in your countries.

Trust us. You can’t do it yourselves. We have dedicated our lives to you. Come kitties, come to mummy”

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Binyavanga Wainaina


How To Write About Africa

“Always use the word ‘Africa or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Zanzibar’, ‘Masai’, ‘Zulu’, ‘Zambezi’, ‘Congo’, ‘Nile’, ‘Big’, ‘Sky, ‘Shadow’, ‘Drum’, ‘Sun’ or ‘Bygone’. Also useful are words such as ‘Guerrillas’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Primordial’ and ‘Tribal’. Note that ‘People’ means Africans who are not black, while ‘The People’ means black Africans.

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.

Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other humans eat. Do not mention rice and beef and wheat; monkey-brain is an African’s cuisine of choice, along with goat, snake, worms and grubs and all manner of game meat. Make sure you show that you are able to eat such food without flinching, and describe how you learn to enjoy it — because you care.

Taboo subjects: ordinary domestic scenes, love between Africans (unless a death is involved), references to African writers or intellectuals, mention of school-going children who are not suffering from yaws or Ebola fever or female genital mutilation.

Throughout the book, adopt a sotto voice, in conspiracy with the reader, and a sad I-expected-so-much tone. Establish early on that your liberalism is impeccable, and mention near the beginning how much you love Africa, how you fell in love with the place and can’t live without her. Africa is the only continent you can love — take advantage of this. If you are a man, thrust yourself into her warm virgin forests. If you are a woman, treat Africa as a man who wears a bush jacket and disappears off into the sunset. Africa is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated. Whichever angle you take, be sure to leave the strong impression that without your intervention and your important book, Africa is doomed.

Your African characters may include naked warriors, loyal servants, diviners and seers, ancient wise men living in hermitic splendour. Or corrupt politicians, inept polygamous travel-guides, and prostitutes you have slept with. The Loyal Servant always behaves like a seven-year-old and needs a firm hand; he is scared of snakes, good with children, and always involving you in his complex domestic dramas. The Ancient Wise Man always comes from a noble tribe (not the money-grubbing tribes like the Gikuyu, the Igbo or the Shona). He has rheumy eyes and is close to the Earth. The Modern African is a fat man who steals and works in the visa office, refusing to give work permits to qualified Westerners who really care about Africa. He is an enemy of development, always using his government job to make it difficult for pragmatic and good-hearted expats to set up NGOs or Legal Conservation Areas. Or he is an Oxford-educated intellectual turned serial-killing politician in a Savile Row suit. He is a cannibal who likes Cristal champagne, and his mother is a rich witch-doctor who really runs the country.

Among your characters you must always include The Starving African, who wanders the refugee camp nearly naked, and waits for the benevolence of the West. Her children have flies on their eyelids and pot bellies, and her breasts are flat and empty. She must look utterly helpless. She can have no past, no history; such diversions ruin the dramatic moment. Moans are good. She must never say anything about herself in the dialogue except to speak of her (unspeakable) suffering. Also be sure to include a warm and motherly woman who has a rolling laugh and who is concerned for your well-being. Just call her Mama. Her children are all delinquent. These characters should buzz around your main hero, making him look good. Your hero can teach them, bathe them, feed them; he carries lots of babies and has seen Death. Your hero is you (if reportage), or a beautiful, tragic international celebrity/aristocrat who now cares for animals (if fiction).

Bad Western characters may include children of Tory cabinet ministers, Afrikaners, employees of the World Bank. When talking about exploitation by foreigners mention the Chinese and Indian traders. Blame the West for Africa’s situation. But do not be too specific.

Broad brushstrokes throughout are good. Avoid having the African characters laugh, or struggle to educate their kids, or just make do in mundane circumstances. Have them illuminate something about Europe or America in Africa. African characters should be colourful, exotic, larger than life — but empty inside, with no dialogue, no conflicts or resolutions in their stories, no depth or quirks to confuse the cause.

Describe, in detail, naked breasts (young, old, conservative, recently raped, big, small) or mutilated genitals, or enhanced genitals. Or any kind of genitals. And dead bodies. Or, better, naked dead bodies. And especially rotting naked dead bodies. Remember, any work you submit in which people look filthy and miserable will be referred to as the ‘real Africa’, and you want that on your dust jacket. Do not feel queasy about this: you are trying to help them to get aid from the West. The biggest taboo in writing about Africa is to describe or show dead or suffering white people.

Animals, on the other hand, must be treated as well rounded, complex characters. They speak (or grunt while tossing their manes proudly) and have names, ambitions and desires. They also have family values: see how lions teach their children? Elephants are caring, and are good feminists or dignified patriarchs. So are gorillas. Never, ever say anything negative about an elephant or a gorilla. Elephants may attack people’s property, destroy their crops, and even kill them. Always take the side of the elephant. Big cats have public-school accents. Hyenas are fair game and have vaguely Middle Eastern accents. Any short Africans who live in the jungle or desert may be portrayed with good humour (unless they are in conflict with an elephant or chimpanzee or gorilla, in which case they are pure evil).

After celebrity activists and aid workers, conservationists are Africa’s most important people. Do not offend them. You need them to invite you to their 30,000-acre game ranch or ‘conservation area’, and this is the only way you will get to interview the celebrity activist. Often a book cover with a heroic-looking conservationist on it works magic for sales. Anybody white, tanned and wearing khaki who once had a pet antelope or a farm is a conservationist, one who is preserving Africa’s rich heritage. When interviewing him or her, do not ask how much funding they have; do not ask how much money they make off their game. Never ask how much they pay their employees.

Readers will be put off if you don’t mention the light in Africa. And sunsets, the African sunset is a must. It is always big and red. There is always a big sky. Wide empty spaces and game are critical — Africa is the Land of Wide Empty Spaces. When writing about the plight of flora and fauna, make sure you mention that Africa is overpopulated. When your main character is in a desert or jungle living with indigenous peoples (anybody short) it is okay to mention that Africa has been severely depopulated by Aids and War (use caps).

You’ll also need a nightclub called Tropicana, where mercenaries, evil nouveau riche Africans and prostitutes and guerrillas and expats hang out.

Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbows or renaissances. Because you care.”

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All the same


"Hey, baby, wanna go out sometime?"

"Hey, baby, wanna go out sometime?"


“Dear Audrey,

A letter you received from a woman whose boyfriend googled Eva Longaria on her Blackberry while she was giving him fellatio just about sums up the ugly picture of men today. I see them with their faces buried in their cell phones and Blackberrys , cut off from the world with their iPods. I find men in New York to be very physically unattractive (I am not a lesbian). They seem to have lost a great deal of their natural masculinity. They look like clones of each other. None stand out like a force of nature. They have no presence. They look vapid and vacant. Their souls are mostly corrupted. They are obsessed with sports, beer-guzzling, and making money. They’re self absorbed and narcissistic. Most are just putzes. Since they lack any real male-ness, any distinctiveness, I am consistently turned off. I am very sensuous, gorgeous young woman and no one is spurring any desire in me. Please don’t tell me to move, because New York is my home and I know that men all over the world, for the most part, are in decline as a species while they practice their misogyny. Even gay men are looking tired, lost and like robots.”


The above letter was printed in this week’s L magazine and I can’t help but agree. Living in a town so devoid of any sort of nuance turns you into a drone. It’s inescapable. Wherever you go, whatever individuality you think you have gets usurped by countless others who parade it about to the point of caricature. We’re all the same. It sucks.

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