Libya & Indian America

Submitted by admin on Thu, 03/23/2017 - 06:53


Dear Friends,

An attack near the Parliament of the United Kingdom during which a terrorist killed four people comes at the same time as US jets bomb a school in the village of al-Mansoura, near Raqqa, killing thirty-three civilians. None of these are more important than the other. Both are horrendous. They should give us pause.

Our days are hallucinations, with violence always at the edge of consciousness.

The first story I share with you this week is from Libya - a country torn into shreds by NATO's 2011 war. Tripoli has been gasping for air over the past ten days, as rival militias and power centers have openly vied for power in the city. As hundreds of people took to the streets to demand an end to what is essentially gang warfare, they were fired upon. One of their slogans was for General Khalifa Haftar to become the country's strongman. From his base in Benghazi, General Haftar has certainly become the favored force by Cairo, Abu Dhabi and recently Moscow. My Libya Diary, for Alternet, is on these developments over the past few months - with Haftar now backed by these external powers and poised to have a major role in the country.

When Haftar left his home in Vienna, Virginia, ten minutes from the CIA headquarters in Langley, in 2011 to try and lead the war against Qaddafi, I had written of his history and his ties to the CIA (a sustained attack on my computer was the net result of leaking that story). All that is now behind General Haftar, who is one of Libya's most adept chameleons. The Russians have found him to be useful. Russian troops are near the Libya-Egyptian border. A request for a Russian base in Egypt sits with Sisi. He would likely prefer a more informal relationship. It will allow Sisi to stand between the Saudis, the Americans and the Russians. Herein lies the 'art of the deal'.

You can read my story here. I am grateful to Alternet, which has given me a home for this past year (the one-year anniversary is this month) after I lost a previous home because - shall we say - of irreconcilable differences.


Thumbu Sammy, taken perhaps in 1911 at Ellis Island, New York
Thumbu Sammy, 1911 at Ellis Island


It has been almost twenty years since I wrote Karma of Brown Folk, a book that developed an argument about Indian American life. The themes in that book - such as 'they want us for our labor, not our lives' and the role of anti-black racism and the 'model minority' - have remained. The recent attacks on Indian Americans took me back to those themes and to that history.

For Frontline, I wrote a report on the recent killing of Indian Americans, the rise of hate crimes and the role of cruel cultural populism (including the animosity against Indian techies). There is Bannonism here, of course, but also the fact that it is mostly Indian Americans who play the terrorist in Hollywood films (a wry comment against the view that these are 'accidental' killings. If the men who did these killing actually killed Iranians, as one of them wanted to do, would that have made it better or changed things?). You can read my report here.

For People's Democracy, I go deep into Uncle Swami territory, looking at the role of the Hindus for Trump - particularly my old bete noire Shalli Kumar: 'Kumar, like Trump’s Lebanese surrogate Walid Phares and Pakistani surrogate Sajid Tarar, provided a brown face for Trump’s antipathy to Islam. ‘Mosques should be monitored completely’, Kumar said, ‘vetting should be taking place’. ‘I am totally for profiling’, he said in reference to the State making judgments based on how people look. ‘If you need to profile, what is the fuss?’ Kumar was in favour of the executive order known as the ‘Muslim Ban’, which halted refugees, migrants and tourists who hailed from several Muslim-majority countries'. One of the key points here is that rather than condemn these attacks, the right wing - whether Modi or Kumar - went out of its way to bemoan the possibility that Trump will end the H-1B visa program. They are more worried about the consequences of dampened remittances and higher wages for tech workers than for the killings of these people. You can read my report here.

The picture is one that I had used in Karma. It is of Thumbu Sammy, taken perhaps in 1911 at Ellis Island, New York, when he came into the United States at the age of 17 off the SS Adriatic.


Will the Flower Slip Through the Asphalt: Writers Respond to Capitalist Climate Change


Finally, sitting on my cupboard are copies of my newest edited book - a small book called Will the Flower Slip Through the Asphalt: Writers Respond to Capitalist Climate Change. The book has essays from such superb writers as Naomi Klein, John Bellamy Foster, Ghassan Hage, Rafia Zakaria, Masturah Alatas, Shalini Singh, susan abulhawa and Amitav Ghosh.

Of the book, the actor Emma Thompson says, 'With the earth and its inhabitants under more pressure than ever before, and with bona fide climate change deniers in the most powerful positions on the planet, reading this book is essential. It informs and inspires the actions that we all need to take to protect ourselves and our homes. Read it, and after you’ve wept, act'.

Rafia's essay is available as an amuse-bouche at the Indian Cultural Forum website here.

The book is available from LeftWord Books here. We shall be doing other 'small books' like this - including one coming later this year called The East Was Read, on Soviet books and Soviet publishing, with essays by Pankaj Mishra, Ngugi w Thiong'o and others.

Warmly, Vijay.