tuque /tūk/ n Canadian English, var. toque [19th c. Canadian French, from the French toque, from the Basque tauka] 1 A close-fitting knitted cap, often with a long tapering end or tassel or pompom. 2 fig Something quintessentially Canadian.
souq /sūk/ n from the Arabic سوق var. souk 1 An open-air marketplace. 2 fig A central meeting place for the circulation of news and ideas.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tuque Souq Autumn (Magazine) Reading List

The Tuque Souq is on a mini-holiday until November 3, at which time we'll return - 24 hours before the polls close in the western U.S. - to call the election for Barack Obama well ahead of the liberal elite media as well as the liberal regular media, and Fox News.

In the meantime, we present for your diversion the first-annual Tuque Souq Autumn (Magazine) Reading List: 6 articles from 6 great Canadian magazines to tickle your long-form-journalism fancy. Enjoy.

"Iran's Quiet Revolution," by Deborah Campbell, The Walrus, September 2006.

"Tear Down That Wall," by Sue Ferguson, This Magazine, September-October 2007.

"The Persian Dub," by Abou Farman, Maisonneuve, December 2006.

"Prop Afghanda," by Anthony Fenton, Briarpatch, June-July 2007.

"The Great Game," by Stephen Osborne and Christopher Grabowski, Geist, Spring 2007.

"Jazz and Jihad," by Gilad Atzmon, Adbusters, July 2007.

Happy reading. And support Canadian magazines by buying them, then surreptitiously leaving them behind the next time Stephen Harper invites you over for tea and biscuits and arts bashing.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Gaza's Economy: In the Tunnels

Photos by Iyad Albaba

"Digging a tunnel requires three to four months; Abu Hassan and other workers use an electric machine to pull out piles of sand from a hole that is 21-meters deep. A father of seven children, Abu Hassan explains that 'what pushed me to work in these tunnels is the fact that over the past 16 months, I have been staying idle without job. How could I feed my family? I know it is dangerous work, but what can I do? I have no other option.'"

"Gaza's Flourishing Tunnel Trade" - electronic intifada
"Gaza's Tunnel Economy" - Al Jazeera [ENGLISH]
"Gaza's Tunnel Smugglers Stay Busy" - Christian Science Monitor
"Gaza's Smugglers Going Legit" - Palestine Media Center
"Gaza Tunnels Become an Industry" - BBC

"Gaza Tunnels" - Journeyman.tv/You Tube

Reuters photo gallery of Gaza tunnels

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tuque Souq book alert: "L'art arabe"

The book L'Art arabe d'après les monuments du Kaire depuis le VIIe siècle jusqu'à la fin du XVIIIe is a collection of extremely rare engravings, plates and lithographs that were collected by the 19th century French historian Prisse d'Avennes.

It is well worth a look for anyone interested in one of the most unusual collections of images from the Arab world. It seems Napoleon Bonaparte brought along 60 or so artists with him in his campaigns in Egypt and the Middle East. Those artists rendered hundreds of images over the years to follow, even staying long after Napoleon was through with the region. They were charged with illuminating the treasures of Arabic art from the seventh century onward.

It took the historian d'Avennes two decades to collect the works of these artists and transform them onto plates and other media for preservation in the volumes of his book.

To see many of the images online, visit the digital archive of the New York Public Library for a show. You won't be disappointed.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Total U.S. aid to Israel: at least $114 Billion

$56 billion in military grants, $1.5 billion in immigration aid, $17 billion in falafel options... okay, that last one is made up.

A study by the Washington Report on Middle East affairs has calculated that the conservative, defencible US-dollar estimate of total American aid to Israel since Israel's creation in 1948 is $114 billion, at least half of which is military aid (free or subsidized planes, tanks and automobiles, etc) and most of the rest of which are the yearly wire transfers from the American treasury right into Israel's.

The study notes a few caveats regarding why the $114bn is probably an understatement:

"It is an estimate because arriving at an exact figure is not possible, since parts of U.S. aid to Israel are a) buried in the budgets of various U.S. agencies, mostly that of the Defense Department (DOD), or b) in a form not easily quantifiable, such as the early disbursement of aid, giving Israel a direct benefit in interest income and the U.S. Treasury a corresponding loss."

"It must be emphasized that this analysis is a conservative, defensible accounting of U.S. direct aid to Israel, NOT of Israel’s cost to the U.S. or the American taxpayer, nor of the benefits to Israel of U.S. aid. The distinction is important, because the indirect or consequential costs suffered by the U.S. as a result of its blind support for Israel exceed by many times the substantial amount of direct aid to Israel."

The notes of the report cite for further reading an earlier WRMEA article (from 2003) by Thomas R. Stauffer, "The Costs to American Taxpayers of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: $3 Trillion."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

3 Canadian torture victims get hosed by Iacobucci Report

Three Canadian citizens - Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin - were tortured by foreign intelligence officials in Syria and Egypt on suspicion of ties to international terrorism.

The three were deemed "imminent threats" by the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), which transferred questionable intelligence on the 3 men to American and Middle Eastern agencies, who in turn facilitated the torture of the men. Unlike the Maher Arar case, in which Arar was "renditioned" to Syria for torture, Almalki, El Maati and Nureddin all travelled to the Middle East on their own and were then detained at the request of Canadian officials.

In the case of El Maati, after he was tortured by the Syrians and the Egyptians, and just as the Egyptians were set to release him - having either beaten satisfactory confessions out of him or become satisfied that he wasn't actually a terrorist - Canadian officials sent word to Egypt to delay his release.

In an investigation whose report was just released, former Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci reprimanded Canadian authorities for lax attention to protocol and law, and deemed the "imminent threat" charge to have been a serious overstatement. But Iacobucci's report stopped way short of blaming anyone in the RCMP, CSIS or the Canadian government for this ordeal, said that margin for error in "imminent threat" cases was so thin that authorities had to err on the side of caution, and refused to demand an official government apology.

Iacobucci says the government and its agencies must do a better job of protecting civil and human rights of its citizens, no matter what they are alleged to have done. He repeatedly used the term "deficiencies" to describe the murky state of our counter-terrorism efforts.

But no intelligence or government official is going to read Iacobucci's report and start shaking in his boots. Nobody is staring down a pointed finger, and no one will sit before a tribunal and have to explain his actions that led to the torture of innocent men. The government will not issue an apology while the 3 men pursue civil suits for their mistreatment, which means we won't hear a peep for years to come. Iacobucci's recommendations for a "better job" seem to suggest only that these officials not do this again. Nobody seems terribly startled that erring on the side of caution equals erring on the side of torture.

Read the full report - oh wait, I mean 80% of the full report, as 20% was stricken by the Federal Government for national security reasons [PDF].

This posting has been brought to you by the "Right Now Our Government Is Doing Things We Think Only Other Governments Do" department.

The Yemeni Jewish orphan who became President - of Yemen

A Yemeni Jewish orphan who grew up to be President - of Yemen. An Israeli family that lost part of its history. A brutal war that saw Egypt gas its fellow Arabs. A poverty-stricken country divided by the political ideologies of the Cold-War Middle East.

If it sounds like a helluva story, that's because it is. Unfortunately you have to be in Israel to read all of it. The Hebrew-language monthly - Mishpaha - that published it doesn't have much of an online presence. But happily a good portion of it was re-published in English in Ha'aretz.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hezbollah lines up new leadership (in Israel's crosshairs)

The application process for the job of Hezbollah deputy leader/corpse-in-waiting is now closed. The job description includes: Running guns across borders; bribing Syrian officials; must be camera shy; bushy salt-and-pepper beard recommended; Farsi-speaker preferred; Sunnis need not apply.

Seriously, though. Amid reports that both Iran and Syria are gently tugging its reins, and facing the omnipresent threat of Israel's targeted assassinations, the radical Shi'ite redemptive social movement/political party/terrorist group (take your pick) is getting its leadership affairs in order.

Mohammed Rida Zahidi is now Hezbollah's "Number Two," replacing Imad Mughniyah [pictured above], who was killed in a massive car bomb in February in Damascus that was almost indisputably attributed to Israel's Mossad spy agency. Taking over for Mughniyah means Zahidi will be in charge of running weapons and munitions from Syria into Hezbollah's strongholds in Lebanon, and liaising with the Iranians who, it is said, supply those weapons. Oh, it might be worth mentioning that Zahidi [no photo is available] is Iranian.

In related news, Hezbollah supreme leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah [also pictured] has appointed his cousin, Hashim Safi al-Din [also not pictured], as chairman of the group's Executive Council, which effectively means that al-Din would succeed Nasrallah should the latter meet the wrong end of an Israeli missile.

Nasrallah was formerly the chairman of the Executive Council. He moved up to become Hezbollah's supreme leader when his predecessor, Sheikh Abbas al-Mousawi, met the wrong end of an Israeli missile in February, 1992.

In al-Arabiya's coverage of Who Killed Mughniyah?, is it noted that after Israel took out al-Mousawi in 1992, Hezbollah responded by blowing up the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, killing 29. The world has been bracing for Hezbollah's response to Mughniyah's death (so far there's been nothing that we know of).

The Tuque Souq wonders: Who's next?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Egyptian editor sentenced, then pardoned, after questioning Mubarak's health

Egyptian president-for-life (in sickness and in health, till death do us part) Hosni Mubarak has pardoned the editor-in-chief of one of the country's main opposition newspapers after he was arrested for questioning Mubarak's state of health.

Ibrahim Issa [pictured], head of the al-Dustour daily newspaper and a well-known critic of the government, was incarcerated in 2007 and recently sentenced to 2 years in prison after publishing an editorial [ARABIC] that criticized the Mubarak regime for concealing from all Egyptian citizens the leader's health.

Mr. Issa wrote: "The president in Egypt is a god and gods don’t get sick. Thus, President Mubarak, those surrounding him, and the hypocrites hide his illness and leave the country prey to rumors. It is not a serious illness. It’s just old age. But the Egyptian people are entitled to know if the president is down with something as minor as the flu."

He continued, again with some sarcasm: "The [Egyptian] state wants to present him as a sacred person who never errs, with whom nobody competes. So he definitely cannot fall ill. And nobody should even dare to think he can die like other human beings! The issue now, however, involves the country’s present and future. As everyone knows, the president’s family and Mrs. Mubarak have been pushing for the president to give up power—during his lifetime—and pass it to his son Gamal. The president is the only member of the family who resists this idea either because he wishes to stay in power or because he’s worried about antagonizing the Egyptian people and some important army generals."

[Read the full translation of Mr. Issa's article.]

According to the BBC, the Egyptian authorities originally justified the arrest of Mr. Issa by citing national security issues, saying that his editorial "fuelled malicious rumours and scared away foreign investors."

Mubarak's pardon of Issa came on October 6, an Egyptian national holiday commemorating the 1973 war against Israel, now a date on which the president traditionally grants clemency.

Egypt has an infamous record of harassing and jailing journalists and bloggers, and almost all of its major news outlets are state-controlled. Normally the Mubarak government's suppression of media is concerned with the Muslim Brotherhood. But no government critic - not even in the blogosphere - is safe in Egypt.

Reporters Without Borders has Egypt on its list of "Internet Enemies" especially for targeting bloggers. In one of the most famous incidents of state crackdown, Mubarak's government set up a sting to entrap and arrest homosexuals in Egypt, who communicate via blogs because of strict laws against homosexuality.

The health of Mubarak, now 80 years old, has long been kept in secrecy. His son, Gamal, is tapped to succeed him, not necessarily democratically.

[UPDATE: Right about the time this post went live, the New York Times ran a front-page story about how the U.S. presidential hopefuls have been less than forthcoming about their medical/health status.]

Friday, October 17, 2008

Arab Pride Festival Oct 18 in Toronto

The Canadian Arab Federation (CAF) annual Heritage Day and Arab Pride Festival is this Saturday, October 18 at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre. The event promises great food, film screenings, belly dancing workshops, an authentic Souq, and a tribute to the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish [pictured].

Find out more here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Canadian oil is fine," says McCain

Canada's worst fear: We're not foreign!

In an exchange at tonight's third and final US Presidential debate, on the subject of America's addiction to "foreign oil," Senator John McCain let loose a quip that sends shudders down the spines of Canadians. McCain noted that America needs to reduce its reliance on Middle Eastern oil and on Venezuelan oil. "But Canadian oil is fine." He went on to allege that if America gets tough with Canada - tries to lump Canada in with those "foreign oil" places, as McCain accuses Senator Barack Obama of doing - then "Canada will turn around and sell that oil to China."

Was that a subtle threat? If we sell our oil to China, will we get an Operation Canadian Freedom up our *ss?

And will the Canadian oil market surge tomorrow on the strength of McCain's plan to annex Canada? Stay tuned.

Syria to open embassy in Beirut, BBQ planned for opening night

Syria's recent presidential decree that it will open up an embassy in Beirut is kind of like the arsonist who burned down your house then inviting himself over for a barbecue afterward.

[That's Syria's decreer, President Bashar al-Assad, pictured.]

Some analysts see it as a sign that al-Assad is growing moderate, and that he's willing to live and let Lebanon live, per se.

For those of you just joining the Syrian-Lebanese political mini-series, here's a quick recap of previous episodes:

Syria invaded Lebanon in 1976 to help save Lebanon from itself and its bloody civil war and simultaneous war against the PLO and the Israeli invasion and the American intervention and... well, it was a mess.

Syria's military occupation of Lebanon, backed by 27,000 Syrian troops on Lebanese soil, lasted from 1976 until 2005. It ended not coincidentally just after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri - seen by many as the one man who could keep Lebanon's fractious political society from imploding on itself - which most people blamed on Syria.

After the death of al-Hariri and the departure of Syrian forces came a string of other assassinations in Lebanon:
  • anti-Syria journalist Samir Qassir (June 2005);
  • George Hawi, a Lebanese communist and anti-Syria activist (June 2005);
  • Gibran Tueni, the publisher of the major newspaper An-Nahar, often critical of Syria (December 2005);
  • Abu Hamza, an Islamic Jihad leader (May 2006);
  • Pierre Gemayel, anti-Syria parliamentarian and son of former Lebanese President Amin Gemayel (November 2006);
  • Walid Eido, anti-Syria MP (June 2007);
  • Antoine Ghanem, anti-Syria MP (September 2007);
  • Wissam Eid, a police captain leading the investigation of the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri (January 2008).
With the exception of Abu Hamza, who was almost certainly killed by the Israelis, the rest of this body count lies with Syria's clandestine guns, which haven't yet been found smoking.

So, with Syria inviting itself over to Lebanon once again, the Tuque Souq wonders: Are bygones really bygones, or will the new Syrian embassy in Beirut re-ignite the fire?

Election Re-Cap: Arab-Canadian candidates face tough times at ballot box

The Tuque Souq deplores the 58% nationwide voter turnout even more than we lament the results in our own riding and the nationwide result.

But enough pontificating... on to the results of the many Arab-Canadians running for the 40th Parliament:

Samira Laouni, thought to be Canada's first candidate for federal parliament to wear a hijab, finished 4th as the NDP's candidate in the riding of Bourassa, QC.

Palestinian-Canadian Zahia El-Masri, a single mother and also an NDP candidate, likewise finished 4th in the riding Laval-Les Isles, QC.

Nourredine Seddiki, born in Algeria, running on the NDP ballot in the riding of Bas-Richelieu-Nicolet-Becancour, QC, finished 4th.

Rachid Arab, a Lebanese-Canadian and NDP tag in Surrey North (B.C.), narrowly lost to popular Tory Dona Cadman.

The Greens' Tony Hajj, a Lebanese-Canadian, running in Calgary-Nose Hill, finished a very respectable second runner-up.

In the Ottawa-South riding, the Green Party's Dr. Qais Ghanem, a Yemeni-born Canadian, finished 4th. Conservative and Lebanese-Canadian Elie Salibi finished a distant 2nd to Liberal David McGuinty.

Samir Sleiman, a Lebanese-Canadian running in Edmonton-St. Albert with the Liberals, finished 3rd behind the Tories and the NDP.

As for le Bloc, candidate Farid Salem, an Algerian-Canadian in the Liberal fortress riding of Saint Leonard-Saint Michel, finished 3rd. Lebanese-born Maria Moulani, the incumbent in the Ahuntsic riding, barely held her seat by the razor-thin margin of 142 votes (0.3%).

But another Arab-Canadian incumbent wasn't so lucky. In a race whose count went deep into the night, Omar Alghabra, the Liberal incumbent in Mississauga-Erindale who is originally from Syria, lost to former and now once again Tory MP Bob Dechert.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Israel, Lebanon back to war - this time over Hummus

In a Middle East dispute that - for a change - has nothing to do with Hezbollah, the head of a consortium of Lebanese food companies is planning to file an international lawsuit against Israel for a violation of food copyright.

The children of this gastronomical custody battle include such traditional Middle Eastern fare as Hummus, Falafel, Baba Ghanouj, Fattoush, Kibbeh and Tabbouleh. Fadi Aboud, president of the Lebanese Industrialists Association, claims that Israel is marketing the intellectual property of its neighbour as its own, costing the Lebanese millions of dollars in lost revenue and brand (mis-)identity.

"The Israelis are marketing such Lebanese delicacies under the same [Lebanese] names and ingredients around the world," Mr. Aboud said (quoted in Ha'aretz). "This is harming and causing great losses to Lebanon."

The lawsuit - which apparently is no joke - will seek to make these Middle Eastern dishes exclusively "Lebanese."

The great legal lynchpin in the case has to be the precedent of Feta, the Greek cheese which, after a successful 2002 lawsuit between Greece and Denmark, is now officially a Greek Cheese. It seems the Greeks were able to demand that the appellation "Feta" only apply to the stuff originating in Greece and from Greek sheep; all knockoffs must be called something like Farmer Murray's Salty White Crumbly Curds.

In the same way, those alimental autocrats in France have lobbied for exclusive rights to the term "champagne" (being a sparkling white from the Champagne region of France). Make a champagne in Napa and you have to use a euphemism.

Back to the mezze. Why should Lebanon get naming rights to what is eaten from Cairo to Baghdad, Istanbul to Tel Aviv to Sana'a (and around the world)? Much as Beirut is (or was once) the Paris of the Middle East, so Lebanon is the Champagne of Arab cuisine, with the best restaurants, the best chefs, and the best marketing. (The Tuque Souq has visited "Lebanese" restaurants in many cities, including Arab ones like Amman, Jerusalem and Ramallah.)

Yet much as they can claim to be the best at Middle Eastern fare, the Lebanese can hardly claim to be the originators. Falafel may have been invented in Egypt, and has already been the subject of dispute between Israel and Palestine. Syria could claim Tabbouleh. Hummus is at least 900 years old in the region (Lebanon is 150 years old), and the staple Chick Pea probably originated in eastern Turkey. (And Australia of all places is now the world's second-largest exporter of Garbanzos.) We've seen "Israeli couscous" marketed all over the place, but we know couscous came from North Africa.

Then again, the tomato's origin is nowhere near southern Italy, but we generally credit the Italians with perfecting its use in the pursuit of gustatory ecstasy. So why not give the Lebanese credit for all things chick pea?

Unfortunately, there's likely no pure justice in this dispute. The Tuque Souq believes that if you polled Middle Eastern countries on who should get culinary rights to hummus, the final tally would be:

Lebanon: 1 vote
Israel: 1 vote
Palestine: 1 vote
Syria: 1 vote
Egypt: 1 vote
Jordan: 1 vote

Hence, it seems (Hummus) War is the only option.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Canada Votes October 14, 2008!

The Tuque Souq makes no endorsements, save those of great democracy and great freedom toward which endlessly we strive and idealize. May our election day be a great day for those ideals.

But let it not be ignored that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has an unabashedly one-sided approach to Middle East politics and diplomacy, which stands in contravention of the ideals of most Canadians. His immigration policy, which aims to put undue power in the hands of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, is rooted in Harper's long-held xenophobic belief that immigration should "not radically or suddenly alter the ethnic makeup of Canada."

Why should you not vote for Harper and his Tories? Check here, and here, and here, and here, and then take a journey back to 2005 with this article from The Tyee about Harper's neo-con connections, Dubya-like political philosophy, and see just how many of these musings and prognostications are actually true today about Harper and the direction he's taken Canada.

As for the other parties, the Tuque Souq posted earlier excerpts from their platforms regarding Middle East policy.

You might also want to have a look at the Liberal Party response to a questionnaire put to all the parties by the Canadian Arab Federation - and note the only part of the letter that is underlined.

(The Liberals were the only party to respond to CAF's query - that's a plus; but the Liberals are in hot water with CAF over Ken Dryden's comments on Gaza - that's a minus.)

In more Tuque Souq news, the following are candidates with Middle East backgrounds standing for election to parliament tomorrow.

New Democratic Party parliament hopefuls include Rachid Arab, a Lebanese-Canadian who is running in the riding of Surrey North (B.C.). Nourredine Seddiki, born in Algeria, is running on the NDP ballot in the riding of Bas-Richelieu-Nicolet-Becancour (Quebec).

One of the most talked-about candidates in Quebec is Moroccan-born Samira Laouni, running in the riding of Bourassa. Ms. Laouni [pictured] proudly wears a hijab, which has made her the subject of swelling media attention and controversy during this election.

Palestinian Zahia El-Masri, a single mother, is an NDP candidate in Laval-Les Isles, Quebec.

Omar Alghabra, the Liberal incumbent in Mississauga-Erindale, is originally from Syria. Also on the Liberal ticket is Samir Sleiman, a Lebanese-Canadian running in Edmonton-St. Albert.

Dr. Qais Ghanem, a Yemeni-born Canadian, is running on the Green Party ticket in Ottawa-South. Dr. Ghanem is running against another Arab-Canadian, Elie Salibi of the Conservative Party who is originally from Lebanon. The Ottawa-South race figures to be very interesting. The NDP candidate is Hijal De Sarkar, a 24-year-old poli-sci student at Carleton University. The two-term incumbent in Ottawa-South is the Liberals' David McGuinty.

Other Green Party candidates include Akbar Manoussi, an Iranian-born Canadian, running in Ottawa-Vanier, and Tony Hajj, a Lebanese-Canadian, running in Calgary-Nose Hill.

And then there's everyone's favourite petit parti souverainiste, le Bloc, which has on its candidate list Farid Salem, an Algerian-Canadian, in the riding of Saint Leonard-Saint Michel. Lebanese-born Maria Moulani is the incumbent on the Bloc ticket in the Ahuntsic riding.

For more on Arab Canadians, their candidates and how they made vote, check out this article from Al Jazeera [ENGLISH].

As for predictions, the Tuque Souq has high hopes for a dismal fourth-place showing by the Tories in our home riding of Parkdale-High Park, but will stop short of predicting a 1-2-3 finish (in some order) for the NPD, Greens and Grits.

When it comes to knowledge of Middle East issues, we have some confidence in NDP candidate Peggy Nash [pictured], who's been on official visits to the Middle East several times and participated in the opposition parties' fact-finding mission to Lebanon after the '06 Israel-Hezbollah war, which was sharply critical of the Harper government. (Ms. Mourani, the aforementioned Bloc MP, also went on this trip.)

Liberal candidate Gerard Kennedy, who was at the time running for the party leadership, had a more measured critique of the war and Canada's involvement.

Rob Rishchynski of the Green Party, running in Parkdale-High Park, like his party has nothing much to say about the Middle East.

Prediction for Parkdale-High Park:
1. Peggy Nash, NDP (in a squeaker)
2. Gerard Kennedy, Liberal Party
3. Jilian Saweczko, Conservative Party
4. Rob Rishchynski, Green Party
5. Terry Parker, Marijuana Party
6. Lorne Gershuny, Marxist-Leninist Party
7. Andrew Borkowski, Christian Heritage Party

At the federal level, like most others we're predicting a lazy Tory victory and subsequent minority government (again), something that looks like:

1. Conservatives: 129 seats
2. Liberals: 78 seats
3. Bloc Quebecois: 54 seats
4. NDP: 42 seats
5. Greens/Independents/Others: 5 seats

Don't like it? Well, get out the good vote and change it!

"There is one safeguard known generally to the wise, which is an advantage and security to all, but especially to democracies as against despots. What is it? Distrust." - Demosthenes

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Toronto Palestine Film Festival

Opening October 25, the Toronto Palestine Film Festival is "an important component of the year-long activities commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the Nakba. Cinema represents a powerful means for visually interpreting the collective identity and historic struggle of the Palestinian people. The Festival will present in film the extraordinary narrative of a dispossessed people living in exile or under Israeli occupation."

TPFF will showcase 36 films (22 of them premiers), including:
  • the award-winning Hanna Elias feature "The Olive Harvest" (2003; one of the all-time great Palestinian films);
  • a documentary on the late Palestinian poet laureate Mahmoud Darwish titled "As the Land is Language";
  • a new film by Mohammed Bakri ("Jenin, Jenin") called "Since You Left";
  • the long-awaited "Slingshot Hip-hop" about Palestinian artists;
Advanced tickets are available at Toronto Women's Bookstore (Spadina and Harbord) or the National Film Board (NFB) office (John and Richmond). More ticket info here.

Bloor Cinema, 506 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Revue Cinema, 400 Roncesvalles Avenue, Toronto
NFB Cinema, 150 John Street, Toronto
AMC Courtney Park 16 Theatre, 110 Courtney Park Drive, Mississauga

TPFF runs from October 25-November 1.

Friday, October 10, 2008

If democracy were a hockey team, what position would Hamas play?

If democracy were a hockey team, then Hamas would be the Bulgarian goalie who gave up 82 goals in one game.*

(Just go with me on this one...)

In an editorial commentary [ENGLISH] on the news site that is all but Hamas' official website - the Palestine Information Center - columnist Khalid Amayreh blasts the West Bank Fatah government's call for new, nationwide democratic elections as a "propagandist gambit" and a "sabotage" of democracy.

On the one hand, the article correctly cites various studies and sources which have concluded that Fatah elements backed by allies in the U.S. and Israel have conspired to foment civil unrest (if not all out war) ever since Hamas won the polls in the 2006 Palestinian elections. Mr. Amayreh calls the violent Hamas take-over of Gaza last summer a "counter-coup," arguing that:

"Fatah today remains the same Fatah that only reluctantly and under American pressure agreed to allow general elections to take place in 2006 and only because Fatah leaders seemed then certain they would win.

"However, when Hamas won the polls by a wide margin, Fatah couldn’t swallow the bitter bill and decided to embark on every conceivable act of sabotage in order to undercut Hamas and destabilize its rule. Some observers believe that Fatah took a secret decision to bring the would-be Hamas government down as soon as elections results were announced."

True, what happened after Hamas won the democratic elections of 2006 (and the fact that Hamas won is the surest sign of democracy in action) - the cinching of foreign aid, the polarization of Palestinian society, the bloody street battles between the factions - was certainly aided by Fatah's sore-losership.

But then again, the fact that Hamas participated in elections after erstwhile boycotting all Palestinian attempts at government smacks of political opportunism, not faith in democracy.

Mr. Amayreh also cites an overheard secret tape of the former Fatah strongman in Gaza, Mohammed Dahlan, telling comrades before the '06 election that he'll set Gaza "on fire" if Hamas wins.

Well that, too, is what happened. And it is no coincidence that, after more than a year of bloody skirmishes between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza, it was when Dahlan left for medical treatment in Egypt in June of '07 that Hamas went on the total offensive and overwhelmed Fatah troops in a matter of days, setting up what is basically a totalitarian "Hamastan" in the Gaza Strip.

None of this changes the fact that Hamas rightly won the elections in '06, nor does it change the probability that, should new elections actually happen now (if they even could happen fairly), and should Hamas win again, Fatah (and Israel, and the U.S.) would become even more desperate - perhaps more violent - in its attempt to crush Hamas and in the process take Palestine further away from peace and the end of the brutal Israeli occupation.

But what also must not be obscured is the fact that neither Hamas - nor Palestine partly because of Hamas - is operating as a democracy now. Yes, like that poor Bulgarian goalie, Hamas at least skated in the game. They are still skating occassionally: recently Hamas conducted a clandestine ballot to re-elect its Gaza leadership. But they aren't all-stars, much as they would have us believe.

And, as long as we're having fun with the hockey metaphor, if democracy were a hockey team, America would be Sean Avery, Israel would be Todd Bertuzzi's hit on Steve Moore, Sweden would certainly be Mats Sundin, and Iraq would be Jacque Plante's face. Canada would probably be Theoren Fleury. And Fatah would have to be Roy Keane.

* Actually, the Bulgarian starting goalie gave up 77 goals, then the backup let in the remaining 5 in the final 1 minute, 25 seconds.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Stephen Harper's Algerian Wine Collection

The folksy news-gatherers at Canadian Press compiled a partial list of all the gifts and freebies that PM Stephen Harper has received from foreign dignitaries since taking office, as the federal ethics commissioner is investigating whether Harper properly declared their value.

Among the goodies underneath the prime ministerial Xmas tree:
  • Cowboy boots embossed with Harper's initials and the Canadian and American flags, from George W. Bush;
  • A box of silk ties from Italy's Silvio Berlusconi;
  • A Blackberry from Uganda's Yoweri Museveni;
  • A tea set from Russia's Viktor Zubkov;
  • A leather case full of dates from Tunisia's Zine al-Abedine ben Ali;
  • 2 cases of Algerian wine from Algeria's Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Harper should be so lucky. Algerian wine, once upon a time, had a fabulous reputation for its quality. Production has diminished since the end of brutal French colonial rule, and nowadays it's virtually impossible to find a bottle outside of France. But a couple of sources note that Algeria's coastal wine regions are making a comeback. Check out more at AlgeriaWines.com.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Media giant CanWest slaps SLAPP suit on Palestinian activists

Notoriously pro-Israel media conglomerate CanWest Global Communication filed a lawsuit against at least 3 Vancouver activists who allegedly produced a pro-Palestine parody of a Vancouver Sun issue last year.

CanWest owns the Vancouver Sun as well as dozens of other media outlets, including Global TV, the National Post, canada.com, and almost all dailies and weeklies in the Vancouver area.

From the website of the Seriously Free Speech Committee, organized to help defend and raise awareness about the issue:

"In June 2007, the Palestine Media Collective produced and distributed 12,000 copies of a newspaper parody of the Vancouver Sun that satirized Canwest’s anti-Palestinian bias... Canwest has launched an unprecedented civil lawsuit against local activists... for “conspiring” to produce and distribute a four-page parody of the Vancouver Sun’s satirising Canwest’s biased coverage of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories."

[Watch the video clip explaining the case here.]

Update: Somali Pirates vs Ukranian Arms Ship

This photograph more than underpins the David v. Goliath metaphor for the Somalia pirates versus the world's shipping - in this case, the ongoing saga of the Ukrainian arms vessel MV Faina whose ransom is currently being negotiated in the $8m-$20m range.

[Photograph from Al-Arabiya, with an article about the UN debate on combating Somali piracy.]

In related news, Voice of America radio has a good report on how two rival pirate groups may have seized the MV Faina - loaded with military weaponry bound for Kenya or possibly separatists in southern Sudan - and then got into a gun fight with each other. [Download MP3]

And we enjoyed this article from the BBC on the port of Eyl in Somalia's Puntland region, the local Tortuga-like pirate haven.

As always, keep up with the Tuque's Souq's Somali Piracy watch here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

April Fools (according to the Persian calendar)

According to the Times Online, an Iranian news agency's claim that the Islamic Republic's military had forced down a U.S. war plane and interrogated its crew may have been a hoax.

According to the article, the Fars News Agency reported today that an American plane accidentally entered Iranian airspace and was forced to land, whereupon officials questioned the crew until satisfied that the invasion of airspace was accidental.

After the Pentagon went nuts for a few hours trying to account for all of its planes in the region, it finally issued a statement claiming the Iranian story was false, and then news leaked from Iranian military sources that the plane in question was not an American war plane but a Hungarian commercial plane, and that the whole incident happened a week ago.

Anybody know the Persian word for "Gotcha!" ?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Dubai ex-pat Hockey League laces up for new season

The Tuque Souq is primed and ready for another NHL season, and the crisp, cool October air filling the room at night has us dreaming of Luongo's butterfly, Phaneuf's crushing checks, Heatley's wrist shots and Kovalev's antics (yes, and even the Leafs).

The air must be similar over in the United Arab Emirates, because another season of the Dubai Mighty Camels - the common nickname for the UAE Ice Hockey League - is on its way soon.

The defending champs are the ECFT "Canadians" [that's their logo pictured] who took home last year's Dubai Mighty Camel Cup after an 18-5-1 season that saw them score a league-high 157 goals.

(ECFT stands for Emirates CAE Flight Training; CAE stands for Canadian Aviation Electronics, a Montreal company founded in 1947 that provides civilian and military flight training.)

ECFT captain Ron Murphy was surely the season MVP last year, leading all players with 61 goals and 58 assists. [Click here for full standings and stats from last season.]

The 7-"herd" league is made up of mostly Canadian and American ex-pats living in Dubai, which is also home to a recreational hockey club for ex-pats.

The Tuque Souq will keep you posted on the season.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Candidates debate who loves Israel more, Iran less, can pronounce Ah-ma-dee-nuh-jad

For all the cosmetic make-up of the roundtable format of the Canadian election debates - which helps the candidates be nicer to each other, look at each other deferentially, perhaps invite each over for dinner after the show - happily our candidates don't have to take time out from real issues to pander to one recurring sideshow:

Senator Joe Biden:

"[N]o one in the United States Senate has been a better friend to Israel than Joe Biden."

"Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be very, very destabilizing. They are more than - they are not close to getting a nuclear weapon that's able to be deployed."

Governor Sarah Palin:

"An armed, nuclear armed especially Iran is so extremely dangerous to consider. They cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons period. Israel is in jeopardy of course when we're dealing with Ahmadinejad as a leader of Iran. Iran claiming that Israel as he termed it, a stinking corpse, a country that should be wiped off the face of the earth. Now a leader like Ahmadinejad who is not sane or stable when he says things like that is not one whom we can allow to acquire nuclear energy, nuclear weapons."

"A statement that he [Obama] made like that is downright dangerous because leaders like Ahmadinejad who would seek to acquire nuclear weapons and wipe off the face of the earth an ally like we have in Israel should not be met with without preconditions and diplomatic efforts being undertaken first."

"Israel is our strongest and best ally in the Middle East. We have got to assure them that we will never allow a second Holocaust, despite, again, warnings from Iran and any other country that would seek to destroy Israel, that that is what they would like to see."

"We will support Israel. A two-state solution, building our embassy, also, in Jerusalem, those things that we look forward to being able to accomplish, with this peace-seeking nation, and they have a track record of being able to forge these peace agreements."

More analysis soon.

[Full US VP debate transcript here.]