Friday, January 12, 2007

U.S. Has Lost Credibility On Rights: HRW; Ban echoes Annan on Gitmo closure

Gitmo has gotten next to no media coverage this week, even though there was really no other international crisis to report on; it was essentially business as usual for the media monster, yet they still didn't jump on the opportunity to cover such an important anniversary/commemoration.

After yesterday's column and numerous blog postings on the topic of Guantanamo Bay, I was heartened to see Human Rights Watch come out with a scathing report on human rights violations by countries the world over. But the criticism directed at the US had me in raptures because, along with it, came a recommendation that the EU take a lead in the promotion of human rights and civil liberties - since the US obviously has veered off the track on this point.

I've said enough, and can say more, but instead, will direct your attention to two articles. One on HRW's report in today's Washington Post, and the other in the Washington Times regarding the United Nations' new Secretary-General's call to close the camp. He's not saying anything new; his reiteration of his predecessors call for the closure of the camp is honorable and appropriate at this time, but what I found interesting was that the author of the article was present at the SG's press conference where he made those statements, and of all the things she could have covered in the article (at least 15 issues), she chose Ban's call for the closure of the camp (a 2 minute segment of the press conference). The Washington Times is a conservative newspaper that doesn't always report on the good stuff the UN does and so this came as a pleasant surprise in some ways. Then again, they could be implicitly pitching Ban against the US. With the media, you never know!

Happy reading!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

My article: "Guantanamo: the terror lives on"

January 11th marks the day when Gutananamo Bay received its first inmates five years ago. Just a few months ago, we commemorated the 5th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and now, on a much smaller level, a much smaller group of people are commemorating the demise of human rights and civil liberties in the nation that championed those causes for centuries.

I have been extremely depressed and distressed at the situation at hand. After reading numerous books on Gitmo, and after having finished one just last night, I find myself in a constant state of anxiety and suffer from mild headaches every now and then. How can this country let such an atrocity go on? My anger at American human rights violations knows no bounds. The only thing that can anger me more is the double standards we continue to propagate the world over.

I can go on and on and invite comments - constructive and destructive - but will instead draw your attention to the article I've copied below which was published in the Pakistani newspaper I write a column for, The Post.

Waiting for a miracle - or a revolution?

Guantanamo: the terror lives on

I have been living in the US for several years now, but have failed to understand the recent and highly disturbing trend that can be observed in this country regarding human rights violations. The country that once prided itself on being a beacon for those seeking the protection and enjoyment of those rights is today the same country that blatantly violates them. The US is no longer a harbinger of hope for those who are persecuted the world over; instead, it inspires deadly fear and anxiety and has lost the stature it once held in a world already plagued with countless wrongs.

A constant reminder of this negative role the US is now playing in the realm of human rights is none other than the very existence of Guantanamo Bay. I have written about Guantanamo numerous times before in this column space. It has mostly been because all, if not the vast majority, of the detainees are Muslims of Arab or South Asian heritage. In solidarity, I stood with them, writing articles like the one you are reading right now, hoping someone, somewhere would read it and contact an influential member of their social circle or community, and help spread the word about the atrocities going on in the name of national security and protection of civilians.

But alas, today, Americans are no better protected than they were before 9/11. In fact, the world is an even more treacherous place, perhaps more so because of the blatant human rights violations going on in places like Guantanamo. These gross injustices give fuel to the fire of terrorism that threatens to rip across the Muslim world if we do not contain it soon.

And yet, the American authorities do not realize how simple it is to both uphold these sacred values they helped enshrine, and to still wage a much-needed war against terrorism and terrorists. If only these officials knew that this process begins with respect; respect for life, for civilization, for values. In its blind quest for superiority and supremacy in anything and everything, the US forgot that greed and selfishness can only harm those who indulge in these acts.

Guantanamo is the antithesis of everything Americans hold sacred. Yet today, as we commemorate the day it received its first inmates five years ago, it stands tall and proud as the tarnished image of what the new US has come to reflect: double standards, hypocrisy and the alarming disrespect for things the civilised world holds in high esteem. While over 500 Muslim men languish in conditions we shudder to think of, the US continues to export torture to other countries. In the 21st century, torture has officially become an exportable commodity, the product of a few decades of poor policy that remains unchanged. As if it was not bad enough that Americans are indulging in this horrific act, they are coercing other countries to pursue similar policies.

Guantanamo has, for many months, been eliminated from the international agenda. We no longer see human rights experts calling for its closure, or for the due trial of its inhabitants. Instead, Britney Spears’ misdeeds are splashed all over the pages of newspapers and sensationalism regarding anything that can potentially harm Americans is drilled into our heads as a credible “threat” to our lives. What the American authorities do not realize in their haste to protect their people is that they can do their countrymen a much better service by not only advocating social justice and fairness, but also by proving that they hold these principles close to their hearts for those of other nationalities as well.

Five years after Guantanamo received its first prisoners, I walk the streets of New York City in perpetual fear; Fear that, one day, out of nowhere, I can be picked up off the street, never to be seen again. My tranquility will forever be snatched from me and my dreams will forever be shattered. If places like Guantanamo exist to show us what our future can be, then I will never be able to sleep peacefully at night. If places like Guantanamo exist to ensure my safety and security, then the terror it inspires in my heart must be curbed.

President Bush, I hope you are reading this.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Post 9/11 film: Out of Status on 1/16 @ Two Boots Pioneer

3rd i NY and Alwan for the Arts Collaborative Monthly Film & Video
Series presents the documentary feature:

Out of Status (Pia Sawhney, Sanjna Singh 2005. USA. 70 min. English)
Official Selection Rotterdam, IDFA, Edinburgh, Amnesty International,
and Asian American Film Festivals
*Director Pia Sawhney present for Q&A*

Two Boots Pioneer Theater
Tues, Jan 16th @ 7pm
155 East 3rd Street (at Avenue A)
Subway: F to 2nd Ave; 6 to Bleecker

Tickets: $10 Adults / $6.50 Pioneer Members
Followed by FREE PIZZA & BEER/SODA at the Den of Cin
Advance Tix:

About the Film
Before 9/11, there was an implicit understanding between the INS and
immigrant communities that people who had applications pending to
legalize their status could reside in the country until an application
was approved. After 9/11, and for South Asians and Arabs, the rule
changed. The Muslim community, today, is alone among the vast
immigrant population to face such targeted enforcement. Out of Status
follows four families whose lives were permanently altered, when a
member was secretly detained or deported.

Carma, an American with two children, sees her husband, Akram deported
to Egypt. Their family has now been separated for two years. Two days
after 9/11, Salem, a Pakistani-American, is charged with stealing a
rental car and jailed in solitary confinement for 40 days. Hakim, an
Algerian, faces the possibility of separation from his wife (a legal
resident) and child for complying with a government program to
register Arabs. The Rahmans, who are staying in a shelter upstate,
wait to gain asylum in Canada. They, along with 15,000 other
Pakistanis, leave New York rather than face deportation. Through
focusing on individuals who are discriminated against by national
security measures, this film helps the audience experience the fear of
speaking out and see current policy through their eyes.

*Director Pia Sawhney present for Q&A*

About the Directors
Pia Sawhney
Pia has worked in documentary for four years, and most recently on a
production for Jennifer Fox, which will air on HBO next year. Pia's
short film Out of Status, with co-producer Sanjna Singh, played at the
Rotterdam, Edinburgh, and Amnesty film festivals among others. The
feature version, in post-production, is funded in part by grants, and
screened as a Work-in-Progress at IFP Market 2004. Pia and Sanjna are
finalists for the Roy. W. Dean grant, and were nominated by NAATA for
the ABC Talent Development Award. Pia has served as a panel judge for
the SAJA Scholarship Award, was accepted to IFP New York's Project
Involve workshop, and attended Bryn Mawr College. She has lived in the
US, India, and the Middle East. Pia is completing a graduate degree in
broadcast journalism part-time at New York University, and works as a
freelance producer.

Sanjna Singh
Born in Mumbai, India, Sanjna left at 17 for the U.S. She graduated
from Bryn Mawr College magna cum laude with honors in both Political
Science and French. Along with co-producer Pia Sawhney, she was
awarded grants from the New York State Council for the Arts and the
Experimental TV Center for Out of Status. The Queens Museum, Asia
Society, Pioneer Theatre, Egyptian Theater (LA) and Angelika Film
Center among others have screened their work. Sanjna was accepted into
IFP's Project Involve Documentary Unit in Spring 2004 and was awarded
the Eastman Kodak Final Pitch Award. Her personal essays have been
published in the New York Times, among other publications. She has
studied film and photography in New York and in Paris, and was a
panelist at Amnesty International USA's Annual General Meeting in
2004. She currently works at HBO Studios in New York.

New York Arab & South Asian Film Festival
Feb 24 - March 4

Monday, January 08, 2007

Tribute to Pakistani music maestro Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan - 1/18


This event is not to be missed! Pass the word on...


GlobeSonic Entertainment Presents
A Tribute to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Vishal Vaid | The Brooklyn Qawwali Party | GlobeSonic DJs | special guests
Thursday Jan 18 2007
Makor | 35 W 67th St | NYC
$15 advance | $18 doors | Free to APAP badge holders - link to youtube videos as well as info below

2007 will mark the 10-year anniversary since Pakistani qawwali legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan passed away. His influence made a mark on a wide range of artists, including Jeff Buckley, Eddie Vedder and Perry Farrell. His forward-reaching collaboration with Michael Brook (on two Real World releases, Mustt Mustt and Night Song) was the gateway for global audiences to experience this unique, harmonium- and tabla-driven devotional music. On Thursday, January 18th, GLOBESONIC PRESENTS A TRIBUTE TO NUSRAT will feature artists influenced by this legend. Vocalist VISHAL VAID will perform vibrant, gorgeous ghazals over modern musical soundscapes alongside his ensemble. Sharing the stage will be BROOKLYN QAWWALI PARTY, who has based their repertoire on the rich Nusrat catalog, interpreting his style into a funky big-band dance formation. GlobeSonic DJs and special guests will fill the air with the magic of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

From his birth in Faisalabad, Punjab in 1948 until his passing in 1997, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan took the devotional Sufi music of qawwali to reaches unknown in the Islamic world. He was part of a 700-year familial lineage of qawwals, but the first to break it from the folk tradition of weddings, funerals and public service and to mainstream audiences through collaborations with the likes of Peter Gabriel, Eddie Vedder and Michael Brook. In his time he recorded some 125 albums, two of the last produced by Rick Rubin. That low, guttural trademark voice is beloved by fans worldwide, for having brought the sacred poetry of Rumi, Hafiz and others to an entire planet.

“Nusrat stirred the soul of millions around the world with the power of his voice,” says GlobeSonic founder Fabian Alsultany. “His voice was consumed by millions, from New York, London and Paris, and beyond. He was everywhere in the early ‘90s, helping clean the grunge from the airwaves of the mainstream establishment. Today artists like the BQP, Karsh Kale, Niyaz and Vishal Vaid are all proof of Nusrat’s influence, of how an ambassador from another culture can influence young American kids on a MTV diet. The changing face of America is represented by this great figure. His music reminds us how the beautiful terrain of Pakistan, India and Iran – the profound richness of the Islamic world – radiated through his voice.”


Ghazal is a Persian song form literally meaning “to hold conversation with the divine,” and VISHAL VAID is undoubtedly on of the genre's young masters. Since his first live concert was at age three, Vishal has raised passion and fury in global audiences with ths sound of his unforgettable voice. Pliant in manay styles, from classical concerts sung in Urdu and Hindi to fusion experiments with Moroccan Gnawa and electronic renderings, his voice is the ecstatic infusion of diverse sounds. The man behind Karsh Kale's three records, he has performed alongside Bill Laswell, Hassan Hakmoun, Talvin Singh and Alex Kirschner. Spurred by the timeless qawwali sounds Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan exposed the West to, Vishal is poised to start his own re-evolution. “The ghazal is another art form I’m just waiting to reinvent," he says. "I feel it coming out of world instrumentation; be it an Arabic violin, an Italian cellist, a saxophone, what have you. These are all different concepts you have to be open to.”

The Brooklyn Qawwali Party is a 14-piece jazz/world music band from Brooklyn, NY. Inspired by recordings of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, this band was founded in 2004 as an experiment: What would happen if New York jazz musicians were to play and improvise around the melodies of this qawwali great? 14 musicians large (five horns, three percussionists, guitar, acoustic bass, harmonium and three designated clappers), their exuberant sound has been enthusiastically welcomed nationally. “We wish to serve the music of qawwali, to serve the memory of Nusrat and his qawwali Party, and to serve the world a music that will be joyous and perhaps spiritually uplifting,” BQP says, true to the intent of the Sufism that inspired qawwali music. “We wish to be a vessel for the unity of mankind, on a small scale or large.”