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February 27 2014

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February 14 2014

Protests Erupt Against a TV Show in Iran

Sarzamine Kohan

Sarzamine Kohan

Protests against a TV series called Sarzamine Kohan (Ancient Land) erupted this week in several Iranian cities, including Dezful and Ahvaz in the oil-rich Khuzestan province. Demonstrators say the show was insulting to Bakhtiari people and the role its leaders played in Iran's Constitutional Revolution.

In at least one dialogue of the fictional show, Bakhtyaris are said to be “at the service of English”, meaning they were traitors. Sixty members of parliament wrote a protest letter to state-run Iranian television complaining about this representation.

Bakhtiari people, who primarily live in Chahar Mahaal, Bakhtiari and parts of the Khuzestan, Lorestan and Isfahan provinces, played played an important role in Iran's history.

Demonstration in Dezful

Freedom Messenger shared several films from a demonstration in Dezful, on Friday 14, 2014.

Several netizens tweeted about the controversial series.

Tevis tweeted

Today they destroy Bakhtiari, tomorrow they will do it with other ethnic groups.

The_Sina tweeted

Here are the photos of demonstration in Masjed Soleiman on Friday, February 15. If you demonstrate, do it the right way, without violence.

Mehdi Mohseni previously tweeted

Iran's Third Channel (the one broadcast the controversial series) played Bakhtiari music several times today. Probably to soften the present atmosphere.

Protests Against Death of Immigrants in Ceuta, Spain: “No One Is Illegal”

Image from Fotomovimiento taken at the Barcelona protest

Image from Fotomovimiento taken at the Barcelona protest. Used under CC License.

A group of 200 people tried to enter Spain from Morocco by swimming around the fence at Ceuta, and some 14 sub-Saharan African migrants were crushed to death or drowned. The Guardia Civil (Civil Guard) has been condemned by the immigrants and by a number of civil society organisations alike that argue that the security forces neither assisted [es] the immigrants nor alerted the coastguard to rescue those who were at sea. They also condemn the use of rubber bullets and tear gas against the immigrants in an attempt to prevent them from crossing the border.

The Guardia Civil has denied the accusations and created confusion by daily changing their version [es] of the events of Thursday 6th February.

Map of the border zone between Morocco and Spain - Wikipedia

Map of the border zone between Morocco and Spain – Wikipedia

A week after the tragedy, protests were convened in 15 Spanish cities to condemn the immigrants’ deaths. At the citizen gathering in Madrid, the most popular slogans [es] were: “They didn't drown, they were murdered”, “Natives or foreigners, we're all the same working class”, “No one is illegal” and “Where are the pro-lifers now?”, the latter in reference to those who support the controversial reform of the Abortion Law that the Spanish conservative government is currently preparing. 

The Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz finally acknowledged the use of riot gear by the security forces, although he claimed that it was used “only as a deterrent” to prevent the migrants from crossing the border. While the minister was appearing in the House of Representatives and facing the questions and accusations of the opposition parties, Twitter was transformed into a vehicle for people to express their indignation via the now trending topic #muertesCeuta [#Ceutadeaths]:

It seems that when prospecting for oil the borders are a lot wider than when for saving lives #muertesceuta

— Leire Iglesias (@leireis) February 13th, 2014

The minister acknowledges that rubber bullets were fired but not at people… what were they firing at then, the seagulls? #muertesCeuta

— Lorena Sainero (@Anerol27) February 13th, 2014

There are some things which we should never allow to happen. #muertesCeuta
— Ani ツ (@Vaquesinmas) February 13th, 2014

Shooting into the water near people who are desperate and can't swim isn't deterring them “for humanitarian reasons”, it's something entirely different #muertesCeuta

— Juan Luis Sánchez (@juanlusanchez) February 13th, 2014

There are still many questions to be answered: 

Autor Dani Gago - DISO Press

Photo by Dani Gago – DISO Press. ‘More bridges, no walls’

What is the existing protocol for managing the entry of immigrants in Spain? Did the Guardia Civil's actions in Ceuta show respect for the law and the immigrants’ human rights? Were some of the immigrants who did manage to reach Spanish territory returned to Morocco, in spite of the illegality of such an action? 

One Twitter user briefly summarises the need for accountability: 

Why should the minister provide answers to the mysteries surrounding the #Ceutadeaths? Above all, for them: http://t.co/TzhPH6zS9M

— Gabriela Sánchez (@Gabriela_Schz) February 13th, 2014

February 13 2014

The Iconic Trinidadian Film You've Never Seen

An image from Bim the movie, courtesy SHARC Productions; used with permission.

An image from Bim the movie, courtesy SHARC Productions; used with permission.

The 1970s saw the release of two important indigenous Caribbean films: Jamaica’s iconic The Harder They Come, starring musician Jimmy Cliff, which still takes some measure of credit for introducing reggae music to the world, and Bim, which explores race, politics and working class challenges in colonial Trinidad.

If you’ve never heard of Bim, far less seen it, that’s all about to change, thanks to the power of social media.

Pat Ganase, who has had a long career in journalism, publishing and communications in Trinidad and Tobago, has started a Facebook page called “BIM the movie” in an attempt to ignite online discussion about the film and the issues it deals with.

“I decided it was time for the first all-Trinidad film to have a Facebook fan page,” Ganase says. “It was the first film that didn’t just use our environment as a location and our people as exotic natives or extras. It is a film with a story that is authentic…and ours.”

Fellow journalist and writer Raoul Pantin collaborated on the script. The actors were all local. So was the majority of the film crew. The early fusion soundtrack was composed by Andre Tanker and performed by some of the country’s most outstanding musicians, including Mungal Patasar. But most importantly, it was a Trinidadian story.

Ganase is friends with Suzanne Robertson (who co-produced the film with her late husband Hugh, an American who edited the Oscar-winning film Midnight Cowboy) and says that even back then, the couple saw a bright future for the film industry in Trinidad and Tobago.

“The first Trinidadian film company was SHARC,” she explains, “named for Suzanne, Hugh and their children (Antonio and Anna) Robertson. Bim—and SHARC—probably failed then, for the same reasons that film, as a viable industry, is not succeeding today. There is a failure to appreciate it as a productive industry that can employ many, many people and bring returns on investment through distribution.”

As Ganase notes, the challenges for young filmmakers today are the same: “Funding, institutional support, distribution and marketing. The film industry is not a solitary art, which is why it is an Industry with a Capital I.” But the sense of déjà vu does not stop there—it extends itself to societal challenges as well. While the film marked a particular time in Trinidad and Tobago's history, addressing attitudes towards issues such as racial identity, Ganase believes  its lessons are still relevant. “Maybe it can tell us something about ‘crime’ in our society,” she offers. “It certainly has something to say about young men who grow themselves up, without father or family.”

The plot follows the main character Bhim (initially pronounced Beem) Singh, whose father, a union leader for workers in the sugar cane fields, is killed on the day of his sister’s wedding. Bhim leaves the only life he knows in rural Trinidad to live with his aunt and her ne’er-do-well husband in Port of Spain, Trinidad's capital city. From the get-go he's an outcast, and is soon drawn into a life of petty crime, working for an underworld type who re-christens him Bim. Meanwhile, the winds of political change are blowing. Bim seizes the opportunity, crushes the son of the man who killed his father and gets himself elected as head of the sugar cane workers’ union. His victory is short-lived, however, and his demise comes rather quickly, as a result of alcoholism.

Upon its release, the film was not panned by critics, but it didn’t quite get rave reviews either. The New York Times critique in 1974, for instance, opened by saying, “By no conventional standards is ‘Bim’ very good, but it’s still vastly more interesting than lots of other movies you’re likely to stumble on.” ‘Interesting’ may have been an understatement; it certainly struck a note with local audiences, presumably even before anyone had even seen it. Trinidad and Tobago had an active Censors Board at the time and the film’s planned debut in December 1974 never happened thanks to a ban. A month later, after legal action was taken against the Censors Board, the film was finally screened—uncut—at the landmark Roxy cinema in St. James.

“The language is harsh; it had plenty cusswords [obscene language],” Ganase recalls, “but not unwarranted. People who have seen the film are the ones who perceive it as seminal and important. There is a ring of truth in Bim the movie.”

There's certainly a timeless quality to Bim. Ganase says that “viewers of all ages and in every decade respond [to the film] the same way…as if it is something that they were deprived of.” She thinks this is because the story is as relevant now as it was then. “It’s not that I want people to know the film,” she says. “It is that people have a hunger for it.”

In just three days, the Facebook page has received over 130 “Likes” and a substantial amount of commentary, both from people who have already seen the film and from those who would like to. Ganase says the page will develop according to the discussion it generates: “It will point us in a direction that comes from the collective.”

One idea that came out of user comments was the suggestion by Trinidadian visual artist Christopher Cozier to work towards having Bim listed in Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation, which restores and distributes films from countries that are underrepresented in global film culture. “It is a worthwhile idea that might be an avenue for new distribution,” Ganase explains. “There will be a showing in the future. But that will happen when the time is right.”

Janine Mendes-Franco is a communications consultant, media producer and writer. When she's not blogging about the Caribbean for Global Voices, you can find her blogging here and tweeting here.

The image used in this post is from Bim the movie, courtesy SHARC Productions, used with permission. A version of this article first appeared in the Sunday Guardian Arts section.

February 12 2014

An “Increasingly Uncertain” Future for Central Asia's Fergana Valley

On the Caravanistan blog, Cycloscope writes about radioactive landfill sites in the Fergana Valley, a region “absurdly divided between Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan”:

Unaware of the dangers of radioactivity, the locals take the equipment in the old abandoned mines and sell them as scrap, risking not only their own lives but also the spread of radioactivity. A further problem is the use of rock from landfills as a building material for houses and roads.

The threat coming from radioactive waste is aggravated by unsettled borders, water scarcity, and a history of ethnic riots, making the future of the region “increasingly uncertain”.

February 11 2014

A Personal Tribute to Jamaican “Interventionist” Stuart Hall

As tributes to late Jamaican cultural theorist Stuart Hall keep coming, Jamaica-based blogger Annie Paul posts a personal and stirring acknowledgement.

Titled “A Stuart Hall-shaped hole in the universe…”, she begins by saying:

When I saw Stuart at his home in London on December 14, 2013, I knew he wouldn’t last much longer. He had been ill for years and his health had deteriorated considerably since the previous year when we celebrated his 80th birthday at Rivington Place, the art centre born of his inspiration and hard work. All the same his departure comes as a blow. It’s too early for me to come to terms with this loss, for Stuart has been a close friend and mentor since 1996 when he came to the University of the West Indies to speak at the Rex Nettleford Conference.

Paul chooses to share some of her own photographs in the post, which alone makes it extraordinary – snapshots of Hall with Paul herself; with David Scott, the editor of Small Axe magazine; a few pics of him both in England and in Jamaica. These are rare glimpses into the ordinary days of an extraordinary man. Paul says:

Stuart Hall was such an extraordinary thinker that his work ranged over a broad field of interests including visual art which was the one thing we truly bonded over. It was a preoccupation that didn’t get much coverage in other interviews which tend to focus more on his activism, his Marxism, and his political interventions.

Stuart Hall at Good Hope Estate, Trelawny, Jamaica, 2004 - Photo by Annie Paul

Stuart Hall at Good Hope Estate, Trelawny, Jamaica, 2004 – Photo by Annie Paul

She links to a post she wrote in November 2013, in which she reviews The Stuart Hall Project, the John Akomfrah film about him, which she hopes will be screened in Jamaica soon. In it, she says:

One of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century, Stuart Hall, was born and brought up here, made his career in Britain, become an intellectual powerhouse there, and is virtually unknown in the land of his birth. So true what Jesus said: A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country. Ah well.

Still, she shares links about his life and work in an effort to make “young people here realize that Jamaicans excel not only in track and field and music but also in the intellectual arena…”

Another piece of memorabilia Paul shares in the post is one of her “treasures”:

…a letter Stuart wrote to the Librarian at Birmingham U so that I could gain access to their inner sanctum.

She ends with an upload of an interview she did with Hall, titled The Ironies of History:

The Ironies of History:An Interview with Stuart Hall by Annie Paul

The interview (read it, above) begins by quoting Professor Grant Farred of Duke University:

Such was Hall’s impact on the US, British, Euro pean and Australian academy via cultural studies, mainly through a range of essays he published during the 1980s, that by the 1990s he became one of the preeminent intellectuals in the world. In truth, because of the international rise of cultural studies, Hall came to be regarded as an academic star, an intellectual celebrity, and a philosophical guru: he became the incarnation of cultural studies, first in Britain and then in the United States, widely anointed as the spokes man for the politics – and the endemic politicization – of the popular, the theorist in the fore front of politicizing (all) identity.

In it, Paul discusses with Hall everything from immigration and deportation to dancehall music, black masculinity and homophobia. He talks about art, architecture and visual culture. He even talks about himself and his work:

I was an interventionist, my writing is interventionist ok? That is to say I write in order to intervene in a situation, to shift the terms in which it’s understood, to introduce a new angle, to contest how it has been understood before; it’s an embattled form of writing…a kind of intellectual interventionism.

This is a kind of politics in theory, because it’s interested in struggling thought – struggling in thought. Not interested in the production of pure truth, absolute truth, universal truth. It’s interested in the production of better ideas than the ones we used to have. So it’s a kind of struggle in thought, a struggle with thought and a struggle inside thought, struggle inside thinking to change the terms of reference with which we’re thinking. There’s also a politics of thought in the sense that it wants to make the ideas useful for some purpose; it wants to help people think more clearly about their situation or to help to advance nationalism in a more progressive direction or to help the world become a more equal and just place.

The image used in this post is by Annie Paul, used with permission.

When Algeria's Police Fail to Act, Citizen Journalists Step in

Not long after evidence of police abuse was exposed by citizen journalists there last month, cyber activists in the city of Ghardaïa have once against uncovered failings of Algeria's police forces, this time for not stepping in to protect a man who as killed in public after being kidnapped by a group of local gangsters.

Sectarian tensions in this region situated in the heart of the M'zab valley are high, and cyber activists and citizen journalists are doubling their efforts to expose the violent clashes between the Ibadites minority (a.k.a Mozabites in this region) and the majority made of Muslim Sunni communities, publishing video evidence on YouTube. The publicity generated by the activists’ first videos showing police abuse against Ibadites prompted Algerian authorities to launch an investigation and sanction the officers involved.

The goal of these citizen journalists is clear: share the reality on the ground with the Algerian population, whose awareness of the situation is obscured by the lack of reporting in the mainstream media. In fact, many facts and elements of the situation are not reported. For instance, the media seldom reports on the complicity of security forces with local thugs who vandalize and wreck havoc in the city to increase sectarian conflict between the Ibadites and the Sunni. The photos below taken by Mozabites activists show the reality of the crimes occurring in Ghardaïa right under the nose of police:

Photo gardaia activistes

Photo posted on Facebook by Ghardaia activists showing crime evidence in the city. Used with permission.

Among the crimes exposed by the activists was the case of 21-year-old Mozabite youngster Babaousmail Azzedine. Azzedine was attacked in public after being kidnapped by local gangsters on February 5, 2014. The youngster succumbed shortly after to his injuries, as a result of 20 knife wounds he received.

The crime shook Ghardaïa to its core. Yet Azzedine assassins are still free. Activists retrieved amateurs photos of the murder captured by eyewitnesses and assembled all the video and photographic evidence adding captions as well as geographical and historical annotations. The footage shows Azzedine's aggressors as they assaulted him:

Disseminated via YouTube, citizen journalism website Envoyés Spéciaux Algériens (Algerian Special Envoys) [fr, ar] and independent news site Algérie-Focus [fr], the video went viral and sparked public outcry. It comes at a time when the Interior Minister and the Chief of the Algerian Police were visiting the region in an attempt to appease the situation. Still, local authorities have yet to arrest anyone in the murder, but an investigation was launched by the national armed forces to track down Azzedine's murderers, who can be clearly identified in this video:

In the meantime, numerous online communities are working together to alert Algerian authorities to the situation in the region and to pressure them into acting against against sectarian violence in M'zab. Ghardaïa News [fr] and Ahdath Ghardaïa  (Gharadaia Events) [fr, ar] are two news sites that regularly fight to report on the violence against the Mozabite population.

The tremendous work of these activists was not in vain. The impunity of the criminals was publicly revealed, putting the Algerian authorities in a compromising situation and forcing them into action. Violence hasn't stopped in Ghardaïa, but this a positive step forward for the local population.

Trinidad & Tobago: A Deeper Carnival

Mas is beauty and horror. Mas as a whole can’t and shouldn’t be a version of reality that edits out the blood and pain.

Tillah Willah explains why she is so excited about the character she is portraying in this year's Trinidad and Tobago Carnival.

February 10 2014

Remembering the Jamaican Cultural Theorist Stuart Hall

Jamaican-born cultural theorist Stuart Hall has died at the age of 82 in England; netizens and academics all over the globe were shocked by the news, though Hall had been ailing for some time. He reportedly died of complications arising from kidney failure.

The UK Guardian's obituary described Hall as an “influential cultural theorist, campaigner and founding editor of the New Left Review”. One of the founders of British Cultural Studies, he regarded popular culture as capitalist and dominated by the ruling class. He studied media and its impact on ideology, becoming a major proponent of reception theory and expanded the scope of cultural studies to deal with race and gender. His work was particularly meaningful to black West Indian immigrant communities, as he explored ideas of cultural identity, race and ethnicity, especially as they related to the diaspora experience. Rather than viewing identity to be determined by history and culture – and therefore fixed – he saw it as fluid, ongoing and subject to change.

Facebook was overflowing with status updates that reflected the respect and admiration people had for the man and his work. Upon hearing the news of Hall's death, Rhoda Bharath said:

I can't even begin to describe how bereft I feel about Hall's passing… What a loss!

Arc Magazine posted a striking portrait of Hall by Antonio Olmos, adding:

We have just learned of the passing of Stuart Hall, champion of cultural studies and one of the Caribbean's leading intellectuals.

Our condolences are extended to those whose lives he touched with his generous work.

Rest well in peace Sir.

Arc's Facebook update directed readers to its website, where it posted about Hall's life and work in greater detail.

From Jamaica, Annie Paul referred to his death as “horrible news”, and proceeded to post a series of links and photos about his life and work as part of her mourning process, including this video of Hall speaking with C.L.R. James:

In another update, Paul admonished the Jamaican media for not picking up on the significance of his death:

Have yet to hear any announcement on local media of the passing of Stuart Hall…

Stuart Hall (R) reading a copy of The Caribbean Review of Books at at Hellshire Beach, Jamaica; June 2004.  Photo by Annie Paul.

Stuart Hall (R) reading a copy of The Caribbean Review of Books at at Hellshire Beach, Jamaica; June 2004. Photo by Annie Paul.

In a blog post that was published soon after the 2012 debut of John Akomfrah‘s film about Hall, “The Unfinished Conversation”, cultural studies professor Nick Mirzoeff wrote:

It’s a remarkable piece of visualizing theory and history. Shown on three screens simultaneously, the film visualizes, in a sense, what it must have been like to be Stuart Hall in his earlier career. The three screens would be showing personal photographs, filmed interviews from various periods, archive film and photography, news footage and so on. Meanwhile the sound would blend music, often jazz, with Hall’s commentary and radio interviews and other sound, such as the sea or machinery. It was a polyphony, edited so that all the sounds and images reinforced rather than disrupted each other.

There were powerfully revelatory moments throughout. It turns out–did I somewhere know this?–that Stuart has Sephardic-Jewish in his family tree. In the film, we see his mother and that lineage is visibly apparent–it’s mine, too, so I’m allowed to say this. Was there some affinity that I had felt, having worked with Hall when I was a young activist and editor on Marxism Today, and always taking his thought to be a lodestone? Perhaps.

He commented on other revelations in the film:

It turns out that Hall was part of a group that opened a radical coffee shop in Oxford in the crisis of 1956. The Soviet invasion of Hungary changed a generation away from orthodox Marxism-Leninism and cultural studies would not have happened as it did without this break. At the same time, Britain and France invaded Egypt over the nationalization of the Suez canal, their last imperial folly.

Sitting in the coffee shop called The Partisan, with its sign designed in impeccable lower-case sans serif font, Hall was interviewed about his views. Time and again, he calmly stressed that he was angry, angry over the invasions, angry over the disregard for young people in Britain, angry that

for fifteen years at least we have been without any kind of moral or political leadership.

Out of that anger came the New Left Review.

Mirzoeff continued:

Watching it now, over fifty years later, I felt intensely that we had somehow let this young man down, that it would be entirely possible for another such young man or woman to sit down today and say exactly the same thing. And it is indeed what we have been saying this past year. The spectre that entered the room was this question: will this demand still be unmet in fifty more years from now? Or was leadership perhaps the wrong thing to ask for? Reflecting back on 1956, a moment he felt “defined” him, Hall noted in terms so familiar to us:

Another history is always possible.

The film ends with this caption

For Stuart Hall. In gratitude. And respect.

My eyes filled with tears. In the crowded screening room, I was not alone.

On Twitter, condolences streamed in from all corners of the globe:

Some Twitter users shared the aspects of Hall's work that affected them the most:

Others suggested what they felt were the most appropriate ways in which to honour his memory:

Some just admitted that the world – and its intellectual space – felt emptier without him:

Gerry Hassan acknowledged Hall's astute analytical powers:

One Twitter user, Sean Fernyhough, quoted director John Akomfah:

Akomfah's latest documentary about Hall, The Stuart Hall Project, can be viewed here. A shorter clip is here.

@cfidelmorris acknowledged the great impact of jazz music in Hall's life – specifically the music of Miles Davis:

Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff summed up the general feeling with this tweet:

The photograph of Stuart Hall used in this post was taken by Annie Paul; uploaded by Nicholas Laughlin and used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license. Visit Nicholas Laughlin's flickr photostream.
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