Issue 35: States of Disaster (3/1/2010)

Devastating earthquakes and the threat of another development agenda based on disaster capitalism (to use Naomi Klein's phrase). Climate talks that failed to achieve their goals in Copenhagen. And one year later, finding little hope and less change in a supposedly historic presidency. It was good riddance to 2009; but standing at the dawn of 2010, we're straining our eyes to see the light. This latest issue of SAMAR explores the various states of disaster we find ourselves witnessing and experiencing, at home and abroad.

The earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Japan and the ongoing threat of tsunamis in parts of the Pacific remind us of other disasters in recent history. It made sense to look towards places like Sri Lanka for lessons learned around recovery. In "Aftershocks of International Intervention," Nimmi Gowrinathan considers the international communities' relief efforts in Sri Lanka. Key to her analysis is that any efforts must be partnered with local communities and take into account local conditions. Or else, the problems of international NGO responses come with external solutions that can be devastating in their own ways.

The daily devastation of state-sanctioned human rights abuse is epitomized by the experience of Fahad Hashmi. Thirteen stories up in the behemoth of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, Fahad has been confined for over 1,350 days, waiting for a trial that will determine whether he provided "material support" by letting a friend store ponchos and socks at his apartment. For over half of those days, he has been locked in extreme solitary confinement, with virtually no contact with the outside world. SAMAR, in partnership with THAW (Theaters Against War), put out a call for letters a few weeks ago. Though Fahad may never see these letters as they will likely not get past prison censors, we publish a sampling of them in "Dear Fahad" so that the world may learn how far the US government will go in the name of "national security."

Indeed the US government has gone to great lengths to protect our "national security" so far that we have begun waging a war on a country that we are not "at war" with through simplistic justification. Language and its manipulation have been at the core of the Obama adminstration's policy on war and occupation. In "The Audacity of Empire," Anjali Kamat astutely notes how Obama's rhetoric is the only thing to distinguish his administration from the one before. Juxtapositioning Obama's speeches concerning policies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Palestine, she shows how he justifies occupation using the languages of just wars and wars of necessity.

Also in this issue, hear about outstanding artists making waves in the South Asian diaspora. Robin Sukhadia's review of Chaal, Baby, the debut album from Red Baraat, shows how this exciting group brings together street music from New Orleans and the Punjab. Highlighting the commonalities of celebration, the group has managed to arrange a successful meeting of the tabla, dhol, horn and sousaphones.

Then, Natasha Bissonauth interviews YaliniDream, a multi-genre and inter-disciplinary performer whose work includes the personal of the political. One of YaliniDream's recent pieces, ten years in the making, asks "Where does love emerge and how do we heal amidst war, disaster, violent immigration processes, gender-based violence, silence, and other destructive forces?"

Finally, Omer Shah responds to Bollywood's attempt to deal with Muslim identity and terrorism. In some ways successful, in other ways problematic, "My Name is Khan" ultimately creates a dichotomous Muslim identity, the good, innocent, righteous Muslim and the bad, terrorist Muslim which not only exposes American prejudices but similar simplistic thinking in Indian society as well.

Devastating earthquakes and the threat of another development agenda based on disaster capitalism (to use Naomi Klein's phrase). Climate talks that failed to achieve their goals in Copenhagen. And one year later, finding little hope and less change in a supposedly historic presidency. It was good riddance to 2009; but standing at the dawn of 2010, we're straining our eyes to see the light. This latest issue of SAMAR explores the various states of disaster we find ourselves witnessing and experiencing, at home and abroad.

The earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, Japan and the ongoing threat of tsunamis in parts of the Pacific remind us of other disasters in recent history. It made sense to look towards places like Sri Lanka for lessons learned around recovery. In "Aftershocks of International Intervention," Nimmi Gowrinathan considers the international communities' relief efforts in Sri Lanka. Key to her analysis is that any efforts must be partnered with local communities and take into account local conditions. Or else, the problems of international NGO responses come with external solutions that can be devastating in their own ways.

The daily devastation of state-sanctioned human rights abuse is epitomized by the experience of Fahad Hashmi. Thirteen stories up in the behemoth of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, Fahad has been confined for over 1,350 days, waiting for a trial that will determine whether he provided "material support" by letting a friend store ponchos and socks at his apartment. For over half of those days, he has been locked in extreme solitary confinement, with virtually no contact with the outside world. SAMAR, in partnership with THAW (Theaters Against War), put out a call for letters a few weeks ago. Though Fahad may never see these letters as they will likely not get past prison censors, we publish a sampling of them in "Dear Fahad" so that the world may learn how far the US government will go in the name of "national security."

Indeed the US government has gone to great lengths to protect our "national security" so far that we have begun waging a war on a country that we are not "at war" with through simplistic justification. Language and its manipulation have been at the core of the Obama adminstration's policy on war and occupation. In "The Audacity of Empire," Anjali Kamat astutely notes how Obama's rhetoric is the only thing to distinguish his administration from the one before. Juxtapositioning Obama's speeches concerning policies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Palestine, she shows how he justifies occupation using the languages of just wars and wars of necessity.

Also in this issue, hear about outstanding artists making waves in the South Asian diaspora. Robin Sukhadia's review of Chaal, Baby, the debut album from Red Baraat, shows how this exciting group brings together street music from New Orleans and the Punjab. Highlighting the commonalities of celebration, the group has managed to arrange a successful meeting of the tabla, dhol, horn and sousaphones.

Then, Natasha Bissonauth interviews YaliniDream, a multi-genre and inter-disciplinary performer whose work includes the personal of the political. One of YaliniDream's recent pieces, ten years in the making, asks "Where does love emerge and how do we heal amidst war, disaster, violent immigration processes, gender-based violence, silence, and other destructive forces?"

Finally, Omer Shah responds to Bollywood's attempt to deal with Muslim identity and terrorism. In some ways successful, in other ways problematic, "My Name is Khan" ultimately creates a dichotomous Muslim identity, the good, innocent, righteous Muslim and the bad, terrorist Muslim which not only exposes American prejudices but similar simplistic thinking in Indian society as well.

Articles in this Issue

If there is one unmistakable difference between Bush's wars and Obama's wars it boils down to this: we now have a president who can almost perfectly pronounce the names of the cities and villages US troops will occupy and bomb.

Adapted from a talk at a conference titled "Obama's Occupations" held at Pomona College, December 4, 2009.

Anjali Kamat

There is music that cannot be contained inside four walls, and can only exist in the streets. Every culture has it, and when put together well, the sound can be infectious. Robin Sukhadia reviews Red Baraat's recent release, Chaal, Baby, a tribute to street music, from New Orleans marching bands to Punjabi wedding processions, that has emerged with celebratory aplomb.

Robin Sukhadia

Theatre spoken word artist, YaliniDream, explores truth, spirituality, activism, gender, sexuality, love and Sri Lanka. Her stage presence is at once a resounding cry for action and a soulful prayer for all things lost. Rarely without politicized intentions, her work, nevertheless finds room for reverie. She sat with art critic Natasha Bissonauth to discuss her views on inter-disciplinary art and collaboration as they relate to her political dreams for a different Sri Lanka.

South Asia and the Caribbean islands share a complex colonial past which tells us that the power of natural disasters to collapse buildings and shatter lives is insignificant when compared to the power of large scale international interventions to erase histories, permanently alter political dynamics, and establish racial hierarchies.

Nimmi Gowrinathan

My Name is Khan...and I am not a terrorist is the already ubiquitous chorus from the most recent Bollywood blockbuster to cross over to western audiences. The film seeks to engage American anxieties around nationalism and race and at the same time reveals similar commentaries about India. Omer Shah reviews the film and asks: are we ever able to construct Muslim identities without the notion of terrorist?

Omer Shah

Together with THAW (Theaters Against War) we solicited letters of support for Syed Fahad Hashmi, a US citizen who has been held in severe solitary confinement since May 2007, and is denied access to much of the evidence the government claims to have against him. These letters offer a simple and necessary challenge to the inhuman conditions of Fahad's detention and the further erosion of civil liberties.

various authors