Monday, November 30, 2009

This House, My Bones

My Mother-in-law's mantle

On Thursday, July13, 2006, the writing that normally fills the dates in my We'Moon Journal calendar just stopped. After that, the dates are completely blank. It's not that I had nothing to do-- it's that I was incapable of writing. Suddenly, writing flew from me like a frightened bird. I was in too much shock to record the banalities of my daily routine. Thursday July 13, 2006 was the day that I sat down in the morning to watch the news and saw the footage of Beirut's airport runways being bombed by Israel. That was the summer my family was in Lebanon, the unfortunate summer of 2006 when Israel bombed, invaded, destroyed, murdered, injured and terrorized a whole nation --- and terrorized loved ones living outside Lebanon.

I have witnessed state terrorism and it does not allow you to sleep at night.

Why don't we have compassion for each other? What if we imagined ourselves and our loved ones as "those people over there?" Or as "those people" in our own countries who are supposedly not "like us"?

Some poets have the magic gift of being able to write down the seeming impossible. One of those poets is Elmaz Abinader.

Aimee Suzara writes:

"To enter Abinader’s poetry is to enter a dream, now war-torn barren, now lush with imagination. A true storyteller, Elmaz Abinader unites the memoirist’s attention to detail with the songwriter’s penchant for precision of sound, bringing the reader into intimate relationship with her subjects, be they a family preparing for occupation, a sorrowful woman and “war-addicted” child, or herself as the daughter of Lebanese immigrants. Equipped with her own experiences of emigration and travel throughout North Africa, the Middle East and beyond, Abinader writes about occupied and invaded territories, about forced and voluntary migrations, with a voice that is at once humble and prophetic."

This House, My Bones by Elmaz Abinadir

Enter the house,
Sit at the table covered in gold
A cloth, Sitt embroidered
For the third child's birth.
Take the tea, strong and minty,
Hold the glass warm
Against your palms, fragrances
Of centuries fill you, sweetness
Rises up to meet you. The youngest boy
Fuad, shows you a drawing
He has made of a horse
You touch his shoulder, stroke
His hair, he loves to talk to strangers
Show them his room filled with posters
Of extinct and mythical animals: dinosaurs,
Unicorns; dragons. You want to linger
In the music of his voice, afraid his disappearance
Is inscribed on shell cases stockpiling in the Gulf.

Enter the mosque,
Admire the arches
Inlaid with sea-colored pebbles,
Follow the carpets, long runners
Of miracles in thread, your feet still damp
Slip against the marble floor.
Spines of men curl into seashells
In the room ahead. Echoes
Of the muezzin shoot around you
Fireworks of speeches and prayers.
Don't be afraid because they worship
Unlike you. Be afraid that worship
Becomes the fight, faith the enemy;
And yours the only one left standing.

Some one asks, what should we do
While we wait for the bombs, promised

And prepared? How can we ready ourselves?
Do we gather our jewelry and books,
And bury them in the ground? Do we dig
Escape tunnels in case our village is invaded?
Do we send our children across the border
To live in refugee camps remembering us
Only in dreams, ghostly voices calling their names?
What do we pack? The coffee urn father
Brought from Turkey? The pair of earrings
Specially chosen for the wedding day?
How can we ever pack anything if not everything?
If not the tick on the wall marking
The childrens' growth, if not the groan
Of the washing machine in the kitchen,
If not the bare spot on the rug
Where Jidd put his feet when he read
The Friday paper?
Help them gather things: brass doorknobs,
Enamel trays, blue glasses made in Egypt,
Journals of poetry, scraps of newspapers, recipes
They meant to try. And what about the things
They cannot hold. The beginning of life and all
The memories that follow. The end of life
And all that is left to do.

Enter the heart
Read the walls and all the inscriptions
The love of lovers, of children and spouses,
The love of stars, and cardamom and long eye lashes.
Tour the compartments telling
The story: that life was begun with faith,
That life may end with folly. See it heave
In fear that threats, predictions and actions
Are a history already written, spiraling,
Loose and out of control. No amount of hope
Can save it. No amount of words can stop it.
Hold the heart. Imagine it is yours.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

a mosque and a church

Often this past summer while I was in Bishmezzine, my husband and I would go for a walk in the morning. One morning we walked up to the village center. His family live in a valley so it is an uphill climb.
Besides bougainvillea trailing over walls, walnut and pomegranate trees, towering pines, cucumber patches, artichoke gardens, jasmine bushes, roses and nisrine, I loved looking at old shuttered windows. The old sun damaged paint reminded me of the old sun damaged paint on the shuttered windows of Cholula and Puebla Mexico. The old arches are also interesting. Old uncle Omar told me that in the old construction, no mortar was used between the stones, that it is simply the engineering that holds up the stone arches. This one must have been bricked in at some point, with a tin door added. No handle, though, so I don't think it's functional. Weeds colonize the spaces between stones, capitalizing on any spot that will have them. The mist and dew that is ubiquitous each morning in the village are their source of hydration. Just like me, some of the women hang their carpets out in the spring/ early summer to freshen them up.
We eventually ended up at the cemetery. This old grave filled with plants is in the Muslim side of the cemetery.
This grave is even older, more like a bed of stone. Although there is no name, I am sure that most in the village know exactly whose grave this is. After all, the village is not big. You can easily walk around it, meet a lot of folks (who will invite you for coffee or tea or lemonade) and get to know people, both Christian and Muslim. Nobody asks you if you are Christian or Muslim before inviting you to sit with them. Clearly, with my white skin, blond hair, and "Western" and "foreign" look, I was marked as Christian (I'm not a practicing Christian, however), but that was irrelevant. No one asked me for I.D. ;-) In fact, after awhile, when I was walking by myself, I learned to avoid certain houses otherwise I'd have been having coffee all day, going from house to house and not get any of my work done! (I was teaching a web course for my university in Canada while in Lebanon). This is one of my husband's relative's graves.
The Muslim cemetery is right beside the Christian church.
The Muslim cemetery is also right in front of the Christian cemetery. The gates to the Christian cemetery are between the Muslim cemetery and the church.
The Christian cemetery holds crypts and other above ground graves
but my camera started to react to the heat after I took this photo and was not being very compliant. This is a look up the church
from the front doors. Directly across the street from the village church is the village mosque. The church and the mosque and the Christian cemetery and the Muslim cemetery co-exist. This has been for 100s of years.
Thank god the people in Lebanon are more reasonable than the people of Switzerland, who have just recently banned minarets from being built. I first read about the vote to ban minarets in Switzerland on Tasnim's blog I am appalled by the narrow minded right wing Islamophobia that runs amok in Europe. Why are fears and racism against Islam and Muslims so virulent in Europe? The Swiss fear minarets are political....but I guess churches are not. Hmmm. What other architectural structures could we think about banning? What about anything that resembles a phallus? Or what about dead men on horses? Why not ban memorials to war?

Maybe the Swiss folks should take some lessons from the Lebanese. They could learn something about living together with differences. They oughta be ashamed of themselves, for exposing their fears and racism under the guise of being a democracy. It seems democracy and choice are to be the vanguards reserved only for those who deem themselves the gatekeepers of them.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

silence is neither golden, nor silvery

Palestinian boy lives in the remains of his house in Jabaliya, northern Gaza.(AP Photo/ Hatem Moussa)

Once witness to brutality, seen or heard, we become accountable.” Terry Tempest Williams

Interventions inside one's community are often some of the more difficult, but absolutely necessary, work that we must do if we are committed to justice and really believe in putting our principles into practice. In other words, one does not stay silent in the face of racist, sexist, homophobic or other oppressive language and comments that regularly surface in the everyday practice of life amongst one's family, neighbours, friends, co-workers, and colleagues.

Palestinian children, whose house was destroyed during Israel's January offensive in Gaza, wait in front of their tent in in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Friday, Nov. 13, 2009. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

"Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly." Mahatma Gandhi

Today, I read a blog post by an American Jewish man, Aaron Levitt, who had recently gone to Israel/Palestine. In his post, he discusses the conversation that emerged whilst sitting together at Sabbat dinner with a group of Jewish Israelis and diaspora Jews, which included Israeli soldiers and volunteer snipers from America. Below is an excerpt, but I highly recommend reading his entire post so that his comments to his fellow dinner guests can be put into proper context. Truly, it is a principled act of making oneself accountable and speaking out when occasion demands speaking the truth, despite discomfort and tension that may materialize. This is not always an easy thing to do.

Aaron Levitt's writes about his dinner invitation:

"Most of us were already seated and chatting when the soldiers arrived, carrying their automatic weapons. One of the Australians almost immediately asked a soldier, "Hey, can I use your gun to kill an Arab? After Shabbat, of course." I don't remember the exact response, but the soldier certainly didn't chastise him, and neither did anyone else. A few minutes later, I turned to the speaker and told him that I didn't find his joke remotely funny. His only response was to say, "I wasn't joking", at which point I told him that the joke wouldn't have been funny coming from an Arab who was speaking about a Jew, it would be even less funny if the Arab were serious, and so it was in his case. I think the speaker looked at least a little abashed, though that might be wishful thinking on my part. {Slightly off-topic, I've noticed that pro-settler Australians visiting Hebron seem to be particularly racist and aggressive, even relative to the high pro-settler norms in those areas. I've wondered whether this is due to Australian anti-aboriginal racism that translates easily to Palestinians, which theory came up in a discussion with a Kiwi couple a couple of nights ago. They thought my theory seemed pretty plausible, and told me that Australian aborigines were still classified under the Flora and Fauna Act(!), and could be legally hunted(!!), until passage of a 1967 Referendum(!!!).} A bit later, our host asked the soldiers to set their guns aside during dinner; while deciding where to put them, the American sniper joked that maybe we shouldn't trust the Australian with them, which drew a hearty laugh from the assembled diners (myself excluded, as you might imagine); apparently, race-based murder was seen as a risible subject.
A bit later, my original companion asks me privately to explain something I mentioned to him about mapping work I was doing in the the village of Lifta. At this point, I am fervently wishing that I had never come, swearing to myself that I never will again, and the last thing in the world I want is to be subjected to a gang-bang on the supposed evils of Palestinians. Hoping I can still salvage some small positive from the dinner, however, I present my case: Basically, I say, I have come to perceive Israeli Jews/Zionists as seeing no inherent human value in 'the other' (in this case, non-Jews, and primarily Palestinians), but viewing them basically as a contaminant of the Zionist ideal, a 'demographic time-bomb', or what have you. They are hated and persecuted by some, 'tolerated' by others, but viewed as a vital and desirable piece of the tapestry by almost no one. This kind of world view led to the ethnic cleansing of Lifta, a large Palestinian village west of Jerusalem, in 1948. It is also, in my mind, the same thinking that lay at the core of Nazi atrocities against the Jews, and all the other persecutions of our people over the centuries. My hope is to show the beauty and history of the village, its life and its people, and use that beauty to remind Israelis/Jews of the humanity and inherent value of its inhabitants. This is largely because I find it intolerable that the mindset of our persecutors has so thoroughly infiltrated Jewish life, not only because these things were done to our people, this point, I pause to search for words, and my interlocutor actually finishes my sentence for me: "it's just not a good way to be!". He then tells me that he completely agrees with everything I've said, and he thinks what I'm doing in Lifta is amazing and important work. I'm absolutely delighted, of course, but also utterly amazed, and ask this guy how in the world he wound up volunteering for the IDF. He tells me it was due to "first year in Israel-itis"; he was super idealistic and caught up in the romance of the 'Jewish state'. Now, he says, he's still idealistic, but his experience in the Army has shifted his views and the nature of his idealism 180 degrees. He's obviously about to go into more detail when he visibly stops himself with an upward hand gesture, which I take to mean that he is worried about violating the Shabbat, or starting a firestorm with the other diners, or both, but I can't be sure. I give him a brief description of Zochrot, and urge him to seek out the group before he leaves Israel, and that's pretty much the end of my evening."

Kerem Shalom border crossing. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov) I wonder, does 'kerem' mean beautiful, and 'shalom' peace? Does this militarized border crossing into Gaza actually have the name Beautiful Peace?

Aaron Levitt has also written a thought provoking poem about what happens when we turn people into numbers, which I found on a link at the Jews san frontieres blog under his post on the dinner, to which Lawrence of Cyberia has added photos. His poem is called "One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic." (Nakba day 2007

A Palestinian woman carries bottles filled with water from a public tap in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip October 27, 2009. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Sunday, November 22, 2009

the seeds of a beautiful garden

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down the dulcimer.
There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
~ Rumi

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Harper in India: an exercise in masking himsa

It never ceases to amaze me how the evil in the world co-opts the language of the spiritual and justice-minded to do their dirty work. Remember the Smiling Buddha? Now, you could be excused for thinking it's a reference to the central spiritual icon of the ancient Asian faith of Buddhism, but no: it's a nuclear bomb that Canada helped India develop in the 1970s!

We're beating that nuclear war drum again.

from the videozone, Toronto Star online

Don't be fooled by PM Harper's playful romp through India, where Canadian media highlighted him dancing Bollywood style on an Indian reality show, and donning a pious Sikh persona as if he had some sort of spiritual awakening that made a crack in his rigid right-wing Christian belief system. Next, perhaps we'll see him on another trip taking his shoes off and entering a mosque. There's no lack of creativity on behalf of his PR team to re-invent his dull, awkward, inaccessiblity. Don't be fooled by the recent media images; Harper was in India to sell them Canadian uranium and nuclear technology. He is eager to have Canada help India create more nuclear war technologies.

Has he no sense of hypocrisy troubling his soul as he accepts this bust of Gandhi while in India to promote nuclear bomb-making!?

I have an old book on my shelf, published in 1964, called Gandhi on Non-violence, which is a collection of sayings by him on ahimsa, or non-violence, and the necessity to repudiate himsa, or violence. Here is a quotation from page 32:

"It has been suggested by American friends that the atom bomb will bring in ahimsa as nothing else can...This is very like a man glutting himself with dainties to the point of nausea and turning away from them only to return with the redoubled zeal after the effect of nausea is well over. Precisely in the same manner will the world return to violence with renewed zeal after the effect of disgust is worn out."

and on page 53:

"Without the recognition of non-violence on a national scale there is no such thing as a constitutional or democratic government."

Harper says 2009 ain't 1970. Now, what does that mean? That the narrative of 'the war on terror' that the West itself created means that peace through dialogue is a dead horse and violence is the only language that speaks? Why aren't more Canadians speaking out about this turn to take our country even deeper into a war economy of death and destruction?

Thomas Walkom, a political economy columnist for the Toronto Star, has written a very good overview of the state of Canadian politics, our prime ministers, and our shifting move as imagining the hope of Canadians as peace-keepers to our current much more belligerent positions and war economy. I've posted it below as he does a very good job of wrapping up a whole host of history and Canadian policies and ideas of the nation state in a short, well-written article. The article is helpful and informative on many levels. If you are interested as a non-Canadian to find out how Canada has become so much more conservative in the world arena, it's a good quick read on why that is. And if you are a Canadian, Walkom provides some thought-provoking ideas about national myths, shifts to the right, militarism, and conservatism, to name a few places that we need to be proactive on as justice minded Canadians.

A transformative prime minister. by Thomas Walkom
Sat. Nov. 21 2009 Toronto Star online

How will history regard Stephen Harper? My guess is that he'll be seen as a prime minister who transformed Canada's view of itself.

Not necessarily through concrete reforms. While Harper's Conservative minority government has made important legislative changes, such as slashing corporate taxes, many of these were continuations of schemes started by previous Liberal regimes.

Rather, Harper's major accomplishment has been to redefine the terms of political debate. This unlikely figure (among Canadian prime ministers, only Mackenzie King had less charisma) has made conservatism and conservative causes respectable.

Ten years ago, Canada was a country that prided itself on pacifism, deference to law and its status in the world as a middle power. It did not matter that these characteristics were often more mythic than real. That's how we saw ourselves. We were the peaceable kingdom, the honest broker.

Today, Canada is a nation proudly at war, headed by a government that not only disregards laws (its persistent refusal to enforce gun registration being the most obvious example) but actively takes on the courts – most recently in its decision to limit the discretion of judges in sentencing.

In international affairs, we no longer even pretend to speak with an independent voice but instead openly and fully ally ourselves with the U.S. on virtually every front – from unequivocal support for Israel to unequivocal opposition to Iran.

Indeed, at times, Harper seems more in tune with the elemental thrust of American foreign policy than U.S. President Barack Obama. Obama went through a brief period of attempted even-handedness in the Middle East, before returning to the pro-Israeli position of his predecessor George W. Bush. The current president's initial and markedly un-Bushian overtures to Iran promise to follow the same route. Harper, by contrast, hasn't bothered with the detours.

Perhaps nothing exemplifies the death of the middle power period more than Harper's recent trip to India. Ten years ago, Canada was an ardent advocate of nuclear disarmament and an equally ardent supporter of international rules aimed at isolating nations, like India, that didn't play along.

Ottawa also had to live down the embarrassing fact that in 1974 India used Canadian technology to secretly and illegally construct its first nuclear bomb.

Then, last year, Canada joined the U.S. to quietly change the rules governing nuclear exports to India. In his trip to New Delhi this week, Harper spent much time trying to sell the Indians both Canadian uranium and Canadian nuclear technology.

"We are not living in the 1970s," he said there by way of explanation. "We are living in 2009."

It's perhaps telling that this about-face on what had been a key Canadian foreign policy plank earned the prime minister virtually no criticism from the public, opposition parties or media.

But Harper's key success in the ideological remoulding of Canada has been his ability to change the country's perception of soldiering.

While it was former prime minister Paul Martin who first authorized Canada's deadly military involvement in Kandahar, his then Liberal government tended to downplay the conflict.

Not so Harper. Aided by former top general Rick Hillier, as well as the agreeably acquiescent media, he has pounded the drums of military nationalism, reminding Canadians of their proud traditions in war.

At the same time, he has drawn on one of the country's most enduring mythic beliefs – that of Canada as northern giant – to win support for military spending technically aimed at defending Canada's Arctic sovereignty.

It matters little that Ottawa is eagerly co-operating with the U.S., the one Arctic country that actually threatens Canada's sovereignty claims (the two nations dispute both ownership of the Northwest Passage and key undersea oil reserves).

Nor does it matter that Harper's real interest in the Arctic appears to lie in its gas and mineral reserves.

What matters is that he has been able to successfully tap Canada's romantic view of itself.

To credit Harper with single-handedly inventing a new Canadian sensibility would be to exaggerate. This is a country of contradictory and often internally inconsistent views. We are both warlike and peaceable, deferential to authority but also suspicious.

We both love and hate the U.S., marrying resentment with envy and genuine affection with anger at being ignored.

For years, small l liberals – in both the Liberal and Conservative parties – played to one half of this complex mood. Liberal Canada was a country that, theoretically at least, prided itself on sharing and caring, tolerance and diversity. Its patriotism was muted but real. Jingos were frowned upon.

Given the realities of the post-war period, this self-image fit. For a while, Canada was truly a middle power, explaining the U.S. to the rest of the world and the rest of the world to America.

At times of stress – such as the Korean War – it was always clear whose side we'd be on. But in most years, push rarely came to shove. Canada could and did avoid both the Vietnam War and the Washington-dominated Organization of American States. We were less obsessed by Communism than the U.S. and thus more nuanced in our approach to Cuba, China and the old Soviet Union.

We relished our image as a peacemaker and, in the ongoing disputes between Israel and the Palestinians, cleaved to middle-of-the-road positions staked out by the United Nations.

Even before the end of the Cold War, that middle power role was beginning to erode (former prime minister Pierre Trudeau's fruitless 1984 peace mission across eastern Europe marked the end of the honest broker period).

By the early '90s, North American free trade arrangements had made Canada's economic dependence on the U.S. more visible and direct – which is why Ottawa, even under Liberal governments, began to hew more closely to Washington's line.

Under Brian Mulroney's Conservatives, we joined the OAS. Under Martin's Liberals, we aligned ourselves more closely with the U.S. position on Israel.

Similarly, it was a Liberal government that implemented the new conservative domestic agenda – lowering taxes on the wealthy, privatizing crown corporations, cutting social services to the poor, eliminating health and safety rules.

But as the Liberals moved farther to the right, they always exuded a slight sense of embarrassment. Rhetorically, the party insisted it hadn't changed even when the evidence showed otherwise

With Harper, there is less confusion. While he is not uniquely responsible for all the changes in Canadian political life, he articulates them better than his political opponents.

He is mining the Canadian psyche to create a new language of politics. The old language emphasized fairness in foreign affairs (don't take sides in the Middle East), independence (don't always agree with the U.S.) and tolerance (make adjustments for immigrants).

The new language emphasizes morality in foreign affairs (side with Israel); loyalty (always agree with the U.S.) and responsibility (immigrants should adjust to us).

Earlier this week, my colleague Chantal Hebert noted in passing that Canadians shouldn't doubt Harper's capacity to bring about transformative change. Given that language is important, she was quite right.

Friday, November 20, 2009

the feathers at Windigoostigwan

These are some of the feathers that were at my feet when I stopped at Windigoostigwan Lake on my way to Fort Frances 2 weekends ago. On the shore of this captivating lake by the highway, when you pull in, on the large rock, the open face of the Canadian Shield, as I wrote earlier, you will notice feathers scattered all about the landscape. They blow away in the wind as you stand there incredulous at this soft fluffiness scuttling about the hard rocks. Spread along the rocks, the feathers are also caught in low shrubs and hang from branches; some fly off to the lake and float off. Because it is open, this space allows Raven, Crow and Eagle an unfetterred place to tear apart their prey, where they can see if anyone flies in or slunks by to try and disturb them. I'm sure Crow was watching me, wondering what I was up to at his spot as I stooped and collected some of the feathers. I thought my sister, Della, might like some for her faeries of flotsam. Of course, these feathers would be imbued with a particular power having come from a particular place. They are not just feather commodities like the ones we saw bagged and tagged and tacked on the wall of D&R Sports in the hunting section. The feathers from Windigoostigwan are not for-sale-feathers.

Windigoostigwan Lake is the place where the old Dawson Trail, hacked through the bush in the 1800s to send colonial troops to what was called the Red River Rebellion, turned northwest, rather than continue due west where a lot of rivers and lakes would've made their project even more difficult. When the railway was eventually hacked through the bush, built to cut across to the new settlements of Atikokan and Fort Frances and westward and to join with the American line, the old Dawson Trail returned to the bush. The forest ate it. Perhaps remnants of it lie hidden in the bush here and there. Windigoostigwan means "something about the head of the Windigo", not the head of the Windigo. The Windigo is half human/half something else, a cannibal being. Some Anishnawbek won't even let the word windigo pass their lips.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

ratcheting up resistance to historical amnesia

1920s Remembrance Day campaign poster.

I visited by blog friend, Marja-Leena, a few days back and she had posted on Home Fires, noting Remembrance Day and her wish that it be focused on as a day to think of making peace, not war. I agreed and was compelled to comment to her:

"Regarding the commemoration of war on Nov. 11. While I certainly respect veterans and soldiers for putting their lives on the line, I feel that this day has been turned into a nostalgia and propaganda for war, not peace. This memorializing of battle, war, and soldiers as if all wars have been an easy good/bad, heros/villains narrative bothers me. There is no place for dissent. I listened to some speeches on tv this Remembrance Day and one of the male speakers was talking about the war on terrorism! Sorry, but this glorifying of "the cause", which each historical era justifies and rationalizes the deaths of young men by old men who sleep in cosy beds....well. We have not learned anything. Children were used for war propaganda in the past, too. There are posters of "waifs" selling poppies, to tug at your guilty conscious."

Canadian War poster 1914-18.

Today, I came across an article that puts into sharp focus through better words some of my discomforts with the memorializing practices linked to Remembrance Day today. In the article by Harsha Walia I found out that the increasing militarization that is infecting our presence overseas is also growing alarmingly in our own cities!

Raven with Torch

I was shocked to read in the article by Harsha, who takes a critical pen to war memorializing, defending violence, death, occupation and expulsions from some misplaced sense of a racist morality/superiority, that the largest security exercise in Canadian history is being planned for Vancouver next year! She writes that there will be "over 16,500 military, police, and security personnel in the largest security operation in Canadian history. Vancouver will be occupied by more Canadian Armed Forces troops than Afghanistan has been; bringing $1 billion of closed circuit TV cameras, electronic fencing and monitoring, armoured vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles, and now LRAD sonic guns, to our streets. “Operation Podium”, with regular and reserve forces, JTF2 commandos, and NORAD fighter planes, will become the priority mission in 2010." Is this how the issue of the land theft for the Olympics of Indigenous lands is being resolved? Through denial? Through a massive security operation? It appears Canada is determinedly going forward in buffing up its militaristic identity and taking police /military security to new heights. I wonder how many citizens are aware of this upcoming military operation for so-called internal security? Earlier I was reading an interview in a book where it was mentioned that in past land disputes between First Nations and the Canadian government, it is precisely the military presence that is sent in that militarizes the encounter, ratcheting up dissent and responses that match brute force.

I also thought that I wonder how many of the military personnel that will be deployed in Vancouver will be Indigenous? On the side of so-called Canadian security against so-considered militant Indians? I wonder what sort of internal conflicts that would raise in the minds of these Aboriginal troops? I was reading a back issue of the Native Journal and was troubled to find a glowing article that promoted Aboriginal people joining the Canadian military. According to the article there are benefits for Aboriginal people and communities from Aboriginal people joining military culture, such as "Maybe a sharpshooter might be a handy guy to have around"...or it's "a great chance to expand your horizons" or "there are people in Canada in some Aboriginal situations that could totally benefit from a future in the armed forces" and "when we come back, we are more well-rounded as individuals who can bring much more to the community". Find the article, "Canadian Forces want more Aboriginals to sign up for the military" by Patrice Bergeron in the online Native Journal. Once there, go to Past Issues, and find June 2009.

The full text of Harsha Walia's article, well worth a read:

Remembering: the Day After

by Harsha Walia Nov. 14, 2009 Vancouver Sun

When we launched life/ on the river of grief / how vital were our arms, how ruby our blood / With a few strokes, it seemed, / we would cross all pain, / we would soon disembark. / That didn’t happen. / In the stillness of each wave we found invisible currents. / The boatmen, too, were unskilled, / their oars untested. / Investigate the matter as you will, / blame whomever, as much as you want, / but the river hasn’t changed, / the raft is still the same. / Now you suggest what’s to be done, / you tell us how to come ashore. - Faiz Ahmed Faiz (Translation by Agha Shahid Ali)

This is not about Remembrance Day, this is about the day after, and the day after. A journal of sorts, this is about all the remaining days of the year. An invocation to memorialize all those who have suffered and died due to human and corporate greed, military wars and occupations, man-made poverty and environmental devastation. A Remembrance to the Horrors of the World, if you will, to jar us from our collective amnesia that seems to set in on certain days.

I am reminded of scholars such as Reinhart Koselleck and Gilbert Achcar who describe war commemorations as sites of political and national mobilization, conceptualizing past memories of warfare and the fallen as powerful political tools directed primarily towards building support for current and future military operations. Within this context, it is revealing that the institutions that most vehemently uphold the symbolism of Remembrance Day are the ones that are most eager to create a steady flow of the dead to remember. Mark Steel sardonically writes, “Maybe this is why the Government is so keen on the current war – it is convenient to have another one in a place full of poppies.”

Never Again seems to have been rebranded into an affirmation of death, rather than life. Ironically, a day where – according to Veterans Affairs itself – we are to remember “our responsibility to work for peace”, we are bombarded with messages of militaristic glory. In the words of US combat veteran and renowned historian Howard Zinn, “Instead of an occasion for denouncing war, it has become an occasion for bringing out the flags, the uniforms, the martial music, the patriotic speeches...Those who name holidays, playing on our genuine feeling for veterans, have turned a day that celebrated the end of a horror into a day to honor militarism.” Indeed, should Remembrance Day stories not emphasize those soldiers who oppose wars, whether as conscientious objectors or war resisters? While many would like to cast them as cowards, refusing to blindly and obediently act on unjust, illegal, or immoral military orders are acts of heroism.

But again this is not about Remembrance Day. Today, I am haunted by the faces of those who are being slaughtered and murdered by ‘our boys’ in Afghanistan. The day after Remembrance Day, after we underscore the seemingly unique sacrifice of veterans and selectively grieve for them, where is the indignation and sorrow for the daily dead of Afghanistan? Where is our recognition – let alone remembrance – of the soaring number of deaths in a country where, just in the past six months alone, over 2000 people have been killed. According to figures by the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, civilian death in Afghanistan have soared by 24% during the first half of 2009 compared with same period last year.

I am curious whether former Afghani MP Malalai Joya will be wearing a red poppy during her book launch in Vancouver, and whether she will feel obliged to express her sympathy for dead Canadian soldiers. Joya is a women’s rights and anti-war activist - dubbed the bravest woman in Afghanistan by the BBC - who has repeatedly offered her condolences to mothers in NATO countries who have lost children due to their government’s eight-year occupation of her land. How must it feel to always validate the grief of an occupying country for its losses, while those responsible find greater fervour - and find applause amongst many of us - in perpetuating policies of death, violence, and destruction?

I ponder the future, February 2010 to be exact, and whether Vancouverites will awaken to the reality of state-sanctioned repression by over 16,500 military, police, and security personnel in the largest security operation in Canadian history. Vancouver will be occupied by more Canadian Armed Forces troops than Afghanistan has been; bringing $1 billion of closed circuit TV cameras, electronic fencing and monitoring, armoured vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles, and now LRAD sonic guns, to our streets. “Operation Podium”, with regular and reserve forces, JTF2 commandos, and NORAD fighter planes, will become the priority mission in 2010. How will we respond to these extraordinarily high levels of surveillance and, unless we are naïve, undoubtedly violence? We only have to look at recent episodes, such as Gustafsen Lake or Oka, where Indigenous people bore the force of the Canadian military and police – including surviving over 77,000 rounds of ammunition in the 1995 standoff in BC’s interior – for defense of their land and people.

Have we become so engrossed in our own narcissistic narrative of self-righteous freedom-lovers and democracy-promoters that we take offense to those who wear the white poppy (as if the values of peace and justice are any more politically biased than the glorification of war). To find out whether WWII was indeed a Good War that safeguarded us from fascism, ask a Japanese-Canadian who was declared an enemy alien, stripped of all their property, and forcibly interned.

Why do we find it improper when it is pointed out that we are in fact residing in a state and society that continues to marginalize dissent as unpatriotic, that illegally expropriates Indigenous lands and resources, that subjugates and stigmatizes those who are poor, that prioritizes bailing out and protecting the biggest thieves of public money, that excludes and expels thousands of immigrants and refugees, and that perpetuates its racist civilizing presumptions to advance wars and occupations?

Why is it inappropriate to suggest – on any day of the year - that freedom for the world’s majority is still an aspiration, though in reality nothing more than magnetic poetry and the shallow rhetoric of politicians?

This, then, is an invocation not just for Remembrance Day, but one to ritualize grief in response to all the violence in and around our daily lives. As Noam Chomsky writes, “silence is often more eloquent than loud clamor, so let us attend to what is unspoken”. In contrast to the tyranny of complicity, desensitization, and historical amnesia, with remembrance comes responsibility - so let us act accordingly.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

a warrior woman, empowered

I did not get out last night to go listen to Suzie Vinnick. I worked instead on upcoming courses til late. Although I was not able to go out last night, I did, however, manage to run off this afternoon to Warrior Workout Kundalini Yoga. Besides my long walks, yoga is one way that I keep a sense of balance in an otherwise hectic life. It was held at the Resting Frog Yoga Studio, which is within walking distance from my home. Although I mainly practice a hybrid Hatha yoga, I was interested to try kundalini yoga. The kriya (the precise sequence of postures) of the warrior workout kundalini was facilitated by Paula. She led us through a challenging, but empowering session. While it was tough (the frog asana should be repeated 108x!), it was also cleansing and rejuvenating when done. One of the benefits of Kundalini is the cleansing of toxins and the massaging of internal organs. Breath of fire, suspension of breath, and the repetition of specific challenging asanas (postures), as well as the rapidity of movements were all part of the warrior workout. I first came across kundalini in the book A Woman's Book of Yoga, and Warrior is one of my favorite songs by The Wyrd Sisters. Kundalini plus warrior plus woman is a powerful combination. A warrior woman, empowered, can be an impressive sight. Who knows behind whose eyes she looks out?

The preface from the Woman's Book of Yoga states:

"Women are the embodiment of creative energy. Intuitively we know this....Kundalini Yoga can bring to each woman a deep sense of her original royalty, nobility, health, happiness, and identity...."

Of course, getting there takes a lot of work, effort and persistence!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

off to Suzie Vinnick or not?

Suzie Vinnick - Little One from the neighbors dog on Vimeo.

I've been hoping to be able to get to see Suzie Vinnick tonight at 8 pm. She's playing, along with 2 other acoustic musicians, at the Finnish Labour Temple. I warned my husband 2 days ago when I first noticed the poster on the cashier's door at Hoito Restaurant that we must go to the concert! I told him I do so much want to hear her again live. He's never heard of her,nor had the woman and her daughter who stopped to listen to me gush to Heli, the cashier at Hoito, how great Suzie Vinnick is.

I first heard Suzie Vinnick perform at the Thundering Women's Festival, where both my sister, Della, and me did performances. This was a number of years back as Jake, Della's son was just a hesitant back up for his mother, and now he is the lead singer and guitarist and songwriter for his award-winning band. I remember sitting out on the grass on a beautiful sunny day, on a knoll overlooking the Kaministiqua River as it empties into Lake Superior, being completely rapt to attention when Suzie Vinnick strummed her first notes and started to play. I immediately ran off and bought her cd after her set was over. I listen to it often. Lost of variety in her tunes. One song, with a bit of humorous whimsy, titled "I need a cowboy" always makes me feel light-hearted and silly. You can't stay in a funk listening to that song. So, too, listening to "Drive Fast" in the car....while driving fast. She reminds you of how we get caught up in our busy lives. Reminds us to slow down. "33 Stars" is also a beautiful song she dedicates to one of her friends who lived only 33 years. These are all on the cd I bought, called 33 Stars.

Will I get to concert tonight? Oh, I don't know. Desires and actual happenings are 2 different things in my life. I've a ton of marking, preparing classes, course proposals and syllabus, reading books and poetry, putting together a reading packet...oh, the list is long. Never mind clean the house! You don't want to know what state my office at home is in. Find a book? Geez, I spent some good time looking for Food for our Grandmothers yesterday. I gave up. Luckily today I found it; it was under Word Warriors. Luckily, too, lots of left overs from last night's supper when Rasha came by to join us. Today's rally against the HST at Waverley Park kept me busy. I was the MC/announcer, moving things along, cracking quips, stating hard realities. Imagine that shy little Finnish immigrant girl who never even knew English, who kept her head down in her books and her eyes cast down in class least the teacher address her...oh she's a bold one today.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hwy 11 metsӓ

[click to enlarge]
Noopemig (Ojibwe) or mettӓ (Finnish dialect; properly the word is metsӓ) or forest of northwestern Ontario. We have many kinds of forests in northwestern Ontario. This is one kind, a row of black spruce lining the edge of a bog on the side of Highway 11. Now, some folks may find this landscape dull or boring. Gloomy, even. I find in beautiful--in a gloomy sort of way. This land speaks to me. I think this sort of synkkӓ mettӓ (gloomy dreary forest) reminded Finnish settlers to Canada of home, of the forest and bogs they left behind. The dark forest called up melancholy, called up gloomy thoughts. Maybe life in Canada would be a struggle, too.

Thunder Bay against HST

I've been working with a group of folks, organizing a citizens rally to find out more about the upcoming HST, harmonized sales tax, to come into effect July1, 2010. This means citizen/consumers will pay an extra 8% tax on previously un-taxed items and services. Only a few things are exempt: books, diapers, female personal hygiene supplies, children's clothes and children's car seats. The prov. govt says, maybe fast food under $4! oh, brother! What about home heating and gas for the car? If you live in Thunder Bay or the region, come out tomorrow to Waverley Park. THere will be speakers (short talks to give information, not speeches!), a drummer and pamphlets, etc. See you there!

Date: Saturday, November 14, 2009
Time: 1:00pm - 2:30pm
Location: Waverley Park, downtown Port Arthur.

If you are on Facebook you can find us at Thunder Bay against HST.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I squeal to a stop at Windigoostigwan Lake

The southeastern shore of Windigoostigwan Lake runs along Highway 11. You can pull in right off the highway to stretch your legs. The lake empties into Lac des Mille Lac and its western end leads to French River. Windigoostigwan Lake was part of the old northern water route; Pigeon River to the south was part of the old southern water route; both start (or end depending on your travels) at Lake Superior. Both of these water routes are 10,000 years old as the First Nations used the waterways to travel around the region. The First Nations introduced these waterways to the early Europeans who came to the land to trade furs, explore, and map the land. In the dominant historical narrative these water routes have been seen as the way of the voyageurs, fur-traders, explorers and settlers, but in fact, these water routes pre-date the colonial project by thousands of years. So, the Europeans did not discover these connected river, lake and portage water routes.

Windigoostigwan means Windigo's Head in Ojibway; at least that is what Warwick S. Carpenter wrote in 1912. He was the secretary of NY State Conservation Committee; he went on a paddling and portaging adventure in the early 1900s and wrote up his travels, about the time Quetico Park was being made into a nature preserve. I have to ask folks who know Ojibway if indeed that is what Windigoostigwan means. My students at Seven Generations told me it has something to do with Windigo. Somewhere on the shore of the lake are cliffs where one can make out the head of man, writes Warwick S. Carpenter. The head of a spiritual being, the Windigo? The Windigo is a cannibal spirit being, very powerful and frightening, but the Windigo is more than that.

I walked up the exposed Canadian Shield,

up the ridge of stone sheltered by a stand of white pine, cedar, balsam, and black spruce.

At my feet was an emerald green map of moss

I walked up to the top of the ridge. I looked down. I was standing on the spot where Raven, Crow and Eagle tear apart their prey. Feathers of all colours, patterns and sizes lay scattered over the stone.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

my border story continues

You can see the U.S. paper mill at International Falls in the background of this old gravestone in the Fort Frances cemetary. The U.S. Boise Cascade Mill is on the opposite shore of Rainy River, directly across from the cemetary. I didn't take any photos while I was in International Falls on Saturday evening, as I was too crabby after being questioned at the border and having my car searched by the US border guards! After that I didn't even want to go into their country, but it was too late then. They take a photo of you, however. When you drive up to the U.S. border you will have your photo taken by an automated machine; everyone does. As you drive up to the booth, the telltale flash of your photo being taken surprises you. It wasn't that long ago we didn't even need a driver's licence to cross! Just a question or two and you were waved through. Now, it's security on steroids.

It was my passport that seemed to interest the young man in the booth when I drove up to cross over the bridge. As soon as he put it into the passport scanning machine, he turned to the side, away from me and made a phone call. I had a sense then that I was not going to just get through easily as I had been told by folks in Fort Frances.

I guessed it was the two recent Lebanese stamps in my passport.

You have to come in for questioning, said the fresh-faced young man with an eager excited grin, as he came up to my car window.

Questioning, I asked?

Yes, he said. Park over there, and follow me inside. Where are you from? he asked me for the second time. What are you doing in Fort Frances, he asked me for the second time. Where are you staying? Why do you want to come to the U.S.? What work do you do in Thunder Bay? What do you teach? he asked as I followed him inside to the back counter.

Empty your pockets, he said, tapping the counter. The border office looked shiny and new. I put my car keys on the counter. No, I said empty your pockets, he said. That's it, I said.

I need your purse, he said, pointing at by yellow bag. I gave it to him and he went through each and every object I had inside. At this point I wasn't too crabby yet. I thought he was maybe new on the job and I was the excitement for Saturday late afternoon in small town America on the border. Or maybe I had the unfortunate luck of being a quota that had to be filled. As I hadn't crossed over into the U.S. before at the International Falls border, maybe this come-inside questioning is just protocal?

"U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws."

No, I think it was the Lebanese stamps in my passport. Maybe the U.S. border was put on high alert because of the killings at Fort Hood? Maybe the recent Lebanese stamps suggested drug smuggling? Certainly, my middle-aged whiteness did not signal any alarm bells.

As he went through my purse, another border guard came to stand beside him, on his right. He opened his jacket; a taser jutted out from his hip. He zipped his jacket up and walked away. I turned my head; another border guard carrying a billy stick came up on the left. He scooped my keys off the counter and asked, are these your car keys?

Yes, they are, I said.

He left.

He came back after a few minutes and asked loudly from by the door in a gruff voice, Do you have any weapons in your car? I looked at him, confused. Any guns? knives? ammunition?

Weapons? I asked. No, no weapons, I said.

He left out the glass doors and began searching my car.

I turned to the young fresh faced border guard and said, Unlike Americans, Canadians don't have the constitutional right to bear arms, and we don't carry weapons in our cars. It's not standard practice for Canadians.

The young fresh-faced fellow was still going through my purse, unzipping and poking about the errata that I carry around. I remember thinking, thank goodness I took out the organic tobacco I had bought in Lebanon. I had brought it with me to Fort Frances to give a bit to each student as a gift for offerings. And thank goodness I removed the bag full of bird feathers I had gleaned at the killing rock at Lake Windigoostigwan from the front seat before I left the B&B. I was going to drive off but then I thought, what if I get stopped? How will I explain this bag full of bird feathers? Some of them had a bit of blood still on them. Who knows, maybe someone would wonder what sort of voodoo I was up to. Better put it inside.

Next, I had to fill out a form that had a lot of checkmarks about whether I had had assaulted a US border guard, or been arrested in the US, or been in jail in the US, and other questions to do with criminal behaviour against policing and security. I checked NO in all boxes.

Then I was directed to sit. Young fresh face went outside to join watching-too-many-Hollywood-movies / spending-a lot-of-time-in-the-weightroom whose feet were sticking out of the driver's side. He was doing something lying on the front bench of my car.

Oh, brother, I thought as I sat and waited. I looked around and waited some more. I read the notices tacked on the wall about obstructing US border guards. About resisting the execution of US border guards' work. Eventually another border guard, this time female, came up to me and asked, Where are you from? Thunder Bay, I said. Why are you here? I'm teaching in Fort Frances. She nodded, then left and went back to her work. I was the only one; it wasn't busy.

I waited and looked at the clock.

I looked discretely over my shoulder to see what the 2 guys were doing out by my car. How long is this going to take! The big guy was still lying in the front seat! WTF. Seriously. Now I was getting mad. What the hell is so interesting in the dash of my car?

Oh, brother, I thought. I waited and looked at the clock some more.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

border crossing

Fort Frances 1958 Archives of Ontario image

The border between the U.S. and Canada at International Falls and Fort Frances no longer looks as simple as this. The welcome arch has bit the dust years ago, with Canada's message to travelers more of a basic sign than an overarching welcome. The dropping of the welcome, however, I would have to say is serious business on the American side. Do Americans actually want people to come visit their country?

Yesterday I decided that this is the last time I am crossing into the States.

I am in Fort Frances this weekend teaching classes at the Seven Generations Institute on Couchiching First Nations which is on Rainy Lake. The Rainy Lake empties into the Rainy River. On the other side of the Rainy River lies the town of International Falls, which is in Koochiching County. Fort Frances used to be called Fort St. Pierre, but was renamed after Lady Frances, George Simpson's wife, came to the settler post. International Falls lies on what became the American side when the settler colonials were establishing their dominions and nations.

Prior to this spring, Canadians who wished to cross the border into the US needed simply a driver's license, but now we need a passport, thanks to American homeland security. So, I had my passport ready. People cross the border between Fort Frances and International Falls frequently; some doing that daily or very regularly. For example, if you want to go to the cinema to see a movie you have to cross the border as there is no movie theatre in Fort Frances. After teaching class on Saturday, I decided to drive across the border to have supper on the American side, just for variety and relaxation. Well, entering the US was anything but relaxing! be continued

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Poema Basura

garbage I saw on the shore of Lake Superior

I did take Spanish lessons a few years back before I went to spend 3 weeks in Cholula, Mexico, at La Universidad las Américas Puebla. The lessons did not, however, despite my friend Lucy and Maria-niny's best teaching efforts, stick in my mind. So, I cannot read the below! However, because I trust my dear blogger friend, Merche Pallarés, I know she has done an excellent job of translating my Garbage Poem into Spanish! She is amazing! I appreciate that she has taken the time from her busy schedule to translate my poem. Below, is Merche's Spanish-language version of my Garbage Poem:

Poema Basura

Querido Universo,

Hemos convertido la tierra en un asco
La "tierra", un mendrugo de pan en el armario de su cocina

Hemos enviado a la estratosfera toneladas de basura,
aureolas flotando en círculos, estela cósmica sobre nuestras cabezas

Abuela luna - la bombardeamos
su semblante sereno, mancillado con nuestros restos bélicos

Hemos tirado toneladas y toneladas de basura a nuestros mares
disolventes grasientos, detergentes y productos farmacéuticos--barriles de nombres impronunciables pero claramente estampados con calaveras y huesos cruzados

Tenemos una isla de plásticos flotando y girando en el océano Pacífico
del tamaño de Tejas. Peso total: 3 millones de toneladas

Embadurnamos nuestros cuerpos con productos químicos, escondidos bajo apariencias seductivas, que satisfacen nuestros egos. Los llamamos: Hidratantes. Cremas corporales. Maquillaje. Desodorantes.

Alimentamos nuestros hijos con comida basada en productos químicos queriendo aparentar comida de verdad y les damos a beber líquidos muertos tildados como "Lo Verdadero"

Nuestras casas están enterradas en forros de vinilo. Respiramos efluvios volátiles de restos orgánicos. Nuestros objetos: alfombras, cortinas de ducha, ordenadores/computadoras, electrónica en general, paredes, mobiliario, envenenándonos lentamente.

Las placas polares se astillan derretiendo minas de alquitrán, engullendo famélicas, bandadas enteras de pájaros pero seguimos conduciendo al centro comercial a comprar productos traidos de China, transportados a través de autopistas de muerte.

¿Cómo querida Madre de la Oscuridad, estrellas y misterio podemos cambiar nuestra forma de actuar?

Nuestro futuro ha sido escrito en las hojas de los árboles
pero nuestros árboles están siendo talados diariamente con cortes limpios
por máquinas forestales gigantes
sin respeto
1.000 al dia arrasados

¿Cómo podemos leer las hojas
para ver nuestro futuro
si hemos destruido los troncos,
triturado su cuerpo, convertido en pulpa
para sonarnos las narices?

Nuestra Madre que eres el Universo
Danos hoy la sabiduría y la resistencia
para parar la destrucción de nuestra casa sagrada
Danos la rabia para expulsar a los políticos
cuyas cabezas están en las arenas petrolíferas,
que violan nuestro pequeño campamento en el espacio
en el nombre del desarrollo y la democracia

Querida Madre, ayudanos.

garbage I saw by the shore of Lake Superior

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

entering the belly of the beast

photo by Chris Jordan who has a Message from the Gyre.
Jordan, an artist whose work I cover in my Consumer Culture class to show the effects of our everyday practices, has recently gone to the plastic gyre I told you about before and which is one of the horrors that was swirling in my mind when I wrote my Garbage Poem.

photo by Chris Jordan.
"his photographs portray the actual stomach contents of the baby birds and that the plastic was not 'moved, placed, manipulated, arranged, or altered in any way'."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

watch Suheir Hammad at the Kennedy Center

In March of this year, Suheir Hammad performed at the Kennedy Center as part of ARABESQUE: Arts of the Arab World. She presents 19 of her poems in a 50 min performance available from the Millennium Stage Performance Archive of the Kennedy Center. Be sure to watch her performance in Theater Mode. The poems in this performance include Mike Check, a poem for Mahmoud Darwish, for Om Khalthoum and her mother, My Song to Daddy for her father, A Letter to Brooklyn, Not your Exotic, a series of break poems from her latest poetry book, breaking poems, New Orleans, poems of Gaza, Tal al-Hawa, Rafa, Zeitoun, What I will.

To watch more of her poems, go to Pulse, a collaborative political weblog featuring work by a variety of writers, activists and academics based in five continents.

Suheir Hammad interview on

Hour: Often there is a tension - should art be simply appreciated for art's sake or is all art political given that life is shaped by politics? What are your thoughts about the role that artists can play within political movements, and within liberation struggles, especially that of Palestine's?

Suheir Hammad: I always go back to questioning artists about what they believe art can do. If an artist believes that the intention of their art and the manifestation of their art can transform behaviour and opinion, there should be no place you do not go.

For example, when Erykah Badu travelled to Israel last year, she contacted Palestinian artists, [including filmmaker] Jackie Salloum, and also talked to me about the context. She asked us questions about Palestine before travelling. So when Badu got into Palestine she met up with Palestinian rappers. As soon as she got to Tel Aviv she was questioned [by Israeli security agents] about who she listens to and why. So perhaps the decision for Badu to travel to Israel was taken by her record company or management. However, in travelling, Badu took action to inform and empower herself.

Hour I'm sure it is very difficult to convey through words the effects of the Israeli attack on Gaza this past winter, the Israeli attack on Lebanon in 2006, or the impacts of the Palestinian refugee experience for over 60 years. When you are on stage or developing your poems, how do you convey that reality through your poetry?

Hammad Darwish actually talked about this, what happens on stage. I often go back to this phrase that Darwish said in a film, which is, "The poem on the page has a life of its own," which I always believed because I never thought originally I would be on stage. I was always interested in writing, and it is the actual writing process that continues to feed my work.

Once you enter the public sphere you are engaging as a public citizen and this is a different experience from writing poetry. [It is] sharing my innermost thoughts and observations with strangers.

Audre Lorde has a poem called Litany for Survival, which says, "So it is better to speak, remembering, we were never meant to survive." On a personal level I have my own fears and insecurities, and as Lord explained, you are always going to have them - you will still be afraid sometimes, but you must continue.