Thursday, October 31, 2013

Reporting From the Inside: Interview with Ali Mustafa


Upping the Anti

By Stefan Christoff

Today, Syria is on the verge of collapse. What began as a grassroots protest movement, inspired by revolutionary action in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere in the Middle East, is now a bloody civil war. As media headlines focus on the armed aspects of the battle against the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, there is a sustained popular resistance being waged in Syria that is not being fully reported. 

Independent journalist Ali Mustafa traveled to Syria earlier this year to witness the war and provide a firsthand perspective on what is happening on the ground. Stefan Christoff interviewed Ali Mustafa in July 2013 about his two-month trip and his views on the potential for solidarity between Syrians and radical activists in North America.

Can you first introduce yourself and outline the goals for your recent trip to Syria?

I’m a Toronto-based freelance journalist who has been covering events in the Middle East for some years now. I traveled to Syria in March of 2013 for two months, returning to Canada in May.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Film Review: Dirty Wars


Canadian Dimension

By Ali Mustafa

Dirty Wars
Directed by Rick Rowley

In Dirty Wars, acclaimed investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill takes on what is likely the most important story of his career. Directed by award-winning filmmaker Rick Rowley, the film follows Scahill to Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and beyond to reveal a new kind of frontline in the global ‘war on terror’—one led by a secret army in the shadows where the basic rules of war do not apply. According to Scahill, “this is a story about the seen and unseen, and about things hidden in plain sight.”

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Film Review: A Steady Lens and a Dangerous Weapon


Briarpatch Magazine

By Ali Mustafa

5 Broken Cameras
Directed by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi

As soon as residents of the Israeli-occupied West Bank village of Bil’in learned of plans to build a wall on their land to make way for a Jewish-only settlement in 2005, non-violent demonstrations erupted. During the same year, Emad Burnat, a local villager, purchased his first video camera to record the birth of his youngest son, Gibreel. From the beginning of the film 5 Broken Cameras, co-directed by Burnat and Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi, these two events are inextricably entangled.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The “Ultras” and the Egyptian Revolution – An Interview with Ali Mustafa


Left Hook

Left Hook: The Arab Spring is read by most people in the West as a pro-democracy movement that used social media to organize protests to oust a military dictator. Hosni Mubarak was removed from power more than two years ago. Can you give a bit of background on the political situation in Egypt right now? How much has really changed?

Ali Mustafa: Firstly, Egypt’s revolution is part of a long and ongoing process that is far from complete. More than two years after former dictator Hosni Mubarak was toppled, ordinary Egyptians are still taking to the street en masse to fight for bread, freedom, and social justice. Nothing has changed at all in that regard. In fact, mass protests, labour actions, and ongoing clashes with state security forces in opposition to the ruling regime have only intensified in recent months.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Kafka in the courts: The account of Canada’s longest-serving security certificate detainee


Egypt Independent
Photo credit: Ali Mustafa

By Ali Mustafa

TORONTO — Mohammad Mahjoub first arrived in Canada in December 1995, fleeing political persecution in his native Egypt, where he was imprisoned and tortured by the Hosni Mubarak regime. He was granted refugee status in 1996.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The 2012 Toronto Palestine Film Festival: A Preview


Toronto Media Co-op

By Ali Mustafa

The 2012 Toronto Palestine Film Festival (TPFF) is finally set to hit theatres this weekend. Launched in 2008 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of al nakba, TPFF aims to showcase the vibrant cultural heritage, resilience, and collective identity of the Palestinian people through film, art, and other events. In five short years, against all the odds, TPFF has quickly emerged as one of the city's premier film festival experiences. In a city with no shortage of noteworthy film festivals such as the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the International Diaspora Film Festival (IDFF), and Hot Docs, it is TPFF's community-based, activist roots that help distinguish it from many of its larger and more established counterparts.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Still In Search of Justice: The story of Security Certificate Detainee Mohammad Mahjoub


Toronto Media Co-op
Photo credit: Ali Mustafa

By Ali Mustafa and Tim Groves

“I have been in detention for 12 years without charge or trial... Why? I didn't commit any crime and I didn't do anything wrong, whether here or abroad. If I committed a crime, charge me and put me on trial, or release me. It's very simple – even people who commit murder get a fair trial,” says Mohammad Mahjoub, currently the longest serving security certificate detainee in Canada.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Egyptian Revolution Continues: An Interview with Hossam El-Hamalawy


photo credit: Ali Mustafa

By Ali Mustafa

Hossam el-Hamalawy is a leading Egyptian journalist, photographer, and socialist activist from Cairo who maintains the widely followed blog 3arabawy. He is also actively involved in the Revolutionary Socialists, the Center for Socialist Studies, and the Workers Democratic Party. I had the fortunate opportunity to sit down and talk with him about his views on the current state of the Egyptian revolution following the latest revolt in Tahrir Square this past November, arguably the fiercest and most important display of popular resistance to the ruling military regime to take place since the January 25th uprising that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak some ten month ago.

Ali Mustafa: The first parliamentary elections of the post-Mubarak era have just been staged against a backdrop of deadly clashes between state security forces and protesters in and around Tahrir Square that left at least 42 people dead and over 3000 injured. What exactly spurred the recent outbreak of violence and how do you think these surrounding circumstances affect the overall legitimacy of the elections?

Hossam el-Hamalawy: What triggered the uprising this time are the same conditions that also triggered the January uprising. There isn't much that has changed over the past months, so the objective conditions for the revolt were there; all we needed was the trigger, something to happen that would basically ignite the whole situation again. We've had this before. This is not the first time we've had these kind of confrontations. We had them on the 28th and 29th of June, and the main trigger is always police brutality – police brutality that will not go away any time soon because the Interior Ministry is still there as it is, and the regime is still there as it is. This uprising is not going to last forever and is fizzling down as we speak now, but I believe it's not going to be the last one. There will be more uprisings to follow in the future.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Comment: 'Editorial on the Crisis in Libya: Caught Between Qadafi and Imperialism'


The editorial to which this comment is directed can be found on the New Socialist webzine.

By Ali Mustafa

"If imperialist powers are able to impose their will in Libya, it will be a blow to the revolutionary wave in the country and beyond."

Yes, but so too would a massacre of rebels and civilians by Gadhafi forces.

This position puts us in a bit of a bind, does it not?

Obviously Western powers are guided by their own overall interests, but just because they choose not to intervene everywhere does it necessarily follow that they should not intervene anywhere, ever? This editorial fails to seriously explore this important question.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Crisis in Libya: Caught between Qadafi and Imperialism


Below is the original draft of an article about the current crisis in Libya that was co-written by myself as an editorial for the New Socialist webzine, where I am an editor. Because of some very minor political differences with the other editors, the final version that was published on the website is different in several ways from the piece as I originally intended it, particularly with regards to the slant of the final conclusions drawn. My preferred version being posted here reflects what I see as the appropriate tone, political nuances, and general complexity of the debate at hand. My goal here, somewhat different from the published editorial, is less about taking a definitive stance as it is about hoping to contribute in whatever way possible to the wider debate. Where my preferred version happens to diverge from the one published by the New Socialist webzine, all views expressed are my own and not necessarily those of the other editors. As always, any thoughts, questions, or comments are most welcome.   

By Ali Mustafa

The current popular uprising against Colonel Qadafi in Libya is part of a wider revolutionary wave occurring all across the Middle East and North Africa that deserves our unconditional support. Any victory of the Qadafi regime over the rebellion would no doubt represent a devastating blow not only to Libya's own future but to the revolutionary process in the region as a whole. As NATO's no-fly zone over Libya increasingly looks to transform into a long and protracted military operation, it is important now for social justice advocates across Canada, of all viewpoints, to reflect critically upon why the decision to intervene was made, who exactly stands to benefit, and what the likely consequences will be.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

From Democracy to Tyranny: Where Athenian Democracy Went Wrong


In the spirit of the revolutionary uprisings occuring all across the 'Arab World' I am sharing this piece I wrote about one particular model of democracy way back in 2006. I am not ashamed of it one bit, either! I welcome any feedback and comments with reference to the subject of 'democracy,' both historically or in a contemporary context.

By Ali Mustafa

Athenian democracy is widely accredited with the distinction of being the first known democracy, serving as the inspirational basis for many democratic models to follow. The degree of direct self-governance in ancient Athens was unprecedented and in many ways still remains unsurpassed. Widespread participation of the demos in legislative and judicial matters was the hallmark of Athenian democracy as well as its most lauded quality. Unlike modern ‘democracies’ where political influence never extends beyond the mere casting of a ballot, failing to regularly participate in administrative affairs in ancient Athens was seen as a gross violation of ones 'civic duty.' As Pericles, a notable Athenian demagogue, once declared: “We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all” (Held 2006, 14).

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

'No Fare is Fair': A Roundtable with Members of the Greater Toronto Workers' Assembly Transit Committee


photo credit: John Bonnar

By Ali Mustafa

The Greater Toronto Workers' Assembly (GTWA) is a promising new initiative aiming to build a united, non-sectarian, and militant anti-capitalist movement in the city among a diversity of rank-and-file labour unionists, grassroots community organizers, and youth alike. Since the GTWA's inception in early 2010, mass public transit has emerged as one of the organization's key political battlegrounds. In this in-depth roundtable discussion, members of the GTWA's transit committee Jordy Cummings, Lisa Leinveer, Leo Panitch, Kamilla Pietrzyk, and Herman Rosenfeld explore both the opportunities and obstacles facing the campaign Towards a Free and Accessible TTC.

Towards a Free and Accessible TTC became the first major campaign adopted by the GTWA. Why is mass public transit a key priority to the work and overall vision of the GTWA?

Herman Rosenfeld: Actually, it took about two assemblies before we endorsed this campaign. We took some time to evaluate different possible campaigns and, after that, we decided to choose transit as a priority. All working people – all people, really – should have the right to mobility and shouldn’t have to pay for it like any commodity. It should also be accessible to all people and not doled out according to how much money you have, which part of the city you happen to live in, or whether or not you are living with a disability. If we want to politicize people by putting forward a vision of a different kind of society, free and accessible transit has to be a part of that strategy.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Revolutionary Hope and Change Across the 'Arab World': 10 Questions with Gilbert Achcar


New Socialist

By Ali Mustafa

Gilbert Achcar is a Lebanese writer, socialist, and antiwar activist. He is also a professor of Development Studies and International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, and author most recently of The Arabs and the Holocaust: the Arab-Israeli War of Narratives. In this interview, he discusses the significance of the ongoing revolutionary wave of mass protests occuring across the Middle East with one of the New Socialist webzine editors Ali Mustafa.

Ali Mustafa: The Middle East has long been considered among the least likely places to see anything like a popular revolution. Arabs in particular have been traditionally understood as politically weak, apathetic, and now “not ready” for democracy. What do you believe these characterizations suggest about our basic understanding of the region and its people?

Gilbert Achcar: I think that the answer has now become obvious. The ongoing events shattered all theories claiming that democracy is not part of the 'cultural values' of Arabs or Muslims, and that the latter are instead culturally addicted to despotic regimes, and all such stupidities––there has been a lot of them indeed. Most of the time they are plainly racist, Orientalist, or Islamophobic; they may also be expressed by Western rulers as pretexts for catering to despotic regimes, their best friends. The uprisings, however, are no surprise for anybody who did not subscribe to these 'culturalist' views and knew that the longing for democracy and freedom is universal. People all over the world are willing to pay a high price in their fight for democracy when circumstances reach a point when they feel it is the right time to act.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Tribute to Tahrir Square: This is What Democracy Looks Like!


photo credit: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

By Ali Mustafa

"...The more late his decision to go away is, the more creative and more beautiful the revolution. So I want him to give us some more time to make a more beautiful revolution."
- pro-democracy protester in Tahrir Square, Ali El Mashad

Since the Egyptian revolution's first mass protests exploded throughout the country on January 25th, many so-called pundits and analysts have frantically struggled to find a suitable historical parallel in order to make sense of the situation to the outside world: France 1789; Iran 1979; and Tiananmen Square 1989 are just a few of the many analogies that have dominated popular discourse in the West. Meanwhile, the US government and its allies have predictably continued to emphasize familiar concerns over 'stability' and 'order,' the broader regional implications for neighboring Israel, and the specter of an 'Islamist' takeover. But it hardly matters to any of these foreign players, of course, that in the end the people of Tahrir Square and all across Egypt do not seem to be thinking about any of these concerns at all, nor do they particularly care about any ongoing speculation surfacing from outside of the country at the moment.

For the first time ever, perhaps, Egyptians have seen a genuine opportunity for freedom and refused to let it go, boldly defying a brutal and seemingly immovable thirty-year-old dictatorship and commencing to build in its place the foundation of a grassroots democracy that only continues to grow stronger every day. A new and vibrant democracy is being born in Egypt today against all odds, evolving live in front of a captured global audience in a way quite unlike ever before. The Egyptian revolution has to this point flourished as a truly non-violent, inclusive, and participatory democracy – and, most importantly, managed to do so without any appointed leaders, dominant ideologies, or easy slogans, except to say simply that the dictator must go.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Where Do We Go from Here? The G20 Summit, Black Bloc, and the Canadian Left


photo credit: Ali Mustafa

By Ali Mustafa

Public outcry continues to grow across Canada over the widespread abuse of civil liberties during the recent G20 Summit in Toronto. Over 1,000 people were rounded-up and arrested between June 26th- 27th, resulting in the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. While the majority of those arrested have since been released, at least 16 people remain under strict bail conditions and face a variety of serious criminal charges. Countless others who managed to avoid arrest were indiscriminately searched, detained for hours, and even violently attacked by police.

Monday, July 5, 2010

G20 Profile: Independent Journalist, Daniel Adam MacIsaac


photo credit: Ali Mustafa
By Ali Mustafa

“Sunday, June 27 is a day that I will never forget,” says Adam MacIsaac, an independent journalist and environmental activist from Prince Edward Island who came to Toronto to cover the G20 Summit for the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition.

He arrived at the G20 Alternative Media Centre (AMC) at some point between 9:30 – 10:00 PM. Visibly shaken, clothes in tatters, and soaking wet from the pouring rain outside, he begins to recount in detail what happened to him.

His ordeal is finally over, but his story is only beginning. Like several of his AMC colleagues, MacIsaac came to Toronto to cover the story of the G20 Summit and, unwittingly, became a part of the story instead.

Earlier that day, at approximately noon, MacIsaac was biking towards the G20 detention centre where he planned to record video footage of a ‘jail solidarity’ rally. Between the intersection of Bloor Street West and St. Thomas Street, MacIsaac witnessed police conducting illegal searches on a group of individuals.

He stopped, pulled out his video camera, and began to document the incident.

“I kept safe space for both the police and myself. I was then asked to back up. I had shown my pass [Alternative Media Centre pass] to show that I was media and not just a nosy person with a video camera. They then ripped my pass away and had also ripped my UN badge holder away from me, and said that this is not a legitimate media pass,” MacIsaac said.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rethinking Canada's Peacekeeping Myth


By Ali Mustafa

Yves Engler's latest book is an indispensable resource for students and activists alike, offering a sweeping indictment of Canadian foreign policy history in the Middle East that should not go unheeded.

Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid
by Yves Engler
168 pp, Fernwood/RED, $14.95 CAD

Countless books have been written to date on the Israel/Palestine question, exploring everything from the origins of the conflict and current obstacles to peace, to the role of the major world powers involved and vested interests at stake. But few books have yet to examine in any depth the nature of Canadian foreign policy in the Middle East, much less call into question the key political, economic, and ideological forces at play. Yves Engler's Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid not only succeeds on both counts but manages to do so with convincing authority, putting to rest the popular myth that Canada is, or has ever been, an 'honest broker' in the region.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Gaza Freedom Flotilla Attack: Arrogance of Power or Paranoia of Apartheid State on the Brink?


By Ali Mustafa

International outrage

Shock and outrage continues to grow worldwide over Israel's deadly attack on a humanitarian aid convoy bound for Gaza a week ago. Over 600 civilian activists from at least 40 different countries took part in the convoy, carrying 10,000 tons of vital aid, including food, medicine and medical equipment, reconstruction materials, as well as various other basic goods that are arbitrarily banned entry into Gaza by Israel. Israeli naval commandos raided all six ships of the convoy 70 nautical miles offshore in international waters, killing 9 people (8 of which were Turkish citizens) and seriously wounding others. Following the attack, hundreds of the activists were detained but have since been released and deported back home, along with the injured and the bodies of those killed.

Monday, March 22, 2010

'For Venezuela, There is No Going Back': A Discussion with Federico Fuentes and Kiraz Janicke


Upside Down World

By Ali Mustafa

As Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution enters a new decade of struggle and defiantly advances towards its goal of '21st Century Socialism,' serious challenges to the future of the process emerging from both inside and outside the country still abound. As a result, key questions surrounding Venezuela's mounting tensions with the West, the role played by its fiery and outspoken leader Hugo Chavez, and the future of the process itself remain as relevant today as ever before. Australian-based journalists and long-time Venezuela solidarity activists Federico Fuentes and Kiraz Janicke have been carefully following Venezuela's ongoing political transformation for several years now, countering mainstream media Spin and providing invaluable on-the-ground coverage and analysis about the process as it unfolds. I had the fortunate opportunity to sit down and speak with them both in Toronto before they were set to return to Caracas, following a 10-day Canadian solidarity tour.

Ali Mustafa: Over a decade now has passed since the beginning of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. Can you provide an overview of the type of gains that have been made since President Hugo Chavez has come to power and what Venezuela looks like today?

Federico Fuentes: Well, I think the first thing to note in regards to the gains that have been made in the 10 years of the Venezuelan Revolution is the huge improvement that has occurred in peoples' daily lives. The fact that the previously excluded majority of people now have access to free health care, free education, unemployment has fallen by more than half of what is was before, the level of poverty has decreased, and many other statistics and social indicators that show that general Venezuelan living standards have improved dramatically. But also extremely important has been the active political participation of people in daily life; we are talking about a country where, literally, something like 80 percent of the nation were excluded and felt that they were not represented at all by the sort of representative democracy and two party system that had existed.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Seeding Divestment: Carleton's Yafa Jarrar discusses BDS campaign


By Ali Mustafa

The divestment report urging Carleton University to divest from companies implicated in Israel's occupation and grave violations of human rights is a true gem for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The report's research, argumentation, corroboration and writing style are impeccable and deeply impressive. In making the case for divestment from Israel, the report from Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) combines the best of both worlds: the commitment to truth and justice of the most sincere and far-sighted human rights defenders and the piercing logic of the most able lawyers. SAIA's time-honoured commitment to just peace and international law, distinguished professionalism and creativity are truly inspiring. They build on the wonderful, pioneering divestment victory at Hampshire College last year to take divestment to the next level. This makes a superb model for the mushrooming divestment campaigns around the world.
The Global BDS Movement

The Dominion: How did the recent divestment campaign by SAIA-Carleton get started?

Yafa Jarrar: In the summer of 2009, SAIA-Carleton members started researching companies that Carleton’s Pension Fund invested in. SAIA was able to obtain a list, with the help of a faculty member who put forward the request. Of about 550 companies that contribute to the Pension Plan, five were found to be complicit in the occupation of Palestine and in violation of Palestinian human rights. These companies are BAE Systems, L-3 Communications, Motorola, Northrop Grumman, and Tesco. After rigorous research for seven months, SAIA found that each of these companies is actively involved in significant violations of international humanitarian law. SAIA-Carleton immediately decided to start a divestment campaign after learning of Carleton’s unethical investments in the illegal military occupation of Palestine.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The ROM Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit: Re/Mapping Identity, Culture, & Colonial Discourse


The Bullet
photo credit: Chelsey Lichtman

By Ali Mustafa
“He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.”
-George Orwell

Background summary

Even before the highly anticipated six-month, $3 million collaboration between the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) showcasing the Dead Sea Scrolls was officially launched in late June, the exhibit was already the subject of growing controversy. 'Dead Sea Scrolls: Words that Changed the World', as the exhibit is entitled, first attracted international attention in April when Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and executives at the ROM were each sent letters of protest from senior officials of the Palestinian Authority (PA) – signed by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Khouloud Diabes, respectively – declaring that the scrolls were in fact illegally seized by Israel following its occupation and subsequent annexation of the West Bank in 1967. The PA not only called for the repatriation of the scrolls but further argued that they merely represent one example of possibly millions of other artifacts that have been systematically looted by Israel from occupied Palestinian territory over several decades, a message that has since been echoed by a chorus of supportive community groups who continue to organize weekly pickets outside of the ROM in protest.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The MST & the Political Economy of Agrarian Reform in Brazil: 25 Years of Resistance to Neoliberal Rule


photo credit: Ali Mustafa

The following essay has been updated with a new section on the 'Lula' government and is now published, with full references, in the latest issue of Relay

This essay is dedicated to all my friends and comrades of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil. A special dedication with love and solidarity to: Osvaldo, Andreia, Aline, Ammine, Michel, Romolo, and Tim Balada of the Assentamento, Professor Luiz D. Macedo. Until we meet again soon. A luta continua!

By Ali Mustafa


Brazil is a country of glaring polarization, at once among the wealthiest (in terms of GDP) and most unequal (by any equivalent measure) in the world. Formally the last country to abolish slavery in 1888, Brazil officially became a republic one year later in 1889 following a long and brutal history of Portuguese colonial rule dating back to the early 1500s whose deep rooted legacy of corruption, clientelism, and impunity still endures to this day. The intense concentration of wealth and land distribution by the ancien regime amidst the extreme poverty and social exclusion of the urban and rural poor in Brazil today cannot be understood in isolation, but instead reflect a historical continuum that has seen colonial rule finally overcome only to inherit all of its essential qualities.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Democracy Undone: US Hegemony and Imperial Ambitions in Haiti


Another essay I wrote in 2007. This one is about the historical role of the US in undermining democracy in Haiti. A fully cited version is available upon request.

By Ali Mustafa

The small Caribbean nation of Haiti holds the unique distinction of being site to the only successful slave rebellion in history, resulting in its independence from colonial France and the establishment of the first ever black republic in 1804. A little over 200 years later, in the wake of its bicentennial, the promise and optimism that once marked the momentous occasion of Haiti’s improbable birth have eroded into growing disillusionment and ultimately given way to a new, much less flattering, distinction: the title of poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, with a per capita gross domestic product of just $218. Plagued by chronic underdevelopment, economic ruin, and social and political unrest almost since its inception, Haiti is not only far and away the poorest nation in the region but also one that registers among the sharpest contrasts between wealth and poverty in the entire world. What was once hailed by Christopher Columbus upon his arrival as ‘paradise on earth’ has now become a paradise lost, a place that few dare to go and many of its inhabitants wish to flee.

Russia After Communism: Elites, Oligarchs, and the New Dictatorship


Below is an essay I wrote a couple of years ago in 2007 about Russia's transition to 'democracy', which I think is worth sharing here. A fully cited version is available upon request.

By Ali Mustafa

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in the closing days of 1991 was an event as monumental as it was sudden. In what was surely one of the most historic events of the twentieth century, a vast empire occupying one-sixth of the earth’s surface splintered into fifteen new states virtually overnight and Communism as a global ideology found itself out of favor and in retreat. The end of the Cold War appeared to signal to many the uncontested supremacy of Western liberal democracy and had some even going so far as to announce, as one commentator boldly put it, “the end of history.” But what has been hailed by the West as the fall of Soviet totalitarianism and a triumphal victory for democracy and freedom has been met by ordinary Russians themselves with growing disillusionment, cynicism, and ironically a newfound appreciation for the security and order that was guaranteed under Soviet rule. The Soviet Union was undoubtedly one of the most brutal and repressive regimes to surface in the twentieth century, reaching its apex of horrors during the reign of Stalin under whom millions are estimated to have been mercilessly purged, but what has since replaced it has proven no more a democracy than its predecessor and in many ways represents a continuation rather than a departure with the past.

Monday, June 1, 2009

"Boycotts work": An interview with Omar Barghouti


The Electronic Intifada

By Ali Mustafa

Omar Barghouti is an independent Palestinian researcher, commentator and human rights activist and a leader of the Palestinian campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions to force Israel to uphold international law and universal human rights. Barghouti discussed the growing worldwide campaign with The Electronic Intifada contributor Ali Mustafa.

Ali Mustafa: Why do you characterize Israel as an apartheid state and how is it similar or different than apartheid South Africa?

Omar Barghouti: We don't have to prove that Israel is identical to apartheid South Africa in order to justify the label "apartheid." Apartheid is a generalized crime according to United Nations conventions and there are certain criteria that may or may not apply to any specific situation - so we judge a situation on its own merits and whether or not it fulfills those conditions of being called an apartheid state. According to the basic conventions of the UN defining the crime of apartheid, Israel satisfies almost all the conditions to be granted the label of apartheid. Other than the clear racial separation in the occupied West Bank between Jews and non-Jews (indigenous Palestinians) - separate roads, separate housing, separate everything - apartheid is also alive and well inside Israel despite appearances [to the contrary]. Unlike South Africa, Israel is more sophisticated; it's an evolved form of apartheid. South African apartheid was rudimentary, primitive, so to speak - black, white, clear separation, no rights ... The Palestinian citizens of Israel (the indigenous population) have the right to vote, which is a huge difference from South Africa. However, in every other vital domain, they are discriminated against by law, not only by policy. Therefore, it is legalized and institutionalized racism and that's what makes it apartheid - there is racism in Canada and other western democracies as well, but the difference is that it's not legalized and institutionalized, at least not any longer ...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Critical Letter + My Response


Upon the publication of my interview with Carlos Latuff in the March/April issue of the YU Free Press (accompanied with these two cartoons by him shown above), thousands of copies of the campus newspaper were systematically thrown in the garbage; its racks were vandalized, some even destroyed beyond repair; and several angry letters were sent via email denouncing Latuff, myself, and by extension the YUFP as 'anti-Semitic'. Below is one such letter that more or less encapsulates the general sentiment of the approximately dozen emails that were received, along with a personal response from myself - both of which I am sharing here in the interests of critical reflection and debate:

An Interview with Political Cartoonist Carlos Latuff


By Ali Mustafa

Brazilian political cartoonist Carlos Latuff is no stranger to controversy. His provocative and unapologetically graphic cartoons have been enjoyed, freely reproduced, and inviting debate internationally for years now. To those of us here in Canada, however, Latuff is probably better known over his recent poster design for 'Israeli Apartheid Week' (IAW) which was deemed 'hateful' and subsequently banned by the administrations at the University of Ottawa, Concordia, and numerous other campuses across the country. I had the extreme privilege of meeting and speaking with him, some time before the latest controversy surrounding him and his work, this past summer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We met inside a favela (Brazilian slum) called Nova Holanda on the city's outskirts where I was visiting a local NGO. Abandoning his scheduled plans and taking a bus from downtown Rio to meet with me just one day before I was set to leave back to Canada, the impromptu setting would prove a fitting backdrop to the discussion that followed.

Ali: When did you first become involved in cartoon drawing and when did you begin to see your interest in cartooning as a platform for political activism and commentary?

Carlos Latuff: I started my career in 1989 in a small advertising office in downtown Rio. At the time, I didn't see my art as a tool to bring awareness to people. I thought my art was just a way to make a living and I had dreams of becoming famous and working for the mainstream media. Over time, I realized that in order to reach the mainstream you had to have influential friends. I didn't, so I started to realize that the reality on the ground was different from what I originally had in mind. In 1999, for a lack of opportunity, not for a matter of ideology, I started to work for leftist trade union papers, but always having in my mind that this was only business – a way to get paid and make a living. At that time, I had some leftist leanings, but I could not call myself a leftist.

Creative Commons License
'From Beyond the Margins' by Ali Mustafa is licensed under a Creative Commons License.