Category Archives: Palestine

Your Intifada was Made in China: Commodity Fetishism Killing Palestine

A version of this is up at Mother Jones, but this one is too hard for the homepage.


Oh the keffiyeh. How long have I waited, in vain, for you to die? Before it was the emblem of the hipster generation, the keffiyeh (spelled many ways but worn only one) was the preferred and only headdress for PLO leader Yasser Arafat, and the symbol of Palestinian nationalism. What fatigues were to Fidel, the oragamied scarf was to Arafat.

Thanks to an late aughts explosion of popuarity, the symbol of intifada is now second only to the Che t-shirt for its global ubiquity and collegiate rebel chic. Today, you can buy this fashion juggernaut from half of all street vendors on Earth for a cool five bucks. There are in existance people who are “too cool” for the keffiyeh, but in all my wanderings through Williamsburg, the Mission and Silverlake, I haven’t met them. If Urban Outfitters and Rachel Ray couldn’t kill it, it seemed as though nothing could.

For all of you who were waiting on the “I told you so” moment, here it is.

According to a heart-wrenchingly earnest video by web-magazine Monocle, the global keffiyeh craze  is about to force Mr. Hirbawi, 76, the last keffiyeh factory owner in Palestine, out of business.

That’s because the one you’re wearing (and, increasingly, they ones they’re wearing) are made in China. Ironically, global support for Palestinian-statehood-as-fashion-accessory has put yet another nail in the coffin of the Occupied Territories’ beleaguered economy.

Here’s how it happened: Back in ’87, during the first intifada, intifadniks couldn’t get enough of Mr. Hirbawi’s $25 scarves. Looser export restricitons meant that Israelis could rep them too, and slowly but surely the scarf and its emblematic pattern began appearing in the West. By the time the second intifada rolled around in 2000,  hardcore activists and the super cool already had them. Somewhere between then and now, the keffiyeh reached its tipping point, and hipsters’ insatiable lust for the scarf lured Chinese manufactures into the gig. Being the Chinese, they were able to undercut the Palestinians by an order of magnitide, and out-export them at every turn. Fast forward about a decade, and globalization killed the keffiyeh.

Is it yet another case of globalization ruining the world, or are Chinese keffiyehs just a natural outgrowth of Marx’s commodity fetishism? After all, what can’t be commodified these days?


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Little Big Things in South Asia Part 1—Lanka and what the 1W is missing

Lots o’ stuff going on in South Asia this week! Tata unveils the Nano, world’s cheapest car (cue whine-track from self-serving American environmental movement) U.N. announces Humanitarian Crisis in Sri Lanka (cue crickets). Orphanage in Bangladesh actually a terror cell? Because there’s so much to say about each (!) I’ve split the posts.

Lanka Lanka Lanka:

While Indian scientists rush to develop a curry that can denatured and consumed in space,  trouble remains afoot (and a sock and a boot, yo) in Jaffna, the sliver of land at the top of Sri Lanka where thousands of Tamil refugees are still trapped in what has officially become THE most ignored and atrocious humanitarian crisis in the world, right now. If you think the 1,400  deaths in Gaza were bad, refill your inhaler.

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3WI Special Report—Why they’re not listening to us

Last night, as I found myself drawn into another argument on an old saw of mine, I was reminded (brutally and in the most unpleasant way) of how little we (collectively) hear, talk, write or know about the international scene in the Global South, and immediately again why no one listens when we (reporters, academics and assorted nuts) yap off about it.

Without getting into too much detail (and, tragically, without naming names) allow me to explain:

I was fraternizing at a friend’s birthday party in Harlem when an animated foreign acquaintance and our abrasive American colleague —whom I am at a loss for words to describe (acquaintance feels far too genial)— got into it over, what else, foreign press coverage of policy and conflict outside the G8.

The fireworks started at about the same time Comrade 2 was regaling us with tales of obnoxious American do-gooders in the Save Darfur movement. Or maybe it was obnoxious American do-gooders  in the Justice for Palestine movement. Anyway, these were protesters dejour with our lady’s phone number, and damned if she was going to spend precious pico-seconds on the horn with a bunch of scarf-wearing crybaby’s who’s event was under quota for the TV cameras . Wasting her time with their gesturing—how dare they.

Fair enough—I’m not the only person endlessly frustrated with the caprice of the well-meaning. And for once, I wasn’t the only one in the room who felt that too much time and too much UN air is being wasted on Darfur, a horrific situation that is actually among Central Africa’s milder conflicts. One imagines that, as a UN attache for one of the leftier, 3rdworldier TV stations out there, Comrade 2 is practically wading in these people and their half baked ideas about how the world should be run.


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Gaza: an editor’s note (camels on the b-roll)

*I post this out of love, because even (and often) the most earnest among us are also the most absurd.

I was trolling Facebook as I often do when i came across a friend’s photo album from a recent Gaza mish. I am sharing this in violation of my own rules to make a point about EDITING. Not Israel. So we’re clear.

If it please the court, People’s 1:

*This camel was hit by white phosphorus. While she survived, her baby was killed during the Israeli bombardment.* (this is the original caption)

*This camel was hit by white phosphorus. While she survived, her baby was killed during the Israeli bombardment.* (this is the original caption)

Are you listening world? Israel killed this camel’s baby!

Y’s photo album was full of disturbing photos with even more disturbing captions—ie, the face and body of a grimacing little boy who suffered severe burns after a kerosene tank exploded in his home (it wasn’t clear, btw, if the karosene tank exploded as the result of military action or mishandling…which itself would be a result of crippling poverty in the wake of military action, but is nevertheless and extremely significant difference) with the caption “The nurse at Al-Shifa’a says that Omar is unlikely to survive due to the burns.” Does it seem a bit, I don’t know, self-serving and self-righteous and kind of misanthropically cynical to post gruesome naked photos of some doomed  twelve year-old you’ve never met before on you FACEBOOK PAGE? Am I alone in feeling shocked  that someone allegedly committed to a cause that is not only nationalist but humanitarian wouldn’t exercise more discretion? I was going to let it pass, until I came across the camel.

Listen Y, if you’re out there. I think you’re great and your mish was an important one. Bad, nasty stuff is/was/will be happening in Gaza, and it’s great you were there to report it. But is it so much to ask that you report, or at least that you edit critically? If you’re going to exploit somebody else’s brother/son/cousin (and lets be real, posting the 3rd degree burns on his ass is exploitation) a child who is—you believe— about to die, have the decensy to leave the bereft camels for the b-roll. That’s all I’m saying.

ADDENDUM: If you’re writing graf long captions for all your photos and then you get to a picture of Jabalia and all you can say about is “Jabalia” … people live there, you know. And if that’s all you’ve got, it’s been looking like that—that’s why its Jabalia.

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Terrorist, moi? Why the Maya Arulpragasam LTTE-drama is NYT Tiger-shit

Getty Images

Getty Images

By Sonja Sharp

BROOKLYN–If you read us regularly or if you’ve ever glanced at the header, you probably know how 3rdWorldImagineer feels about the enormously pregnant Ms. Arulpragasam, aka M.I.A., the South London Tamili grime star.  As I wrote back in December, M.I.A. is the real thing when it comes to imagineery sampling and all-world street cred (she hopped from Sri Lanka to Tamil Nad to South London to  Bed-Stuy, for crying outloud).  So you can imagine how stoked we all are to see her performing at the Grammys and nominated alongside A.R. Rahman for the Oscar. And how completely disappointed when the Times freshly minted Colombo correspondent uses this moment–the deepening of a humanitarian crisis so severe that the world can no longer turn a blind eye to it, and the ascent of an exceptionally talented artist to whom, until the awards season, the Times had been equally deaf–to pen a hackish,  one-dimensional piece on her radical personal politics,  as though it were revelatory.
(I’m linking the piece here, just so we have a frame of reference going forward)
Are you just now picking up Arular, Mr.  Fuller? (M.I.A.’s debut album is named for her father, Arular Arulpragasam, who joined  the Tamili separatist movement in northern Sri Lanka in the  1980s).  Do you miss Guragoan? No air-locked malls in Colombo, innit?

There’s lots to say about M.I.A’s politics and her amusing incoherence in expressing them, but the fact that the Times JUST dumped somebody in Colombo last week is so apparent, its ugly.

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News You Need to be Reading, part 1

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2007/Weiss

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2007/Weiss

Dear Readers,

There is so much going on! First the inauguration, then the Clinton confirmation and Caroline Kennedy’s graceful departure from the NY Senate contest. Israel once again departed the Gaza Strip.  One might almost forget there was a whole EARTH out there full of other shit going on.

Since all you’ve been reading about is a) the Inaug and b) GAZA, take a wee break and check out what’s happened on the rest of the fucking planet. Enjoy all the latest on my pet conflicts, a couple of long overdue studies, some weird new laws and one museum exhibit I’d really love to see.

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Actively Ignoring Gaza: or, why I won’t write about the conflict

With the Gaza War now in its second week, I feel compelled to write a post about why I can’t/don’t post about Israel/Palestine, a conflict which wrenches constantly at my heart, and prevents me from writing more important stuff. So consider this a one-and-done.

Hatem Moussa/Associated Press

Hatem Moussa/Associated Press

The vitriol with which the world, from it’s most respected papers (The IHT, NYT and the Guardian come to mind), to its most prestigious universities (both which I have attended, and many others), batters and defames the human beings who populate both sides of this conflict is more than I can ignore effectively.

No wonder there are riots. The constant deluge of images, the tsunami of competing statistics and barrage of unconfirmed (though often later confirmed) reports serve not to inform, but to affect. For the size of its newshole, this tiny middle eastern nation might as well be the center of the world. If you took all the dispatches filed on it since the war began, you could paper the whole damn place. Which is why I think it’s time for a little perspective:


There are, on average, 1,000 foreign correspondents reporting from Israel and the occupied territories–a nation with about the same geographic size and population as New Jersey–at any given time. In times of war, like right now, the number swells to upwards of 3,000.

Consider, then, that on the entire continent of Africa–the world’s second most populace continent after Asia– with its myriad wars, legions of corrupt governments, genocides, AIDS and MDRTB, pirates, inflation, starvation and hotbeds of militant fundamentalism, there are an average of 900.*

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