------------------------------------------------------------ "Journalisms:" or "Our Correspondent:" or "?" The title and mission of this collective project is a work in progress. But the general idea is that we cannot be in all places at all times. So those who would like...
Cameras for Guns
"Marooned in Iraq, Songs of My Motherland"
Directed by Bahman Ghobadi, Iran 2002, 97 min
by Geoffrey Garrison - 07/15/2003
published on THE THING
Looking like a Kurdish beatnik, a man on a motorcycle wearing dark sunglasses tears through a rocky valley in Iranian Kurdistan. Actually, Barat, the man on the motorcycle, is something of a rock star. He is a popular musician and the son of Mirza, the most famous musician in Kurdistan. The second feature film by Iranian Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi, Marooned in Iraq, Songs of My Motherland, opens with Barat rushing back home to his father who has sent for him. What develops is a simple adventure tale that combines a quirky sense of humor with tragedy. Mirza persuades his two sons, Barat and Audeh, to accompany him into Iraqi Kurdistan to find Mirza's ex-wife Hanareh, who is among refugees terrorized by Saddam Hussein's bombers and gas attacks. The sons blame Hanareh for creating a scandal that split up the music group and the marriage. But now she is in trouble, and Mirza must travel to Iraq to help her. Piling onto Barat's motorcycle and sidecar, they set off to Iraq, periodically stopping to perform folk music for wedding ceremonies or bands of refugee children. Along the way, they are sidetracked on various picaresque escapades, coming into contact with thieves, police officers, a conniving doctor, a womanizing lecher, and a long list of other characters.
At last entering Iraq, the fellowship is attacked and tortured by police officers, or bandits (their identity is never really clear). Barat's motorcycle is stolen, and the group is forced to continue across the ice-covered peaks by foot. Later they come across a pair of men, handcuffed and stripped to their thermals, ambling along the road as if they had wandered in from a Marx Brothers film or Beckett play. Claiming to be police officers, they no longer have any proof of authority or means to uphold the law. In this lawless land where no one trusts his neighbor, the distinction between outlaw and lawman is never well defined.
From Global Justice to Antiwar and Back Again:
A Personal Chronicle of a Season of ‘Better to Laugh than Cry” Antiwar Activism.
by Benjamin Shepard
to be featured on-line on the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest website
The months of activism from February through March were some of the most exhilarating, depressing, riveting, and charged as any I can remember. If a mood became too intense—another bombing or jump in public opinion—shifted the political climate with a bit of relief or more bad news. The ground remained in constant flux. After grieving for what felt like a loss of the global justice movement, one of the most amazing movements of our lifetimes after 9/11, autopsies proved premature. Fall of 2002, the antiwar movement built the infrastructure of the global justice movement to create a momentum unprecedented in any peace movement in history. I will never forget hearing the roars at Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping’s 9/11 first anniversary show. Kurt Vonnegut spoke about Slaughterhouse Five. People were hooting and hollering in the standing-room-only rally/ service at St. Mark’s Church. Somehow, a year’s worth of somber memories and frustrations were released. In the months to follow, more and more citizens stood up to challenge the buffoonery of the notion that the most appropriate response to the slaughter of innocent lives was killing more of them. “War is so 20th Century,” signs at rallies read. “Somewhere in Texas, there is a village missing an idiot,” another sign proclaimed on February 15th, the largest day of simultaneous protest in world history. Building on the lessons of the global justice movement, this new antiwar movement of protest would be funny, full of joy, engaging and entertaining at the same time. It would challenge the banality of the “bomb first, ask questions later” approach of the Bushies. And it would succeed in mobilizing people across the country to speak as world citizens in solidarity with people across the globe. Labor unions, church groups, civil libertarians, women’s and queer groups would speak out about common fears of a loss of civil liberties and anger over the inequality-expanding economic agenda disguised by this war. The New York city council would pass a resolution opposing the war. Within this opposition, a global peace and justice movement took hold, pulling in masses in ways the global justice movement in North America had never done. The following is a personal account of the peak months of antiwar activism, as a movement found its footing.
In the days before the October 27th demonstration in Washington, members of Reclaim the Streets, the New York City Direct Action Network and the Lower East Side Collective organized to form Mobilize New York and An Absurd Response to an Absurd War. Together we began to plan for a carnival block for the DC march. In addition to going to march, Mobilize New York helped organize a list of pithy weekly antiwar action alerts with thousands of members. Every time someone signed up for our mailing list, we gave them stylish pink and black “All War All the Time?” stickers advertising “log on, plug in, stop the war - weekly antiwar alerts.” By December 2002, these stickers could be witnessed on sidewalks, lampposts, bumpers, subways, and phone booths throughout the city. We signed up high school kids, parents, the usual suspects from direct action circles and Upper West Side liberals. People from all walks of New York life signed up for the list, ready to speak out and take action against the war.
Activists chained themselves together in Hillary Clinton’s office the day she voted to approve the war. Increasingly, people were becoming aware this war was going to happen regardless of whether voters wanted it or not. The President’s "National Security Strategy of the United States," submitted to Congress in September 2002, said as much: "The United States will not hesitate to strike pre-emptively against its enemies, even if it faces international opposition, and will never again allow its military supremacy to be threatened…. In the new world we have entered, the only path to peace and security is the path of action." War is peace. 1984 had ceased to be a cautionary tale. “Ignorance is strength” had moved from satire to serious. And people from all walks of American life were smelling bullshit (see Shepard, http://www.journalofaestheticsandprotest.org/1/BenShepard/index.html). As the global justice movement contended with the 9/11 backlash, with military troops on the ground, the question remained: What was the appropriate response?
The night before the massive February 15th rally and marches, a group of culture jammers—many from RTS/Mobilize New York—organized what they thought was the ultimate culture jam moment: a completely straight, i.e., not satirical, response to the war. In the middle of the Times Square military recruiting station, the group laid out candles and posters reading: “Bring Them Home Now.” The posters aimed to reclaim the icon of the yellow ribbon – a peace sign co-opted during the previous Gulf War. To really be patriotic, this group suggested Americans had to call get the troops out of harm’s way. Of course, the following day was one of the largest protests in world history, with over a half million clogging the New York City streets and streets around the world. Two days later, the New York Times cover story compared the weekend's mobilization with the Velvet Revolution of 1989 and the Revolutions of 1848 (see http://www.counterpunch.org/shepard02182003.html).
Within a week of F15, Turkey, the model of Arab democracy, and one praised by the administration, voted to reject the American offer of billions for the use of their land for a northern front in the war. Later in the week, press secretary Ari Fleisher was laughed off the stage during his press briefing for denying the US was trying to bribe foreign nations for UN votes. The Bush Administration was facing an obstinate foe. The Times article after the week’s demonstrations suggested, “"The fracturing of the Western alliance over Iraq and the huge antiwar demonstrations around the world this weekend are reminders that there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.” The problem was, the Bushies were not listening.
“If Bush attacks Iraq, Protest 5:00 PM Times Square,” the pink and black Mobilize New York stickers designed by L.A. Kauffman suggested. By mid March, many of us were aware that day was quickly approaching. By March 20th, we received Kauffman’s ominous e-mail: “The war has begun; it's time to get out in the streets! However you choose to express your feelings on this sad and ominous day - through solemn vigils, loud marches, or nonviolent direct action - we urge you to take immediate and visible action.” A special Mobilize New York Alert announced: “Dear friends, The unthinkable is happening. Right now, the United States is bombing Iraq. Despite a brick wall of opposition, George W. Bush and his minions are pressing forward… This afternoon (Thursday), TAKE TO THE STREETS. Bring your rage, your grief, your love and respect for democracy and human life.” I don’t know if we won much anything that rainy, dark afternoon, as the skies poured. The police restricted the movement of most activists on the ground, coraling and beating many of the activists who had arrived. Yet, to a degree, they did the activists a favor, clogging up most the streets and creating highly dramatic scenes for the TV news cameras. By merely calling for a demo, the police shut it down Times Square for the activists and commuters alike. News throughout the evening followed reports of demonstrations across the country. It detailed the rise of a new kind of patriotic anti- war activism, stories on Bush's failed diplomacy, the NYC demo in Times Square, the Dixie Chicks against the war, those amazing San Franciscans, 1000 of whom got arrested for really shutting down the San Francisco Financial Center. Whether the Bushies wanted to hear it, a real debate about peace and justice was emerging.
In the days after the US invasion, a number of observers compared this time to that of Weimar Berlin. Jimmy Breslin quoted from Hitler’s speech justifying pre emptive invasion of Poland in 1939. “As always, I attempted to bring about, by the peaceful method of making proposals for revision, an alteration of this intolerable position” but diplomatic measures failed, Hitler explained. Certainly, these comparisons are the are the highest of drama. Yet, the words remained eerie, strikingly familiar, and threatening. An executive producer of a CBS miniseries about Adolf Hitler's rise to power was been fired for making a similar comparison ("Hitler" producer fired for comparison to US, Thu, Apr 10). In an essay entitled, “Fear American Style” Historian Corey Robin reminds us the majority of the persecution, which occurred during the McCarthy period occurred not by government but took place in Civil Society through dismissals such as this. So, for those with the propensities to barrow and compare with other similarly reaction periods of US and world history, there was plenty to be considered. Certainly, there are similarities between the fascism’s melding of corporate industrial power and government and the current scene. But there are also differences. As many would point out Hitler, for example, was elected to power by a clear majority.