Friday, 28 September 2007

RHETORIC AND TACTICS IN BRITISH FOREIGN POLICY

‘Time to learn and move on’?

Sukant Chandan*

This weeks annual national Labour Party conference is witnessing the party’s leadership doing all that they can to distance themselves from the Blair years which are synonymous with Islamophobia, war, lies and deceit, known as ‘spin’ in modern British political parlance, all of which has alienated wide sections of the electorate from Labour. If anyone might have been in doubt that such a grand exercise was taking place Prime Minister Brown initiated proceedings with a speech, usually scheduled at the end of the conference, for over an hour long which gave one sentence each to Iraq and to Blair. The primary reason for this public relations stunt is that Britain under Blair failed to make a success in its aims, the most infamous now being the invasion of Iraq based on ‘dodgy’ intelligence, i.e., a war of aggression conducted on the basis of lies. If Iraq had gone smoothly with the Iraqis welcoming the US and Britain, then Blair may still have been in charge and continuing to be at the forefront of the US and UK’s plan for a ‘New Middle East’ and much more beyond. Why a people would welcome those countries which were responsible for dilapidating UN sanctions and intermittent bombing raids for a decade and a half can only be known to the policy makers in Whitehall. It has been left to the insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan to ensure that the world knows loud and clearly that the occupation is not welcome and that Blair’s name has gone down in history as one of the most brutal, cynical and utterly failed military adventures in modern history.

Additionally, the US and UK’s agenda for the region was aborted due to the continuing defiance of the Palestinian people, who to much of the world’s surprise elected Hamas, seen by most in the West until very recently as the archetypal reactionary Islamist terror group. Hamas won the election and engaged the West in a successful media and diplomatic campaign to show that they are a legitimate and reasonable mass movement for national liberation. Playing one last desperate card before his time was up, Blair gave full backing to the bloody Israeli assault on Lebanon last summer, which ended in the historic defeat of Israel, or at the very least gave a hard and fast lesson to Israel that it could not invade a neighbouring Arab country with impunity.

These failed campaigns have led to the alienation of considerable sections of the British electorate towards the Labour administration, be it from the Muslim community or the liberal political classes. The opposition Tories and Liberal parties took their advantage of Labour woes and Labour lost many council and parliamentary seats up and down the country, while losing all of Scotland to the Nationalists. Hence the panic in Labour circles and the operation to extract what Labour saw as the primary and on-going cause of the problem – Tony Blair. The ever-so-smooth handover of power from Blair to Brown was a barely disguised attempt to manage and contain any further fall-out from the political disasters that had plagued Labour.

Labour has now moved away from Blairite out-right and open aggressiveness of the last decade and reverted back to its political style of the late 1990s, choosing its targets for foreign meddling a little more carefully and aiming at countries which the political classes in Britain would find much more agreeable, such as Myanmar, Zimbabwe and Sudan, all causes for a veritable ‘white mans burden’. As a result Brown’s speech at annual Labour conference this week was noticeable, apart from its vacuousness, for barely mentioning Iraq and Afghanistan or his former boss’s name.

On the second day Foreign Secretary Miliband then tried to present Labour, not as a government trying to dominate the Muslims, which is what some ‘very educated’ Pakistanis told him, but a champion of their rights. With the intention of coming across as a liberator of Muslims, he spoke in favour of including Turkey in the EU, resolving the Kosovo issue and also helping the people of Darfur in Sudan. The message was reinforced by the politically correct photo opportunity of a Muslim woman complete with headscarf from Darfur who delivered a speech preceding Miliband’s. He gave assurances that there were mistakes made vis-à-vis Iraq; what they were we were not told but we assured us that it was ‘time to learn and move on’. It is expedient for Labour to ‘move on’ from their former debacles in Iraq, but what lessons have they learnt? If the public are ignorant as to knowing what all this really means, if it means anything at all, is it right that we should forget the fact that it was these very same people who were leading ministers in the Labour government under Blair and as such politically leading the charge into Iraq. Surely the Iraqi and Afghani people deserve of a lot more than a momentary reassurance that some mysterious lessons have been learnt.

It was left to Defence Secretary Des Browne to expand on what lessons Labour have possibly learnt from the past ten years in office. Echoing Karzai and the UK ambassador to Afghanistan, he talked of engaging the Taliban in a peace process as like Hamas, the Taliban are not going away. He also argued that Afghanistan is unlikely to be able to sustain a western style democracy and that its legal and political system will have to be rooted in Islamic law. At first sight this seems to be encouraging as undeniably peace cannot be reached in Palestine or in Afghanistan without nationalist forces which reject the occupation being engaged in a process towards independence. Unfortunately Browne’s subsequent comments made clear that there is no real desire on part of the British to leave in Afghanistan in peace; he argued that Britain will have to remain there for ‘at least decades if not generations’, and that the campaign was one of the ‘noblest causes of the 21st Century’.

In fact Browne’s comments about engaging the Taliban are not dissimilar to what the occupation forces are attempting to do in Iraq; a counter-insurgency tactic to divide the resistance off from one another so as to weaken and strategically defeat it. During the Vietnamese war this was known as the ‘Nixon doctrine’, or put more simply ‘getting Asians to fight Asians’. It has often been the case in armed conflicts that when an occupying army is unable to win by outright brute force other political means are used to attempt to weaken the insurgents, this is what is partly taking place in Iraq today and what is being attempted in Afghanistan. History has shown that in a context of an occupation by a big nation of a small one, the forces of national resurgence are often stronger than that of those who succumb to the enticements of the occupying forces. This was recently and infamously exemplified by the assassination of Iraqi Sunni tribal leader turned US ally, Abu Risha. As for the NATO cause in Afghanistan being one of the noblest of this century, Labour seems unable to learn the lessons from experiences of over one hundred and fifty years, let alone the last ten. The nineteenth century in Afghanistan is replete with examples of the British failing to subdue a people who in response harassed and chased them away time and time again. Many Afghanis are adamant that this too will be the fate of the NATO occupation of their country.

The Labour Government seems to be coordinating its tactical approach with the US, as witnessed by Bush’s address at the UN General Assembly where he hardly mentioned Iraq or the Middle East and focused instead on Myanmar, a thinly veiled attempt by the West at pushing the Chinese around in the lead up to the Olympics. This avoidance of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan is due to the insurgents in these countries having made these military campaigns by the West an embarrassment, something to be avoided at all costs in the media and at diplomatic conferences, rather than any noble cause to be paraded in public which they hoped it would be. Labour has returned to its humanitarian populist rhetoric of the late 1990s, but remains deeply involved in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its honeymoon period in government in the late 1990s was followed by a period in which it dropped more bombs than all previous British governments combined since the Second World War. Today US and UK standing in the world is a great deal more shaky than it was in the 1990s as a result of the moral and military failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and only a person betraying a profound sense of naivety can say that they will not resort to aggression once more to shore up their precarious position in the world.

*Sukant Chandan is a London-based freelance journalist, researcher and political analyst. He runs two websites: http://ouraim.blogspot.com/ and http://sonsofmalcolm.blogspot.com/ and can be contacted at sukant.chandan@gmail.com

Friday, 21 September 2007

Negroes with Guns, Chapter FOUR: Non-Violence Emboldens the Racists

Sons of Malcolm continue the special Williams series with Chapther 4 from Negroes With Guns.

In this Chapter the 'Freedom Riders', young people, many of them young white students came to North Carolina, like they did in many parts of the racially segregated South to campaign struggle alongside Black people to undertake direct non-violent action to oppose segregation.

These Freedom Riders were principled pacifists, most sent by the reformist pacifist leadership of the Civil-Rights movement to 'educate' Williams and others as to the benefits of their tactics. As Williams says in this chapter "Although I myself would not take the non-violent oath, I asked the people of the community to support them and their non-violent campaign. Monroe students took the nonviolent oath, promising to adhere to the non-violent discipline, which, along with other principles, prohibited selfdefense. I also stated that if they could show me any gains won from the racists by non-violent methods, I too would become a pacifist."

As to the successes of opposing any other type of struggle other than pacifism, the experience of Williams chapter/branch of the NAACP became an important case in point for the whole Civil-Rights movement.

Sons of Malcolm


Chapter 4

Non-Violence Emboldens the Racists: A Week of Terror

In our branch of the NAACP there was a general feeling that we were in a deep and bitter struggle against racists and that we needed to involve as many Negroes as possible and to make the struggle as meaningful as possible. We felt that the single issue of the swimming pool was too narrow for our needs, that what we needed was a broad program with special attention to jobs, welfare, and other economic needs.

I think this was an important step forward. The struggles of the Freedom Riders and the Sit-In Movements have concentrated on a single goal: the right to eat at a lunch counter, the right to sit anywhere on a bus. These are important rights because their denial is a direct personal assault on a Negro’s dignity. It is important for the racists to maintain these peripheral forms of segregation. They establish an atmosphere that supports a system. By debasing and demoralizing the black man in small personal matters, the system eats away the sense of dignity and pride which are necessary to challenge a racist system. But the fundamental core of racism is more than atmosphere-it can be measured in dollars and cents and unemployment percentages. We therefore decided to present a program that ranged from the swimming pool to jobs.

The Monroe Program

On Aug. 15, 1961, on behalf of our Chapter I presented to the Monroe Board of Aldermen a ten point program that read as follows:

PETITION

We, the undersigned citizens of Monroe, petition the City

Board of Aldermen to use its influence to endeavor to:

1. Induce factories in this county to hire without discrimination.

2. Induce the local employment agency to grant non-whites the same privileges given to whites.

3. Instruct the Welfare Agency that non-whites are entitled to the same privileges, courtesies and consideration given to whites.

4. Construct a swimming pool in the Winchester Avenue area of Monroe.

5. Remove all signs in the city of Monroe designating one area for colored and another for whites.

6. Instruct the Superintendent of Schools that he must prepare to desegregate the city school no later than 1962.

7. Provide adequate transportation for all school children.

8. Formally request the State Medical Board to permit Dr. Albert E. Perry, Jr., to practice medicine in Monroe and Union County.

9. Employ Negroes in skilled or supervisory capacities in the City Government.

10. ACT IMMEDIATELY on all of these proposals and inform the committee and the public of your actions.

(signed) Robert F. Williams Albert E. Perry, Jr., M.D. John W. McDow

Our demands for equal employment rights were the most important of the ten points. Many plants were moving in from the North-runaway industry from the North moving in to avoid labor unions, seeking low-priced workers in the South. They received considerable tax-supported concessions from the local Industrial Development Commission and they didn’t hire any Negroes. In fact, local bigoted officials had done everything in their power to prevent Negroes from obtaining employment. They had even gone so far as to stipulate that the new industries could not hire Afro-Americans if they expected the special concessions made possible through the taxation of us all. This amounted to taxation without representation and it was one of our biggest complaints.

As a result of this racist policy, out of approximately 3,000 Afro-Americans in Monroe, there are 1,000 unemployed-persons unable to obtain jobs even as janitors, maids, or porters. And maids and porters, when employed, earn at most $15 for a six-day week. One of the few kinds of work available, cotton picking, pays all of $2.50 for 100 pounds of picked cotton; at breakneck speed it takes a long day, much more than eight hours, to pick 150 pounds. Virtually every Negro high school and college graduate in Monroe has to leave to find employment. This is not true of the white graduates. Negroes are even laid off in the summer so white college youth can work at home. Meanwhile, each summer our street corners are crowded with colored youths just out of school. They have no means of gainful employment or wholesome recreation.

For reasons such as these we believe that the basic ill is an economic ill, our being denied the right to have a decent standard of living.

The Freedom Riders Come to Monroe

We had planned to put picket lines around the county courthouse to draw attention to our program and to apply pressure for its achievement. At this time seventeen Freedom Riders came to our support, perhaps the first time that they engaged in a struggle over such fundamental demands as our program presented. Hitherto, as I’ve said, the goals were peripheral and while important, amenable to small compromises. For example, we had won integration in the public library. On these peripheral matters, leaders of the Sit-In Movements can meet with city and state officials and win concessions. I believe this is an important part of the overall Negro struggle. But when these concessions are used for propaganda by Negro “leaders” as examples of the marvelous progress the Afro-American is supposedly making, thereby shifting attention from the basic evils, such victories cease to be even peripheral and become self-defeating. When we tackle basic evils, however, the racists won’t give an inch. This, I think, is why the Freedom Riders who came to Monroe met with such naked violence and brutality. That and the pledge of non-violence.

The Freedom Riders reflected an attitude of certain Negro leaders who said that I had mishandled the situation and that they would show us how to get victory without violence. With them came the Reverend Paul Brooks, sent by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., to act as a “troubleshooter” for the Freedom Riders, should the need arise, and to work with the community, helping it to develop nonviolent techniques and tactics. I disagreed with their position but was more than willing to co-operate.

The community rented a house for them which was christened “Freedom House” in their honor. They were joined by some of our militant youth who had participated in the picket lines around the swimming pool the previous month. Together they formed the Monroe Non-Violent Action Committee.

Although I myself would not take the non-violent oath, I asked the people of the community to support them and their non-violent campaign. Monroe students took the nonviolent oath, promising to adhere to the non-violent discipline, which, along with other principles, prohibited selfdefense. I also stated that if they could show me any gains won from the racists by non-violent methods, I too would become a pacifist.

At the same time, several observers were in Monroe to see for themselves what so-called democracy was like in Union County. We knew that people living in other sections of the country and other countries of the world would find it hard to believe that such vicious racist conditions, such brutality and ruthlessness, existed in the United States especially in such a “progressive” Southern state as North Carolina was supposed to be. So we encouraged these visits. Julian Mayfield, the young Afro-American novelist and an old friend of Monroe, was there. A young exchange student, Constance Lever of Durham, England, was a guest at our house along with Mrs. Mae Mallory, who had been active in the movement for true integration in her own city, New York.

When the Monroe Non-Violent Action Committee set up its picket line on the first day, the Freedom Riders seemed convinced they were making real progress. One Freedom Rider even returned from the line overjoyed. He said, “You know, a policeman smiled at me in town today while I was on the line.” I laughed and told him not to pay that any attention because the policeman was probably smiling at the thought of how best to kill him. Constance, the English exchange student, had joined the picket line. She said, “Oh, I don’t think these people are so bad. I just think you don’t know how to approach them. I noticed that they looked at me in a friendly way in town today.” I tried to explain to her that these people were trying to win her and the others over in the hope that they would leave Monroe. The day that these people realized that they couldn’t win the Freedom Riders over, they would show their true nature. A few days later, Constance Lever was arrested by the Monroe police and charged with “incitement to riot.”

The Racists Act by Violence

It was on the third day that the townspeople started insulting the pickets and their politeness turned to viciousness. A policeman knocked one picket to the ground and threatened to break his camera. Another was arrested and all the time the white crowd heckled. When one of the white Freedom Riders smiled back at the hecklers, two of Monroe’s “pure white flowers” spit in his face. Tensions continued to mount.

On the fourth day a white Freedom Rider was attacked on the street in town and beaten by three whites. The police broke this up and promised to arrest the white people who had attacked this Freedom Rider. So the Freedom Riders kept on thinking there was a possibility that the law would be on their side because they had publicly proclaimed themselves to be non-violent. I told them it was all right for them to be pacifists but they shouldn’t proclaim this to the world because they were just inviting full-scale violent attack. In the past we hadn’t had any victims of the type of violence they were beginning to experience because we had shown a willingness to fight. We had had picket lines and sit-ins and nobody had successfully attacked our lines. But they said they were struggling from a moral point of view.

On Friday a white Freedom Fighter was shot in the stomach with a high-powered air rifle as he was walking the line. This happened right in front of the police. And that day the city sprayed the picket line with insecticide, hoping to drive the students away from the line. Meanwhile, the city had passed special laws, ordering pickets to be fifteen feet apart at all times. They had to maintain this distance; they couldn’t be too close or too far apart. Then the police started using the tactic of stopping one picket and when the one behind continued walking on they would arrest him for passing too closely behind the other. Also that afternoon, a Negro boy, ten years old, was attacked in town by three white men because he had been seen on the picket line. None of the attackers was arrested.

“Ain’t You Dead Yet?”

That night the Freedom Riders went for a ride into Mecklenburg County across the line and stopped at a restaurant. There they were recognized and attacked by white racists. In the scramble one of the Freedom Riders could escape only by running into the woods; the others had to flee in the car, leaving him behind. We notified the Monroe city police, our county police, the Charlotte police, and the Mecklenburg County police that a Freedom Rider was in the woods, missing, and the racists were trying to catch him. We were afraid he would be lynched. We asked them to intercede. The Monroe police refused. The Union County police refused.

Rev. Brooks called the Governor’s office. Governor Terry Sanford was out, they said. But Rev. Brooks got an opportunity to speak to the Governor’s chief aide, Hugh B. Cannon, and complained to him about the lack of police protection for the Freedom Riders. The Governor’s aide kept talking about Robert Williams. Rev. Brooks said he was not calling about Robert Williams; he was calling about a missing Freedom Rider. He said that they were pacifists, non-violent people, and wanted police protection. The Governor’s aide, Hugh B. Cannon, replied, “if you’re a real pacifist you had better get the hell out of Monroe, man, because there’s going to be plenty of violence there.”

Rev. Brooks kept trying to appeal to him for police protection but finally gave up. He said, “Since you’re talking about Robert Williams so much, he’s right here. Do you want to talk to him?” The Governor’s aide said, Yes.

Cannon and I had talked about two weeks before when I had asked for state police protection. Instead the Governor had sent an Uncle Tom representative named Dr. Larkins, who is supposed to be the Governor’s troubleshooter. He came and held a secret meeting with me to find out what it would take to quiet things down. I gave him the ten-point program and it shocked him. He said that it was too much, that the demands were too high, but he would take it up with the Governor anyway. And he said that, well, he understood I had been undergoing economic pressure and that this was wrong and that maybe I could get a job, that maybe the state could help me if we just didn’t start any trouble around here.

When I called back the Governor’s office and told Hugh B. Cannon about this bribe attempt, he replied, “You mean to tell me that you’re not dead yet?” And I told him, “No, I’m not dead, not yet, but when I die a lot of people may die with me.” So he said, “well, you may not be dead, but you’re going to get killed.” I kept telling him that we wanted protection, trying to avoid bloodshed. He said, “If you’re trying to avoid bloodshed you shouldn’t be agitating.”

The Governor and the FBI

So this Friday night, when Rev. Paul Brooks finished talking to Hugh B. Cannon and he said he wanted to talk to me, I got on the phone and told him what had happened. He said, “Well, you’re getting just what you deserve down there. You’ve been asking for violence, now you’re getting it.” I told him that I wasn’t appealing to him for myself. I was appealing to him for a pacifist. And I told him, “Besides, I’m not appealing to you for a Negro; this happens to be a white boy who’s lost in the woods.” He said, “I don’t give a damn who he is. You asked for violence and now you’re getting it, see; you’re getting just what you deserved.” So I told him, “Do you know one thing ... you are the biggest fool in the whole world!” He became infuriated and started raging on the telephone and told me to shut up. I told him that he may be the Governor’s assistant but he couldn’t tell me to shut up. He said, “If you don’t stop talking to me like that I’ll hang up.” And he finally hung up. No protection came.

Each time the Freedom Riders would get ready to go on the picket line they would call the FBI in Charlotte and ask for protection. The FBI would say, “We’re on our way.” But they would never be there when anything happened. On Saturday when the Freedom Riders were picketing in town and the taxicabs that had been transporting them to the line had started out to pick them up, the local white racists gathered together and blocked the road. This meant the Freedom Riders had to walk back to the colored community which was almost a mile away. The mob followed the Freedom Riders along the streets, throwing stones at them and threatening to kill them. When they came into the colored community, the colored people who were not participating in the picket line became very upset that our community had been invaded by a mob chasing Freedom Riders. Many of the colored people started stoning cars and beating back the white racists.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

REVIEW OF M.I.A's NEW ALBUM 'KALA'


M.I.A.’s Kala

Representing the World Town

By Sukant Chandan


Not since the days of Punk have we seen commercially successful music feature accents reflecting the actual country and cities in England where artists are from, rather than copying US accents, a trend that has been rejected by cultural genres that have been sprung up spontaneously from the grassroots here such as Jungle/Drum & Bass, Garage and Grime. Artists like Dizzee Rascal, Kano, Skinnyman, and Lady Sovereign have succeeded in representing British, mainly London urban working class youth. But Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam aka M.I.A’s (Missing in Action/Acton) new album Kala, named after her mother (the first album Arular named after her father) has brought the closest thing in modern urban music that has so ingeniously fused many international influences into modern urban dance music, with a definite tilt towards South Asian sounds. Asian Dub Foundation, and FunDaMental, especially on the amazing There Shall Be Love album have tried to do this and continue to, but M.I.A. has taken this all to a whole new, sophisticated and yet still beat-banging level.

For so many different reasons, London might as well be a different country to the rest of England, not least because of the seemingly endless amount of different ethnic communities who live side by side with each other. London youth grow up listening to sounds from countries from which their friends, parents and possibly themselves have lived, as well as Western sounds in the form of Rap, R’n’B, Ragga and Dancehall and ‘our own’ London sounds such as Garage, Grime, Drum and Bass and Dub Step. The last genres have come about after having fused together other musical and cultural influences with our own London spin on things. But not many could have foreseen that a former refugee in London from the brutal war between the Tamil people and the Sri Lankan state would have produced one of the most exciting and pioneering Urban music sounds that has come onto the scene to date, and an artist who is as lucid in her political beliefs as she is confident in her talents in music and art having done the artwork for her two albums and who has had a massive artistic input into her music videos.

The sound on Kala doesn’t betray its identification with the London sounds or with the traditions of the London rave and dance culture as elaborated on Kala’s more upbeat track XR2 which opens with her asking ‘where were you in ’92?’, rapping in a sulky-drone tone about the rave scene back in 1992. Kala also shows influences of B-More and Brazilian Baile Funk sound, largely as a result of producer and Diplo who produced tracks on Kala as well as the first album. Kala is layered with a multitude of different cultural influences and as the title says on one of the album tracks, she is truly representing the World Town.

M.I.A is not a product of any privileged art scene like so many other commercial successes in the entertainment industry. Once you get into her music you can hear how her life story and experiences have profoundly influenced her creativity. She fled Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka via a refugee camp in India to London at the age of around 12, ending up with her single parent mother in a working class housing estate in Hounslow, West London. She witnessed the bombing of her community and the horrific repression of the Tamil people. Like the other refugees in the camp in India where she stayed in for a year, she lived in poverty of which she has said “we were drinking loads of contaminated water, we had no medicine, I had no hair and scabs all over my head.”

Her experience of the struggle of the Tamil people, her father’s involvement as a Marxist activist in it and subsequent punishment for it by the Sri Lankan authorities, has made her passionately vocal in her music about the way peoples struggles are demonised. In an interview with Fact Magazine she explained “I haven't heard one proper thing that talks about what the problem is. All I want is a shot of one kid in Palestine who actually says what the fuck is going on. I want one Al-Qaeda dude for every one they've shot and killed and arrested and put in Camp X-Ray to be filmed for five minutes and asked, "What the fuck is your problem, really, for you to give your life up for it? Why don't you just tell the world exactly how you feel?" You have to have a sense of what the other side feels and how they think … The media is too busy portraying the cartoon-character, the dehumanized animal. I'm willing to say things if [they] provoke discussion and thinking,”

M.I.A.’s first album Arular succeeded in catapulting her into the industry limelight, which is maybe surprising if one considers the politically-charged nature of her lyrics that forthrightly and controversially addressed issues such as war, resistance and oppression. Kala in comparison may seem hardly political at all, but closer listening shows that although it is less extrovertly politically, the lyrical content still expresses lyrics about immigration, war and life on the hustle as a first generation third-world kid in London. M.I.A claims her new album, "is also about being a woman in the world and finding your own place within it".

The track Jimmy, the closest to a conventional song on the album, heavily samples a song from Bollywood movie Disco Dancer in 1982, but still manages to remark on genocide in Rwanda, Congo and Darfur on what appears to be a bubble-gum love song. Confounding sexual and racial stereotypes doesn’t end there on Kala. On the track Boyz, M.I.A. got a hundred male dancers from Jamaica dancing on it. She didn’t want the usual sexist booty-shaking video. At a well-known club in Jamaica, Ragga super-star Beenie Man took the track off M.I.A., and played it in the dance re-winding it for 45 minutes while everyone was going crazy over it. Like so many other tracks on the album Boyz has cut-up samples of South Asian singers, and Asian and African percussion, which gives the album a cohesion and continuity throughout.

Given the opportunity by her record label to spend quite a bit of money in Kala, on which she has produced or co-produced 7 of the 12 tracks, she decided that instead of spending her budget on expensive producers she’d rather spend the money on going to villages in India, Liberia, Trinidad, Australia and Jamaica to find the vocals and percussion for the album. She has argued that we need to hear and be influenced by the sounds from youth around the world on which the Western music industry is pushing dubious cultural commodities such as the rapper 50-Cent.

On the subject of crass lyrics, the last track Come Around is produced by Timbaland, one of the pre-eminent Rap and R’n’B producers around. Although the track is excellent, unfortunately like so many Timbaland’s recent tracks, he has taken the tragic route of supposedly ‘rapping’ on it, at least he hadn’t tried on this track to attempt to sing like he has on his other recent tracks with tragic consequences. His rapping wouldn’t even have been so bad if the lyrics weren’t the sleaze-ball lyrics that they are: “I don't wanna be in love with you I'ma just break you off and say goodbye”, you get the picture. To M.I.A.’s credit she doesn’t entertain Timbaland’s rubbish, who just comes across a juvenile idiot. She has said that she has no interest in becoming the next Nelly Furtado, whose ‘promiscuity’ is promoted by Timbaland’s production. One cam imagine that the pressure on her to become a no-brained bimbo performer must be considerable; just being in the decadent and superficial cultural context of the entertainment industry in which she works must present enough pressure to sell-out.

The Timbaland episode on the album is an exception. The other vocal artists she has featured on the album are far away from the music industry manufactured bling culture. One such example on the album is South-East London based Nigerian rapper Afrikan Boy featured on the track Hussel, about working the struggle of working class immigrant life in London,

[Afrikan Boy:]

I’m illegal I don’t pay tax tax,
EMA yes I’m claiming that that,
police I try to avoid them,
they catch me hustling they say deport them,

Then the amazing track Mango Pickle Down River produced by M.I.A. and Australian based producer Morganics features crew of ten year old Black Australian/Aboriginal youths called ‘Wilcannia Mob’ rapping alongside M.I.A. who are a part of Morganics outreach project. The kids sound great, and the minimalist track has a didgeridoo bassline. Timbaland was so impressed with the beat that he later took it and featured it on Snoop’s new album. M.I.A. explained about Wilcannia Mob and the racism against Black Australians; “even to get them into the after party, me and my brother practically had to get into a fight with people to get them in …just the amount of segregation between black and white Australia is really crazy”

From promoting cultural “Third World democracy”, as she states in The Clash-sampling track and one of the most catchy tracks Paper Planes, she comes straight back down to London on the bass heavy Grime and Dub-Step style 20 Dollar, the follow up from 10 Dollar from the first album. The only sign of the Third World sounds on this track are her vocoded singing which starts the track in South Asianesque semi-tone harmonies. For the rest M.I.A raps in her characteristic blistering sarcastic bad-attitude sulky drones, i.e., not dissimilar to a London rude girl!

Kala takes the listener on a unique journey through the latest break-beat sounds of modern western urban music via number of Third World cities and villages. That in itself would make Kala an incredible album, but such an exercise could easily result in something more like a ‘World Music’ fusion project gone horribly wrong. But M.I.A has pulled off something which rests comfortably between her combined identities of Western underground dance music along with a close loyalty and identification with the international sounds of people across Asia, Africa and Australasia. Kala shows that there doesn’t necessarily have to be cultural divisions in the music industry, and that these cultures when ground against each other can, if done by those involved in them on a grassroots level, become the future sounds of which Kala is definitely a pioneering contribution. In an industry which encourages cultural and political separation from the masses, M.I.A is unlikely to succumb to this pressure; her loyalties are firmly and graphically expressed through her music.

Sukant Chandan is London-based writer on current affairs and cultural issues. He was for ten years a Garage and Jungle/Drum&Bass MC with the DubNeg crew playing at clubs and on London pirate radios. He runs two blogs http://ouraim.blogspot.com/ and http://sonsofmalcolm.blogspot.com/ and can be contacted at sukant.chandan@gmail.com

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Al-QAEDA WITH AMERICAN CHARACTERISTICS

Bin Laden and 'Azzam the American'
Sukant Chandan*
September 11th 2007

Released in time for the 6th anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and Camp David, Al-Qaeda's 'al-Sahab' media organisation has released Osama Bin Laden's first video statement from for nearly three years, followed by another today in which Bin Laden praises Abu Musab Walid, one of the 911 hijackers.

These statements generally accepted authenticity has put to
rest speculation that Bin Laden might have died, and has
put the West's most wanted man back into the forefront of
the politics of the 'war on terror'. The coverage that the
first video statement has been given throughout the
international media has proven again that Bin Laden is the
most important spokesperson on behalf of militant Islamism
even though his direct organisational involvement in
Al-Qaeda affairs may have possibly been curtailed. What is
most noticeable about this latest statement is the
stridently radical anti-capitalist rhetoric which many have
attributed to the influence of former white US citizen
Azzam Al-Amriki - 'Azzam the American' - previously known
as Adam Gadahn, the son of a Jew and a Catholic, who has
family members who live in Israel, who now runs al-Sahab,
Al-Qaeda's media wing. The British Telegraph on September
9th quoted former CIA covert operations officer Mike Baker
who stated that the Bin Laden statement 'has Adam Gadahn
all over it'. Amriki's own speeches and possible influence
on the statements of Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda's second leader
Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, has raised an interesting development
in Al-Qaeda propaganda strategy in adapting its message to
the politics, history and even culture of US society.

Most recognize Amriki as being the main person behind the
al-Sahab media organisation, and it is thought that he runs
its editing suite from the back of a van somewhere in and
around the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan,
where Bin Laden and Zawahiri are also thought to be in
hiding. Amriki has previously made video statements in
English and is thought to be the third most important
spokesperson for Al-Qaeda. Although nominally involved in
al-Sahab he has been the only person apart from Bin Laden
in Al-Qaeda who has directed his messages specifically to a
US audience. It seems likely that Amriki is relied upon by
Bin Laden and Zawahiri, and also possibly more widely in
Al-Qaeda, as someone who is most sensitive to and
knowledgeable as to the most effective ways targeting the
US in its propaganda war.

Although Bin Laden and Zawahiri have directed many comments
and statements at the people and government of the US,
recent statements have shown that Al-Qaeda is attempting to
improve this particular media strategy. One of Zawahiri's
latest statements stated that Al-Qaeda is fighting on the
behalf of "all the weak and oppressed in North America and
South America, in Africa and Asia, and all over the world",
being possibly the first time that Al-Qaeda leadership has
stated that their struggle is also aimed at assisting the
world's oppressed. Zawahiri's statement also contained many
references to Malcolm X / Malik el-Hajj Shabazz, a figure
that still holds an emotive and profoundly political place
in the hearts and minds of radicals, Muslims and especially
Black people in the US. Zawahiri cited the famous militant
Black leader to call on Black soldiers in the US army to
recognise their historical and continuing oppression by the
US and to refuse to fight in a war that is not in their
interests; "And I tell the soldier of color in the American
army that the racist Crusader regime kidnapped your
ancestors to exploit them in developing their resources,
and today it is using you for the same purpose, after they
altered the look of the shackles and changed the type of
chains and try to make you believe that you are fighting
for democracy and the American dream ... And after you
achieve for them what they want, they will throw you out
into the street like an old shoe".

In Bin Laden's latest statement he takes up a similar theme
of racial divisions and tensions in US society by citing a
short Guardian Film which was syndicated by ABC about a US
Black soldier in Iraq; "Among them is the eloquent message
of Joshua which he sent by way of the media, in which he
wipes the tears from his eyes and describes American
politicians in harsh terms and invites them to join him
there for a few days. Perhaps his message will find in you
an attentive ear so you can rescue him and more than
150,000 of your sons …"

It has been speculated that Amriki is the person who is
essentially script-writing sections or even large parts of
Zawahiri and Bin Laden's speeches, this seems especially so
in the case of Bin Laden's latest video statement perhaps
drafting the entire speech. The question has to be posed:
is this an effective strategy on the part of al-Sahab? If
put into the historical context of conflicts in times gone
by, the current media strategy by al-Sahab has the
potential of being successful to some extent, and there is
even evidence that this is working on young people across
the West.

The period of Black, Hispanic and white leftist and
anti-imperialist movements of the 1960s and '70s in the US
saw these organisations ally themselves to struggles which
the US government considered a part of what was at the time
then the parallel of Al-Qaeda in terms of the way the
communists and the 'Evil Empire' were demonized and seen by
the US government to epitomize the very opposite of its
principles of American democratic and free-market values.
Significant sections, but by no means a majority of Black
political movements of Black radical movements in the US
have throughout the last century sympathized and even sided
with those the US are at war with. This has included Saddam
Hussein in the 1991 war, at which time influential rapper
Rakim in his pioneering Hip-Hop outfit with DJ Eric B
expressed support for Saddam Hussein with a mixture of
Third Worldist, Islamist and anti-capitalist lyrics on the
track 'Causalities of War':

… let's see who reigns supreme
Something like Monopoly: a government scheme
Go to the Army, be all you can be Another dead soldier?
Hell no, not me So I start letting off ammunition in every direction
Allah is my only protection
But wait a minute, Saddam Hussein prays the same
and this is Asia, from where I came
I'm on the wrong side, so change the target Shooting at the general;
and where's the sergeant?

One of the pet hate figures of the US establishment has
been the leader of possibly one of the biggest Black
political organisations: Louis Farrakhan, leader of the
Nation of Islam, whose international allies include Cuba's
Castro and Libya's Ghadaffi. One of the earlier leaders of
the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X, was well-known for
supporting practically any militant opposition to US power
in the world from guerilla movements Vietnam to the
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the equivalent of the 911
attacks of its time.

Following the Zawahiri statement in which he quotes Malcolm
X, one of the best documentaries on Malcolm X's life and
political beliefs overseen by his wife Betty Shabazz, was
edited into a pro-Al-Qaeda version of the original film,
renaming it 'Prince of Islam'. This was also accompanied by
the release of a pro-Malcolm X rap song and video entitled
'By Any Means Necessary' by the clandestine rap group 'Soul
Salah Crew' with which the aforementioned 'Prince of Islam'
film opens. The music video and the 're-mixed' film are
popular on video-sharing websites, showing that Zawahiri's
statement has been successful in fusing Al-Qaeda's jihadist
ideology with the radical message of Malcolm X.

Further back in history we can find examples of white US
soldiers defecting to North Korea during the war against it
by the US in the early 1950s, who broadcasted radio
statements encouraging US soldiers to defect, and who also
played acting roles in North Korean propaganda films
portraying the ignorant and racially chauvinist American.
Then there is the case of Robert F Williams from Monroe,
North Carolina, maybe the person most responsible for the
rise of the Black Power movement in the early 1960s who
conducted radio broadcasts encouraging Black US soldiers in
Vietnam to defect and also got Mao Tse Tung to issue a
statement in support of the Black civil-rights movement at
a time that Mao and Red China were seen as irreproachable
anti-imperialist radicals by the US government. Today there
is no sign of any radical Black movement in open support of
Al-Qaeda, but judging from the fact that throughout history
sizeable sections of Black people who have no trust
whatsoever in the US system, one can be sure that Al-Qaeda
are receiving some sympathetic nods when they raise the
parallels between the history of US oppression of Black
people and the way in which they are treated today.

The South Asia Analysis Group states that the Bin Laden
statement reads more like the text of a disgruntled
American than that of an 'Arab Sheikh' and that 'there are
more allusions to contemporary American history than to
ancient Islam'. Most of Al-Qaeda's statements are highly
political, derided by some trends within Islam as being
concerned too much with politics. In their statements
Al-Qaeda raise events in Islamic history to prove a very
contemporary political proposition. Nevertheless, it is
true to say that this latest statement has very few
references to Islamic history apart from the last section
whereby Bin Laden explains that rather than being guilty of
massive anti-Semitic practices, Islamic history, especially
that of the 700 years of Islamic rule in Spain, proved that
it was under an Islamic government that Jews and Muslims
lived together in peace and security at a time when they
were both persecuted. Bin Laden points the finger at the
West as the architects and executers of the genocide
against the Jewish people; "They [Jews and Christians] are
alive with us and we have not incinerated them".

This section of the statement has been derided by many
commentators and analysts which is rather heavy on Islamist
rhetoric calling on people in the US to convert to Islam,
something which Al-Qaeda has done in many statements. It
should be remembered that many Muslims, including rather
reformist Islamic trends which Western governments tend to
encourage, see the obligation of dawa - a religious call -
to the West to convert to Islam as one of the greatest
challenges facing the Ummah - the international community
or nation of Muslims - in establishing peace and justice
which they see as only being possible under Islamic law. So
it should not come as any surprise that Bin Laden also
calls upon people in the West to do so, albeit with the
obvious difference being that refusing to do so might
result in terrorist guerilla attacks. However Al-Qaeda like
many Muslims believe Islam to be the only viable
alternative to what they see as the morally decadent nature
of the West. If yesterday it was Marxism or communism that
was seen by many as, on the one hand the greatest enemy of
the West, and on the other hand, as the best possible
alternative to Western democracy and capitalism, it
shouldn't be so shocking in a context where Islam is seen
as having replaced communism as the great threat, that it
is seen by many Muslims as the great alternative to Western
capitalist democracy. Bin Laden sees that only Islam can
save the people of the US, and that of those Islamic
countries with which it is fighting, from war and
exploitation as he does not see any effective movement in
the US that fights the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq,
let alone a cohesive political movement that is able to
fundamentally challenge the system. Bin Laden argues: "you
can still carry anti-war placards and spread out in the
streets of major cities, then go back to your homes, but
that will be of no use and will lead to the prolonging of
the war."

Bizarrely, Bin Laden has become one of the most well-known
personalities in the world that is championing
anti-capitalist, anti-racist and environmentalist demands,
and all the while favorably quoting one of the greatest
radical minds of our times: Noam Chomksy. It is rare, even
on anti-war demonstrations in the West, to find such
radical pronouncements as those from Bin Laden when he
calls on people who have 'previously liberated yourselves
before from the slavery of monks, kings, and feudalism', to
liberate themselves from 'the deception, shackles and
attrition of the capitalist system', a system he continues
to argue that 'seeks to turn the entire world into a
fiefdom of the major corporations under the label of
"globalization" in order to protect democracy.'

This Islamist leftist rhetoric has inspired annoyance in
some left-wing and radical circles in the West. While they
might share Bin Laden's radical comments they perhaps don't
appreciate Bin Laden picking holes in their political
strategies and movements so publicly. One has to wait and
see whether Chomksy shares this sentiment or like William
Blum, another leftist intellectual that Bin Laden has
previously praised, will be 'glad' about Bin Laden's name
dropping. If Bin Laden quoting Chomsky as a great writer
wasn't surreal enough, he goes on to praise the author of
the book Imperial Hubris, Michael Scheuer, currently one of
the main writers on the conflict-analyst organisation
Jamestown and former head of the CIA Bin Laden unit.
Scheuer has said in the past that "the Islamic media's
correspondents and editors work harder, dig deeper, and
think more than most of their Western counterparts."

This latest Al-Qaeda statement indeed shows that Bin Laden
has done his research, or perhaps Amriki has done the
legwork for him, in crafting a statement well-suited
politically to a US context. The calls for people in the
West to convert to Islam are not as outrageous and
important as they might seem; in this statement, like so
many others by Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda's main emphasis remains
the demand for a security pact with the people of the West
conditional on the cessation of hostilities against Islamic
nations, especially in the Arab world and in Afghanistan.
In this latest statement it is probable that Amriki has
helped Bin Laden gear this statement for a US audience. No
matter how much analysts, journalists and commentators
rubbish Al-Qaeda's attempts at developing a discourse that
aims to bridge the political and cultural chasm created by
Western mainstream media in the present conflicts, Al-Qaeda
are, as shown in the example of the Prince of Islam and
Soul Salah Crew song, achieving some successes in this
strategy. As for Amriki, one can imagine that Amriki is
rather flattered by the amount of attention and
responsibility that he has been attributed in Al-Qaeda's
media campaign against the West, in addition to being the
first person since 1952 to be charged with treason,
something which undoubtedly boosts his jihadi kudos, and
may well be satisfied with his efforts. Possibly Amriki's
aim at the very least is to have got people in the world to
take notice as to this the latest development of al-Sahab's
media campaign, something which he has achieved, and in so
doing, has contributed to one of the most extraordinary
cultural accomplishments of our times - Al Qaeda with
American characteristics.

*Sukant Chandan is a London-based freelance journalist and political analyst. He runs two blogs http://ouraim.blogspot.com/ and http://sonsofmalcolm.blogspot.com/ and can be contacted at sukant.chandan@gmail.com