Islamic poetess against ISIS


23-year-old Sana al-Yemen recites a poem at anti-war conference in London, May 2009 (photo: MEE)

From Middle East Eye:

‘A message written in blood’ – British poet takes on Islamic State

After writing a poem attacking preachers calling on Muslims in Europe to take up arms in the Middle East, Sana al-Yemen found herself at the centre of a media frenzy

Tom Finn

Wednesday 20 May 2015 11:40 BST

Last update: Thursday 21 May 2015 11:58 BST

Hours after Sana al-Yemen posted a video of herself last month reciting a poem about the Islamic State (IS) on YouTube her phone started to ring.

This video says about itself:

This is not my Islam: A message to ISIS and all extremists

3 February 2015

The Muslim Vibe presents ‘This is not my Islam’ by Sanasiino. A spoken word poem speaking out against the hijacking and tarnishing of the name of Islam, by extremist militants such as ISIS and others. (Arabic subtitles available).

The Tom Finn article continues:

A producer at Al-Jazeera news channel who had seen the clip wanted to interview her. Minutes later CNN called, then the BBC. Sana’s poem, a blistering attack on the militant group that has overrun large parts of Syria and Iraq, had gone viral.

“It just exploded. Hundreds of strangers started messaging me saying how much they appreciated the poem… I got a message of support from a soldier in the US army. It’s been crazy,” said Sana.

While the Islamic State has stirred fear – at times hysteria – amongst people in the West and the Middle East, the militant group’s rise to prominence has also prompted a cultural backlash.

Through soap operas, rock musiccartoonssatire and parody Twitter accounts, young Arabs have used art and humour to denounce IS.

Sana, a 23-year-old journalism graduate who was born in Yemen and raised in west London, wrote her first poem about the Islamic State last year after a friend sent her an IS propaganda video showing young British recruits bombing tanks and carrying out drive-by shootings in northern Iraq.

“There are plenty of people my age, from my area in fact, who have left and gone to Syria,” Sana explained on a recent afternoon in a juice bar near London’s Oxford Street.

“People are obsessed with knowing who these men are and what went wrong in their lives. But for me it comes down to who it is they’re listening to. Who are the religious figures giving them that push to leave their lives here in Britain?”

In a video of her poem This is not my Islam: a message to ISIS, Sana appears in a dimly lit room. Dressed in jeans and a purple headscarf, a shadow across her face, she denounces what she calls “layman preachers,” clerics who cite religion to encourage Muslims in Europe to take up arms in the Middle East.

“My crusade is against those who manipulate the message. Split my people in half and misguide the masses,” she recites, staring at the camera as images of young men with beards – IS recruits in Syria – and radical Saudi clerics delivering angry sermons flash across the screen.

Sipping at a banana smoothie, Sana smiles and glances at her phone. She speaks in the same careful way she recites her poetry; pausing for thought, then unleashing words in rapid fire.

“I wanted to get this message across to preachers… to tell them that, despite their religious education, playing with people’s emotions – dashing in a verse from the Quran – it’s manipulative and unethical. It’s not religious guidance, it’s a way of getting what you want politically.”

“I’m wary of religious sheikhs who are involved in politics, because of who they are aligned with. They have relationships with politicians.”

Spreading the message

Sana moved to the UK in 1991 with her father, an architect who worked under the British in occupied south Yemen.

She grew up on a housing estate in West London. Her life, she says, was rooted in “British society but infused with Arab culture”.

As a teenager she was an introvert. She stayed at home on the weekends and wrote poetry in a book she kept under her bed, “mainly about life and friendship… If I got depressed, it was my line of expression,” she said.

She admired American rapper Eminem. “I like how he plays with words and their properties, splitting language into musical bits. He has flow.”

In 2010 Sana started sharing online the poems she’d written about women’s rights, US drone strikes, the Israel/Palestine conflict and the rise of the right in British politics.

In one poem, Mr BNP, she challenges the anti-immigration policies of the far-right British National Party: “I tell you what, I’ll wear my hijab, I’ll risk it, because regardless I’m more British than your tea and biscuit.”

This poetry video is called Sanasino-Mr BNP.

Later she released “My name is not Irak” which laments the destruction inflicted on Iraq after the 2003 US/UK invasion and mocks the American pronunciation “I-rak” (“The difference is one is an American fake, and the other is Arab, genuine and great”).

When uprisings broke out across the Arab world in 2011, Sana and a group of “politically minded young Arabs” began organising rallies outside Arab embassies in London in solidarity with protesters in the Middle East.

“It was a shock… we’d been constricted for so long as a people. Seeing women on the frontlines in Yemen, as a poet it fired me up. I wanted to write more…spread the message,” she said.

In 2012, as many of the Arab uprisings descended into civil war and sectarian strife, Sana’s revolutionary crowd started to splinter.

“It got complicated, suddenly there were all these divisions and difference of opinions between us,” she said.

“Some were pro Egypt’s revolutionary, but anti-Syrian. When the Arab Spring got really complicated people didn’t want to be involved anymore.”

This video says about itself:

10 December 2011

Yemeni poet, activist and journalist Sanasino reciting her poem “Mr BNP” for Revolutionary Rhymes.

The Tom Finn article continues:

‘A ripple effect’

Her poem about Islamic State has not been without criticism. IS sympathisers on Twitter, who Sana refers to as “trolls”, have called her poem misguided.

Others, pointing out that only Sunni and not Shia preachers feature in her video, accused her of being sectarian.

Sheikh Mohamed al-Areifi, a Salafist cleric from Saudi Arabia who has been accused of encouraging young British Muslims to head to Syria and Iraq, appears three times in the clip.

With over 9 million followers, al-Areifi is the most followed individual on Twitter in the Middle East. He has said a huge conflict in Syria “will herald the end of the world”.

“I understand that al-Areifi has respect within the Muslim community around the world but he was one of the most vocal in trying to engage the youth and encouraging them to leave their homes and go to Syria,” said Sana.

“The fact that he was inciting our youth, to go out there to Syria while his own kids were in his home, is something that annoyed me a lot.”

Sana finishes her smoothie. Her thumb pauses above her phone, before flicking downwards as she hunts for a message in her inbox.

“Here it is,” she reads it out. “Thank you. It’s good to see a strong Muslim woman on camera.”

Asked if she feels there are stereotypes about Muslim women in the UK she says: “Definitely, the only thing you hear about is how oppressed we are; I’m definitely not oppressed,” she says laughing. “Neither are my family members. I’m glad I’m breaking the stereotypes.

African-American poetess Aja Monet on police bruatality


Aja Monet, Say her name

From the Huffington Post in the USA:

Poet Aja Monet Confronts Police Brutality Against Black Women With #SayHerName

Posted: 05/21/2015 3:32 pm EDT Updated: 05/22/2015 5:59 pm EDT

Melissa Williams,” Aja Monet reads, “Darnisha Harris.” Her voice is strong; it marches along, but it shakes a little, although not from nerves. She’s performing a poem that includes the forgotten names of girls and women who’ve been injured or killed by the police. She finishes forcefully, then pauses, exhales. “Can I do that again?” she asks. “It’s my first time reading it out loud, and … ” she trails off.

Monet had written the poem — a contribution to the #SayHerName campaign, a necessary continuation of the Black Lives Matter movement focusing on overlooked police violence against women — earlier that morning. That evening, she’d read it at a vigil. Now, she was practicing on camera, surprised by the power of her own words.

As a poet, Monet is prolific. She’s been performing both music and readings for some time — at 19, she was the youngest ever winner of New York City’s Nuyorican Poet’s Café Grand Slam — and her work has brought her to France, Bermuda and Cuba, from where her grandmother fled, and where she recently learned she still has extended family. Next month, she’ll return to visit them. But first, she wants to contribute to a campaign she believes in.

Though she’s disheartened that a hashtag is necessary to capture people’s attention — “I think #SayHerName is the surface level of the issues but beneath that there is the real question of, ‘Why?’” she says — Monet wields her art to achieve social and political justice. While discussing political poetry with a fellow artist in Palestine, he observed, “Art is more political than politics.” “I feel him,” she says. “I think he’s right.”

Can you explain #SayHerName in your own words?

It is us calling out the lack of attention on women of color also affected by state violence. We recognize the power of our voices and so we raise the spirits of our sisters by daring to utter their names.

A recent Washington Post write-up said it’s difficult to even quantify police brutality against black women. How will #SayHerName honor those whose stories are lost?

I can’t speak for what a hashtag will do in the actual hearts of people but I know that anything worth paying attention to these days in America has to be sold and marketed as if worth buying into. We recognize that the attention span of our generation is so short: How else do we make the issues we care about accessible and also relevant? This is what activism has come to. This is where we are at in the age of the Internet. We must be honest with ourselves about how human interaction is now only affirmed or confronted based on the projected world we live in through screens.

I think #SayHerName is the surface level of the issues, but beneath that there is the real question of “Why?” Why do I need to make saying her name a hashtag for you to pay attention? The goal is to use this as an opportunity to redirect the attention of people, to hopefully get folks researching the names and stories of all the women we’ve lost. To educate themselves so we are all more informed on how policing works. Black women’s bodies are the most policed bodies in this country.

Also, I didn’t read the Washington Post write-up, but it seems silly to me. Like, of course it’s difficult to quantify any brutality against human beings. It’s not more difficult when it comes to black women, I think it’s just easier for us to ignore them because if we acknowledge them then we must acknowledge all of the women affected by violence and brutality, not just by police but by an entire patriarchal, racist system. We keep scratching the surface of these issues and neglecting the root, which is this country never loved black people, and of course that meant black women. We who birth the men they also hate. We are an extension of each other.

What inspired this poem, and what inspires your poetry in general?

I was at an event where I read a poem in solidarity with my Palestinian brothers and sisters, and Eve Ensler was in the audience. We spoke briefly after and she admired the poem I read. I was honored and she gave me her email. I followed up immediately the next day and informed her that if she ever needed a poet at any point, I’d be there, no questions asked.

She responded with this vigil for #SayHerName and asked if I’d be willing to read a poem. I have been meditating on this issue of women of color affected by police brutality, but the poem hadn’t quite come to me yet. I started writing a piece for Rekia Boyd but it just isn’t ready to be done yet. So I woke early the morning of the vigil and forced myself to write this poem. I sat with all the names of the women and I asked them that I may find the words to do justice. They came to me hours before I had to meet with you all to record.

And maybe they’ll change, but the process of inspiration is a strange thing. For the most part I call on my ancestors. Not to be all, “I call on my ancestors,” but it’s true. I know I’m not the only one writing when I write. I also know that more times than not inspiration is subjective. You can find inspiration in anything if you pay attention. If you’re careful enough to notice how divine this world is and we are, to be here together, creating.

Obviously you appreciate overtly political art — why do you think political art can be powerful?

I met an artist in Palestine who said “art is more political than politics.” I feel him. I think he’s right.

I think being an artist, you are in the business of telling it like it is. You create of the world you live in, unapologetically. What that means is you aren’t catering to an eye or group or specific niche so much as your own truth as you see fit. Politicians, on the other hand, are constantly determining their worth and issue relevance based on approval ratings and polls. They are always campaigning, which becomes less about the issues we need to be dealing with and more about who can be bought to speak about what you want them to speak about. It’s an ugly game I want no business in.

Art that addresses the business of politics recognizes its power and influence. It unveils the mask of “politics” and gets to the people we are fighting for. It does the difficult work of reaching people’s hearts and minds. No great change takes place without art. It’s necessary.

Who are some fellow poets you currently admire?

Since we are in the spirit of saying her name, here’s a few names: Jayne Cortez, Wanda Coleman, Carolyn Rodgers, June Jordan, Audre Lorde and, of course, my sister, Phillis Wheatley.

Monet’s two books of poetry, Inner City Chants and Cyborg Ciphers and The Black Unicorn Sings are available online.

Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice on stage


This video says about itself:

19 August 2009

Brandon Ewald performs a monologue as Gratiano from William Shakespeare‘s “The Merchant of Venice” Act I Scene 1 at the Globe Theatre in London.

By Gillian Piggott in England:

Timely note of tragedy

Wednesday 6th May 2015

Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice has dark undertones which directly address issues of racism today, says GILLIAN PIGGOTT

The Merchant of Venice
Globe Theatre, London SE1
3/5

WITH the election battle waged in sections of the media dominated by the issue of immigration, The Merchant of Venice is the perfect Shakespeare play to mount at the present moment.

So it proves in Jonathan Munby’s engaging production in which Shylock, the tragic outsider at the play’s core, is given due gravitas by Jonathan Pryce.

He stands not only for Jews but for all immigrants — or their second-generation offspring — struggling to rub along with host nations while maintaining religious and cultural identity. British Muslims or eastern European immigrants, so maligned by the far right, spring readily to mind.

Munby makes a compelling case for Shylock’s descent into vengefulness in a production which underlines how Antonio (Dominic Mafham), Bassanio (Daniel Lapaine) and the rest of the Christians are a thoroughly racist lot.

Contemptuous and self-satisfied, they openly despise and bully the Jew, with Mafham’s creepily charming and self-regarding colonialist merchant resorting to physically assaulting Shylock before bargaining his flesh for cash.

Pryce’s Shylock has the integrity and dignity that invites audience sympathy in the trial scene. An actor of presence, his wonderful voice breaks into vibrato at moments of passion and his simple truthfulness make his refusal to show mercy convincing.

And it also makes the unravelling of Shylock’s case and the legal bias and conspiracy ranged against him by Portia (Rachel Pickup) all the more ruthless.

With the emphasis on the Christians’ culpability, Jessica’s betrayal of her father is even less intelligible. Munby attempts to address this by having Shylock’s enforced baptism — a violating and brutal ritual — witnessed by Jessica (Phoebe Pryce), who sings a threnody bewailing the destruction she has helped heap upon her father.

It’s a powerful echoing of sectarian violence but it fails to solve the mystery of why Jessica does what she does.

Another issue with the production is that Munby does not appear to know how to make the Globe space work. He obscures the back half of the stage with a trellis and all the action takes place in front of the pillars.

And, while experienced actors such as Pryce and Mafham know how to speak the verse and use their voices effectively in the space, younger members of the company are less technically accomplished.

Intelligibility, unlike the quality of mercy, is thus sometimes strained.

Runs until June 7, box office: shakespearesglobe.com

British crime writer Ruth Rendell dies


This video says about itself:

27 August 2010

Acclaimed crime writer Ruth Rendell speaks to Virginia Haussegger about her life’s work – and it’s not the Inspector Wexford novels.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Popular crime writer Rendell dies aged 85

Monday 4th May 2015

CRIME fiction writer Ruth Rendell died at the weekend aged 85.

Ms Rendell passed away at 8am on Saturday having been seriously ill since a stroke in January, her publishers Penguin Random House said.

As well as writing more than 60 bestsellers, including the Inspector Wexford novels, Ms Rendell was a Labour Party peer who campaigned against female genital mutilation and on other social justice issues.

Labour leader Ed Miliband paid tribute to “an outstanding and hugely popular figure in British literature” who “for the past 18 years served the Labour Party in the House of Lords.

“Her books are loved by millions all over the world. On behalf of the Labour Party I offer my sincere condolences to Ruth’s family.”

Penguin Random House UK chair Gail Rebuck said “many of her award-winning thrillers and psychological murder mysteries highlighted the causes she cared so deeply about.”

Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, murdered by fascists, new documents


This video says about itself:

Federico Garcia Lorca: 5 Poems from Poet in New York

6 November 2010

Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936) From Poet in New York

In his prefatory remarks before an audience assembled for a reading of Poet in New York in Buenos Aires in 1933, Garcia Lorca said, “I bring you a bitter and living poetry to lash your eyes open.” [1]

Born June 5, 1898 near Granada, Federico Garcia Lorca’s mother was a pianist [2] and school teacher. [3] His father was a landowner with interests in the sugar trade. [4] Garcia Lorca spent summers in the countryside of Granada. When mature, he wrote, “I love the land. All my emotions tie me to it. The first memories I have are of the earth.” [5] He was first interested in music. He started writing after the death of his piano teacher, [6] and first wrote poetry before he was twenty. [7]

He had been interested in Andalusian folk music and incorporated it into his writing. But he was concerned about becoming “typecast” as a “gypsy poet.” [12]

Garcia Lorca studied law in Madrid. He became interested in surrealist and experimental art and published with other avant garde artists known as Generation of 1927. [10] While in the Madrid, he befriended Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali, with whom he was interested in becoming intimate. Dali declined Garcia Lorca’s advances, and Lorca became dispirited and estranged from Dali. [9] He fell in love with sculptor Emilio Aladren, but became depressed once again, when the affair ended. [11]

Garcia Lorca sailed for New York. He arrived at the time of the stock market crash of 1929. In his introduction to the Grove Press edition of Poet in New York, Angel Del Rio suggests, “if we bear this in mind, it is not difficult to understand how the loneliness that he brought with him found a perfect counterpoint in the disruption and lack of direction… the city forced upon him.” [13] Del Rio says Garcia Lorca walked throughout New York, but only had relationships with other Spanish speakers. [14]

Garcia Lorca had returned to Spain by the time the Spanish Civil War broke out in July 1936. Though he had no political affiliations, [15] he was known as a homosexual and a friend of leftist intellectuals. He was taken into custody by Nationalists August 16, 1936 . It is believed he was tortured and shot the next day. He is believed to have been buried in a mass grave, but his body has never been recovered. [16]

======================
Poems Read: (Note: I read from translation by Ben Belitt from Poet in New York, Grove Press, 1955

Back from a Walk (not available on line)

Landscape of the Vomiting Multitudes

Dawn

Cow (not available on line)

Death (not available on line)

======================
Sources and Notes

[1] Alfredo de la Guardia in Garcia Lorca: persona y creación, (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sur, 1941) from Poet in New York, Federico Garcia Lorca, translated by Ben Belitt, Grove Press, New York, 1955. P. 183

[2][9] Wikipedia: Garcia Lorca

[3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [10] [11] [12] [15] [16]BooksFactory: Garcia Lorca, Federico

[13] Angel Del Rio, Introduction: Poet in New York: Twenty-Five Years After, in Poet in New York, Federico Garcia Lorca, translated by Ben Belitt, Grove Press, New York, 1955.p. Xxiii

[14] page xvi

By Alejandro López in Spain:

Documents confirm fascists murdered Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca

30 April 2015

Two police reports published for the first time by Cadena Ser radio station show that one of the greatest poets and playwrights of the twentieth century, Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936), was executed by right-wing fascist forces in the summer of 1936.

The report, written in 1965 by the Regional Brigade of Social Investigation of the Police Headquarters of Granada, directed to the civil governor of the province, is the first official admission that fascist forces murdered Lorca, whose remains have yet to be found. It describes Lorca as a “socialist,” a friend of the Socialist Party leader Fernando de los Rios, and a “freemason belonging to the Alhambra lodge” who engaged in “homosexualist [sic] and abnormal practices.”

The report details how, in late August 1936, four weeks after Franco’s fascist army rebelled against the democratically-elected Popular Front government, the “Glorious National Movement surprised [Lorca] in the capital [of the province] where he had arrived days before from Madrid (where he had his regular residence)”. After his house was registered, “feeling fear, he hid in the house of his friends, the Rosales brothers, Falangist members […] where he stayed until the moment of his arrest”.

“From that moment onwards,” continues the report, “the information that we were able to collect is very confusing and the only thing that we have been able to clarify is that the detainee was taken away from the Civil Government [where he was under arrest] by forces which depended on the latter and was taken by car to Viznar (Granada) […] together with another detainee whose personal circumstances are unknown, executed after having confessed, and buried in that location, in a very shallow grave, in a ravine.” Hours before, his brother-in-law, Manuel Fernández-Montesinos, the Socialist Party mayor of Granada, was shot.

The document was written at the request of the French Hispanist and friend of Lorca, Marcelle Auclair, who addressed the Spanish Embassy in Paris in June 1965 to request information. The embassy then passed it on to the Foreign Minister Fernando María Castiella, in favour of responding to the request. Information and Tourism Minister Manuel Fraga, future founder of the right-wing Popular Party (PP), currently Spain’s ruling party, was also informed of the facts.

Another document released by Cadena Ser is a letter from Castiella to interior chief Camilo Alonso Vega. It states that Fraga had said that it was “extremely advisable to look over the matter and find out whether we can or cannot open our archives about the García Lorca episode”. However, Auclair never herself received any response, probably because the document exposed the false claims made by Franco himself, who said that “The writer died while mixing with the rebels, these are natural accidents of war.”

Ian Gibson—an authoritative biographer of Lorca, who led an unofficial investigation into his death in the 1970s under Franco and has written multiple books on Lorca’s murder—told the daily El País: “It demonstrates that it was not a street killing, that he was taken out by the civil government to be murdered. They themselves say it.”

The police report published by Cadena Ser is a rarity in modern Spain. Historians still do not have full access to documents from the army, the church and the public administration that would help establish the number of victims of fascist murder during the Spanish Civil War, and the identity of those responsible for the killings.

The ruling class is determined to cut workers off from historical knowledge of the working class revolutionary struggles against capitalism in the 20th century. … The fascists received an amnesty and a tacit “pact of forgetting” about their crimes.

The PP, whose origins lie in Franco’s National Movement, cut the budget for the Law of Historical Memory, forcing organizations dedicated to recovering the remains of victims of the Civil War to rely on donations. Together with the Socialist Party (PSOE), the PP has refused to extradite to Argentina former Franco officials responsible for crimes against humanity. They rejected UN recommendations to ensure that families of the disappeared receive official help in locating their relatives’ remains.

At the same time, the Ministry of Defence continues to repatriate the remains of the Spanish volunteers of the Blue Division that fought in the German Army’s war of annihilation against the USSR during the Second World War.

The revelations of Lorca’s murder cut across this reactionary rewriting of history aimed at downplaying the crimes of fascism. The killing of this great artist was part of a systematic terror campaign by the fascists against the organized working class and anyone suspected of opposition.

In May 1936, General Mola, one of the leaders of the coup two months later, gave the following instructions to military bases: “The action must be extremely violent as soon as possible to reduce the enemy, which is strong and well-organised. Of course, we will arrest all the leaders of the political parties, associations or unions that are not affiliated with the [National] movement, applying exemplary punishment to those individuals in order to strangle rebel movements or strikes.”

On July 17, 1936, Franco led a military uprising from Spanish Morocco to overturn the Popular Front government, calling on all military garrisons to rise up against the Republic. Workers responded by forming rank-and-file antifascist militias. In the areas they seized, the fascists enforced a policy of systematic mass murder of political opponents.

Granada, where García Lorca was captured, was one of the first to fall. According to the historians Rafael Gil Bracero and Maribel Brenes, around 4,000 people from Granada alone where executed, including “red intellectuals” whom the fascists hated for “predicating Marxism and democracy”.

José María Bérriz, a lawyer and sympathiser of the fascists, hailed the repression in Granada in a letter to right-wing bankers on holiday in Portugal: “The army wants to extirpate from the root the bad plants that were destroying Spain. I think they will achieve this. The army courts work day and night and the sentences are very severe. The executions of trade unionists, teachers and doctors continue; they fall in the dozens. The city is happy.”

It is estimated that approximately 10,000 bodies are still buried in 57 mass graves around the province.

The author also recommends:

Spain: controversy surrounds opening of Garcia Lorca’s grave
[28 August 2004]