Adonis Diaries

Archive for October 12th, 2014


Why banning “Arab” authors from US is censorship

Excluding important Arab writers from the literary dialogue also punishes US readers.

Last updated: Oct. 8, 201


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On September 30, Jordanian poet and novelist Amjad Nasser was scheduled to give the inaugural address at the Gallatin Global Writers series.

Nasser is a major Arab poet, whose “A Song and Three Questions” was chosen by The Guardian as one of the 50 greatest love poems of the past 50 years and whose debut novel, “Land of No Rain”, was acclaimed by Ahdaf Souief and Elias Khoury, among others.

Nasser is also a law-abiding British citizen who does not need a visa to take the short flight from London to New York City.

Yet Nasser was still prepared.

According to Gallatin series organisers, the author “was carrying his books and an official letter of invitation from NYU” when he arrived at Heathrow’s Terminal 5.

Jordanian British poet and novelist Amjad Nasser was prevented from boarding a US-bound flight [Peter Money]
But as he got ready to board his British Airways flight, an attendant at the gate handed Nasser the phone. Someone from the US’ homeland security department wanted to talk to him. As Nasser wrote about the experience:

“The strangest ‘conversation’ ensued:

Your name, your father’s name, your mother’s name, your paternal grandfather, your maternal grandfather, your great grandfather, your height, your weight, the colour of your eyes, of your hair … at this point I told the homeland security person: It is turning white now! ‘What was its colour before? Brown?’ he asked. ‘No, black,’ I said.”

At the end of the conversation, Nasser was told that he could not board the departing plane, which in any case had already left.

The faceless homeland security officer would not disclose the reason Nasser wasn’t allowed into the US.

“Just like that?” Nasser asked. “Just like that,” the homeland security officer responded.

Nasser’s talk was still held, via Skype. But Homeland Security did manage to prevent him from the warmth of a personal address, from speaking individually to fans of his work, and from fruitful discussions with other writers.

Not the first

Terse denials of entry like Nasser’s aren’t common, but his was certainly not the first.

In the spring of 2012, Palestinian poet Ghassan Zaqtan was scheduled to tour with Palestinian-American poet Fady Joudah.

Zaqtan’s “Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me“, translated by Joudah, had just been released by Yale University Press.

Joudah put a great deal of work into organising a tour, but, despite urging from the ACLU and PEN America, Zaqtan didn’t receive a visa. Zaqtan’s participation in his spring tour was reduced to a pre-recorded message.

Few Arabophone authors travel to the US to give talks or appear at literary events. Organisers note that the process itself can be a deterrent.

After increasing pressure, and statements of support from a broad range of US writers, Joudah managed to reorganise the whole tour and finally get Zaqtan a visa in the fall of 2012.

Yet despite the relative rarity of rejections, few Arabophone authors travel to the US to give talks or appear at literary events.

Organizers note that the process itself can be a deterrent.

Novelist, translator, and academic Elliott Colla says that he has invited a few Arab authors to the US for events, including a recent talk by Egyptian novelist Sonallah Ibrahim, and has not yet had any trouble. But “the process is intimidating and time-consuming”, Colla wrote in an email. “And it could be that the sponsoring organisations do not have the people-power [or wasta] to pull strings when that needs to happen.”

Arabs aren’t the only authors who’ve been refused visas for literary events.

It took Bulgarian-German writer Ilija Trojanow, a vocal critic of the US National Security Administration (NSA), three attempts in order to enter the US. When he was turned away from a flight last September, he was given no reason, although many presumed it was because of the author’s criticism of NSA spying operations.

Denying entry to writers isn’t new.

Under rules barring “communists and their sympathisers”, the US has denied entry to acclaimed writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda,

and Graham Greene. But visa procedures have tightened yet further in the last decade.

A 2012 New York Times report notes that, because of new difficulties, “requests for the standard foreign performer’s visa declined by almost 25%

between 2006 and 2010″.

During that same period, “the number of these visa petitions rejected, though small in absolute numbers, rose by more than two-thirds”.

Leftists like Marquez, Neruda, and Greene were the previous focus of US exclusions.

But in the last decade, exclusions seem to be shifting towards artists with Arab names.

Subjected to scrutiny

In 2011, for instance, British theatre director Tim Supple brought a pan-Arab ensemble to Toronto to perform a new version of “One Thousand and One Nights”. The New York Times reported that the company “had no difficulty obtaining visas for Canada and Britain, but an engagement at the Chicago Shakespeare Festival had to be cancelled when nine of the troupe’s 40 members were subjected to the additional scrutiny and time ran out.”

In 2012, the New York Times suggested that many international performing artists were now writing the US out of their tour schedules because of increasingly difficult visa procedures. And that was for non-Arab performers.

What does Nasser’s banning mean for US readers?

They are not prevented from accessing his ideas, as they can certainly still pick up copies of his brand-new “Petra”,

his gorgeous novel “Land of No Rain”, or even an older copy of his “Shepherd of Solitude” .

But author-author, and author-reader interactions are also an integral part of literary development.

Excluding important writers like Nasser from the literary dialogue punishes US readers, reduces their exposure to Arabic writing in translation, and potentially limits American literature.

Marcia Lynx Qualey writes about Arabic literature and literary translation for a number of publications. She blogs daily at


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Al Jazeera

Only one thing will make Israel stop brutalizing Palestinians

On August 26, Israel and the Palestinian Authority both accepted a cease-fire agreement after a 50-day Israeli assault on Gaza that left 2,100 Palestinians dead, 11,000 injured and vast landscapes of destruction behind.

The agreement calls for an end to military action by Israel and Hamas as well as an easing of the Israeli siege that has strangled Gaza for many years.

As long as the United States provides the necessary military, economic, diplomatic and ideological support for Israel’s illegal occupation and siege nothing will change.

 Noam Chomsky Posted in News  this October 5, 2014
Gaza in rubble after Israeli onslaught

Israel’s ‘mowing the lawn’ in its Operation Protective Edge.  50-day onslaught in Gaza, July/August 2014

The most recent of a series of cease-fire agreements reached after each of Israel’s periodic escalations of its unremitting assault on Gaza has not changed since the 2005 agreement, that Israel refused to apply.

Since November 2005 the terms of these agreements have remained essentially the same.

The regular pattern is for Israel to disregard whatever agreement is in place, while Hamas observes it—as Israel has conceded—until a sharp increase in Israeli violence elicits a Hamas response, followed by even fiercer brutality.

These escalations are called “mowing the lawn” in Israeli parlance.

The most recent was more accurately described as “removing the topsoil” by a senior US military officer, quoted in Al Jazeera America.

The first of this series was the Agreement on Movement and Access between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in November 2005.

It called for:

1. a crossing between Gaza and Egypt at Rafah for the export of goods and the transit of people;

2.  crossings between Israel and Gaza for goods and people;

3. the reduction of obstacles to movement within the West Bank;

4.  bus and truck convoys between the West Bank and Gaza;

5. the building of a seaport in Gaza; and

6. the reopening of the airport in Gaza that Israeli bombing had demolished.

That agreement was reached shortly after Israel withdrew its settlers and military forces from Gaza. The motive for the disengagement was explained by Dov Weisglass, a confidant of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was in charge of negotiating and implementing it.

“The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process,” Weisglass told Haaretz.

“And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a [US] presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.”

“The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,” Weisglass added. “It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.”

This pattern has continued to the present: through Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 to Pillar of Defense in 2012 to this summer’s Protective Edge, the most extreme exercise in mowing the lawn—so far.

For more than 20 years, Israel has been committed to separating Gaza from the West Bank in violation of the Oslo Accords it signed in 1993, which declare Gaza and the West Bank to be an inseparable territorial unity.

A look at a map explains the rationale.

Separated from Gaza, any West Bank enclaves left to Palestinians have no access to the outside world. They are contained by two hostile powers, Israel and Jordan, both close US allies—and contrary to illusions, the US is very far from a neutral “honest broker.”

Furthermore, Israel has been systematically taking over the Jordan Valley, driving out Palestinians, establishing settlements, sinking wells and otherwise ensuring that the region—about one-third of the West Bank, with much of its arable land—will ultimately be integrated into Israel along with the other regions being taken over.

The remaining Palestinian cantons will be completely imprisoned.

Unification with Gaza would interfere with these plans, which trace back to the early days of the occupation and have had steady support from the major Israeli political blocs.

Israel might feel that its takeover of Palestinian territory in the West Bank has proceeded so far that there is little to fear from some limited form of autonomy for the enclaves that remain to Palestinians.

There is also some truth to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s observation: “Many elements in the region understand today that, in the struggle in which they are threatened, Israel is not an enemy but a partner.” Presumably he was alluding to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates.

Israel’s leading diplomatic correspondent Akiva Eldar adds, however, that “all those ‘many elements in the region’ also understand that there is no brave and comprehensive diplomatic move on the horizon without an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders and a just, agreed-upon solution to the refugee problem.”

That is not on Israel’s agenda, he points out, and is in fact in direct conflict with the 1999 electoral program of the governing Likud coalition, never rescinded, which “flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan River.”

Some knowledgeable Israeli commentators, notably columnist Danny Rubinstein, believe that Israel is poised to reverse course and relax its stranglehold on Gaza.

We’ll see.

The record of these past years suggests otherwise and the first signs are not auspicious.

As Operation Protective Edge ended, Israel announced its largest appropriation of West Bank land in 30 years, almost 1,000 acres.

It is commonly claimed on all sides that, if the two-state settlement is dead as a result of Israel’s takeover of Palestinian lands, then the outcome will be one state west of the Jordan.

Some Palestinians welcome this outcome, anticipating that they can then engage in a fight for equal rights modeled on the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.

Many Israeli commentators warn that the resulting “demographic problem” of more Arab than Jewish births and diminishing Jewish immigration will undermine their hope for a “democratic Jewish state.”

But these widespread beliefs are dubious.

The realistic alternative to a two-state settlement is that Israel will continue to carry forward the plans it has been implementing for years: taking over whatever is of value to it in the West Bank, while avoiding Palestinian population concentrations and removing Palestinians from the areas that it is absorbing.

That should avoid the dreaded “demographic problem.”

The areas being taken over include a vastly expanded Greater Jerusalem, the area within the illegal separation wall, corridors cutting through the regions to the east and probably the Jordan Valley.

Gaza will likely remain under its usual harsh siege, separated from the West Bank.

And the Syrian Golan Heights—like Jerusalem, annexed in violation of Security Council orders—will quietly become part of Greater Israel.

In the meantime, West Bank Palestinians will be contained in unviable cantons, with special accommodation for elites in standard neocolonial style.

For a century, the Zionist colonization of Palestine has proceeded primarily on the pragmatic principle of the quiet establishment of facts on the ground, which the world was to ultimately come to accept.

This principle has been a highly successful policy.

There is every reason to expect it to persist as long as the United States provides the necessary military, economic, diplomatic and ideological support.

For those concerned with the rights of the brutalized Palestinians, there can be no higher priority than working to change US policies, not an idle dream by any means.

Source: In These Times

Huge emotional differences: Glossing or framing questions, demands, options

You live in small town and there are about 600 suffering from an epidemic. The team of epidemic-control strategists is surveying the town for the best option they prefer for the actions. Four options are presented:

1. Choice A: Save 200 cases

2. Choice B: 33% chance all 600 will survive and 66% chance that no one will survive

3. Choice C: 400 dies

4. Choice D: 33% no one will die and 66% all will die.

What is your choice?

Probably you picked choice D.

Suppose you were given only option A and B. You probably selected choice A. No brainer: 200 in the hand is better than 600 on the tree.

Suppose you were presented with choices C and D? You probably selected choice D. Why?

Rationally, all 4 choices are identical in outcome, if probabilities are pretty correct, but your did selected certain choices. Why?

1. The difference in the framing of options was by changing the term life with death.

Negative connotations strike more powerful chords in our emotional worldview. We feel we had experienced far more sad, frustrating, painful moments and event in our survival process than we experienced happy and satisfying moments (and quickly forgotten to boot it)

Bad happenings are immeasurably higher in frequency and worse in consequences. This realization cannot improve our state of mind that tomorrow is going to be a “good day”

We are the descendants  of the cautious people, the luckier kinds, those who survived most of the bad happenings before they gave birth to a fresh bunch of descendants.

2. The intuitive, automatic and direct decision has a soft spot for the plausible stories.

3. We have this loss aversion bias in our genes.

Another example:

You are selecting for less fattening food. One jar says: 99% Fat Free and the other one is labeled only 1% fat. Which jar do you tend to select?

And yet, the two jars are identical in fat content.

Even if jar A says 91% fat free compared to Jar B of 2% fat, most probably you’ll pick jar A.

The term Glossing is the popular word for the technical term of Framing a questions, demands, options…

Your mother tells you:

1. The trash can is filled.

2. Could you please empty the can?

Which demand is more readily acceptable and sounds more musical to your ears?




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