The New Wartime Body

What happens when one's body becomes the war zone, the setting for patriotic pride, and the argument for technological advances that alter scientific and economic landscapes? It often means returning with a different sense of self and relationship to one's body for U.S. soldiers back from Iraq. Re-entry varies from the conceptual to the physical, and amputee veterans are returning from the Iraq war faced with transitioning back to civilian life without straightforward support to navigate the military health care system or job opportunities.

The Homecoming

Jody Casey, formerly a 19 Delta Cavalry Scout sniper now organizing with Iraq Vets Against the War (IVAW), set the tone of our conversation, "I wasn't ready for re-entry. I wasn't briefed about anything regarding re-entry. So, on top of dealing with the anger and isolation of being back, I also had to be my own advocate." Casey advocated for work, securing mental and physical health care in a society that does not understand the realities of war. Counseling programs "were pushing all these pills my way without even hearing what I was going through, then they set me up with a counselor who has never known combat."

He faced similar frustrations when looking for employment. "The job on the top of the list was to be a teller at Wal-Mart. No offense to anyone who works there, it's just that I felt unseen, insulted, and under-valued... They trained us only to re-enlist or work for Black Water Security or KBR." [Kellogg, Brown and Root is a former subsidiary of Halliburton] Both are mercenary war-profiteer subcontractor companies currently patrolling, fighting, and "providing security" at a much higher pay rate than U.S. soldiers receive in Iraq. Casey stressed the enormous need for worker retraining programs and a modified GI bill that includes part-time and vocational students. "I only got trained to kill and be a solider."

Casey matter-of-factly shared some ideas about how a worker re-training program could look. He suggested vocational training, something akin to "helmets to hardhats," utilizing an apprenticeship model, but provided by the Army. "Such a program could help you retrain from war on many levels because right now they are unleashing unstable people back into society."

The Body

Sources from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., estimate that since the onset of the Iraq invasion and occupation upwards of 400 U.S. soldiers have come back needing amputations and prosthetics (30 percent have multiple amputations). According to, since April 2003, between 18,000 and 20,000 U.S. soldiers' injuries include second- and third-degree burns, bone breaks, shrapnel wounds, brain injuries, paralysis, and eye damage. In addition, 9,744 U.S soldiers wounded in action returned to duty between 2003 and 2004, while 8,239 soldiers did not return to war.

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Will the Real McCarthyists Please Stand Up?

Is there a conservative movement to silence dissent on college campuses? At the University of Colorado at Boulder, a radical professor's scholarship and ethnicity is the subject of an official review. Yale recenty fired its one anarchist professor. David Horowitz's Students for Academic Freedom keeps a conservative campus watch list. Conservatives charge that McCarthyist liberals are keeping them out of the Ivory Tower. Liberal professors argue thathat conservatives are out to remake campuses in their image - one professor or one piece of legislation at a time.

Yeshiva University history professor Ellen Schrecker, author of numerous books on the McCarthy Era including No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities, puts things in perspective. "The current climate and the McCarthy Era are of course both similar and different," she explained about the post-9/11 United States. "We never see history repeat itself exactly. There's no Congressional investigating committee now, but we see the same process of demonizing enemies and seeing some kind of threat to security that has whipped up a furor with connections to partisan politics."

Ward Churchill, a UC-Boulder ethnic studies professor, thinks the comparison to the Red Scare days isn't accurate to describe the current witch-hunt on campus. "There are parallels to McCarthy's days, but the techniques have advanced," said Churchill in an interview with Clamor. "What that era didn't have is an articulated plan to convert the institutions of higher learning to the dominant ideology."

Schrecker sees an evolution as well, saying, "What's different between now and the McCarthy Era is that then attacks were on individual professors for extracurricular activities with communist groups or whatever. At no time was anybody's teaching or research brought into question. What's different today, and I think more scary, are things directed against curriculum and classroom and attempts by outside political forces to dictate the syllabus."

Middle East Studies professor Joseph Massad endured an investigation into his teaching by his employer, Columbia University, stemming from anti-Israel charges brought on by the pro-Israel group the David Project. And cases such as that of University of Florida computer science professor Sami Al-Arian, whose extracurricular activities with Muslim organizations have him awaiting trial for terrorism charges, illustrate that not all the attacks on professors have shifted to their lecture materials.

Current campus conservatism isn't part of any clandestine plan organized by neoconservatives in a back room of the White House. But it's important to seriously look at cases like those of professors Churchill, Al-Arian, and others in order to determine what kind of wasr is currently being waged on campus and who the combatants are.

Big Man on Campus

The Churchill saga has become a cause celebre for all sides of the controversy. Late last January, Churchill was preparing to leave for Hamilton College, in upstate New York, . But the weekend before his scheduled appearance, remarks he made in an essay titled "Some People Push Back," written the day after September 11, more than three years earlier, became the topic of national conversation. On January 26, 2005 the story was covered by the Associated Press and released on the statewide wire service. At 3:46 A.M. the next morning, Colorado Republican Congress member Bob Beauprez, an alumnus of UC-Boulder, issued a press release calling for Churchill's resignation. Within days, the story was national news, most feverishly embraced by Bill O'Reilly on his conservative talk show, "The O'Reilly Factor." At the end of June, O'Reilly had taken up the Churchill "controversy" on more than 50 programs.

Churchill started to receive death threats, Hamilton heard about anonymous threats of violence, and the event was cancelled. "I don't know how they selected Hamilton," said Churchill, "I guess someone at Hamilton found a copy of my essay, forwarded it to O'Reilly and the Denver media and suddenly it was the hottest thing since hot pants."

His version of the story isn't far off but omits part of a pattern. A few months earlier, Hamilton hired former Weather Underground activist Susan Rosenberg to teach a memoir-writing course. Much like Churchill, however, Rosenberg never made it to campus, thanks to protests at college fundraisers and immense pressure from alumni to rescind the offer to teach.

After the high-profile Rosenberg dispute, a small group of Hamilton faculty members was suspicious of the Churchill invitation and did some digging, finding Churchill's essay about September 11. Though more than 5,000 words long, detractors focused on key phrases to ignite the controversy, including this now well-worn and largely misunderstood line: "As to those in the World Trade Center . . . Well, really. Let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break."

AP wire stories quoted other juicy words from the essay, like "gallant sacrifices" of kamikaze "combat teams" on 9/11 and Churchill's labeling of World Trade Center dead as "little Eichmanns" working for the "mighty engine of profit." The remarks were inflammatory and not necessarily timely. The whole essay put the quotes in some context. But headlines still read "9/11 Victims Had It Coming," "Professor's Future Hinges on Conduct," "Coverage of Professor's 9/11 Essay Feeds his Ego, Terrorism," and "9/11 'Nazi' Prof Quits College Post."

Churchill later publicly clarified his remarks, saying "It should be emphasized that I applied the 'little Eichmanns' characterization only to those [World Trade Center workers] described as 'technicians.' Thus, it was obviously not directed to the children, janitors, food service workers, firemen, and random passers-by killed in the 9-11 attack."

But O'Reilly, Limbaugh, and even politicians such as New York Governor George Pataki proceeded to hammer the issue into the national discourse, with O'Reilly covering it for nine consecutive nights. Despite an eventual consensus defending Churchill's right to voice his opinion, even from O'Reilly, the university formed a committee to investigate claims made during the media maelstrom that he plagiarized work and falsely identified himself as an American Indian to further his career. Suddenly the inquisition into the professor's public remarks morphed into an ad hominem attack, legitimized by the official Board of Regents investigation and resolution passed by the Colorado house and senate condemning Churchill's remarks, and urging university officials to fire him.

Churchill calls the allegations "spurious," especially those that he used his race to advance his career saying, "I look white enough. Look at a standard bibliography in American Indian studies and it's overwhelmingly white and male."

War of the Words

The Churchill case gave groups like the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) and David Horowitz's Students for Academic Freedom (SAF), groups that see the academy as one of the last bastions of leftist power, a taste of victory in this battle on campuses. Using the crowbar of a few phrases taken out of context, they were able to justify opening two committee investigations into Churchill, force his resignation as Chair of the Ethnic Studies department, and may yet succeed in ousting him entirely, despite the often ground-breaking research and numerous books on Native American history and genocide to Churchill's credit.

Whether these groups succeed in ousting Churchill matters little. They've already established a blueprint for other administrators, politicians, and media with an agenda to remove any professor they deem unfit. In a recent treatise on the conservative agenda, Newt Gingrich states that the threat of the leftist professoriat is equal to that of terrorists. "The flow of immigrants combined with the anti-American civilization bias of our academic left ... threatens to undermine and eliminate the history, language, and cultural patterns of American civilization in a secular, multicultural, politically correct, ethnic politician-defined new model," wrote Gingrich"

Colorado Governor Bill Owens, who called Churchill's essay "treasonous," works hand-in-hand with ACTA as part of their Governors' Project and was at the frontlines in calling for Churchill's dismissal. The publicly available "Action Plan" for the Governors' Project includes this line:

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If it's not enough of an indignity to be resoundingly spanked by the passage of eleven amendments forbidding gay marriage, gay folk are now in the position of reading articles in The New York Times announcing that the Human Rights Campaign and other mainstream gay rights organizations are engaged in a "debate over whether they should moderate their goals in the wake of [their] bruising losses." In the face of such a rout at the national level, the mainstream press seems to expect that queers, tails between their legs, will follow the DNC in castigating themselves for promoting any agenda other than that of corporate interests.

What's interesting to consider is how it became plausible for the Times and other members of the press to read the success or failure of gay marriage as indicative of the gay rights movement's relative progress. Or, more precisely, why "gay marriage" has come to stand for gay rights, when historically, many of those involved in the gay rights movement have fought not only to achieve sexual freedom, but also to destroy those larger structures of power - classism, racism, and patriarchy - that contribute to the oppression of those who are different. Given the fact that some progressive queers read marriage as symbolic of the very culture they seek to transform, it is not surprising that they see the quest for marriage rights as inherently problematic.

Yet it can also be said that because the Right so successfully used the threat of gay marriage to galvanize voters in the re-election campaign of President Bush, those working in mainstream gay rights organizations were compelled to respond: the gay community was under attack. And, following the truism that "no publicity is bad publicity," it made sense for them to re-appropriate the negative attention by demonstrating that gay and lesbian couples deserve the rights granted to their straight married analogs. As stories about gay marriage crowded out reporting on other issues that could have been the central focus of the movement, the debate about marriage, either by default or by choice, appeared to be the main concern of gay people as much as the Christian fundamentalist base. At the pride parade in Atlanta last summer, for example, almost all of the floats focused on marriage, and participants threw intertwined rings to the spectators to remind them of the Christian Coalition's efforts to pass a constitutional amendment forbidding gay marriage.

Although it makes sense that mass spectacles, such as Pride Parades, would respond to the dominant depiction of gays through camp and resistance, the very success of the Right in commandeering the rhetoric about marriage served to exacerbate an already existing tension in the gay rights movement. What has happened among the queer community in the last two years is that the question of gay marriage has become attached to a larger debate between radical and assimilationist camps about the political priorities of the movement. Should queers focus their attention on the way they are depicted in mainstream culture, seeking dispensation from the larger straight world, or should they work to achieve rights by transforming American culture as a whole? Books like Jonathan Rauch's Gay Marriage: Why its Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America, for example, argue that "same sex marriage extends and clarifies the mission" of marriage by "shoring up the key values and commitments on which couples and families and society depend." Others, like Mattilda, aka Matt Bernstein Sycamore, editor of That's Revolting!: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation find it "ironic that the central sign of straight conformity is seen as the pre-eminent goal of the gay rights movement." For radicals like Mattilda, marriage is a signifier of class privilege, a way of dividing a particular version of gay identity from the larger queer community. Among queers, the prospect of gay moms or dads, cheerily waving from the windows of suitably bumper-stickered Volvos, seems to evoke either heartwarming ideas of social progress or the urge to vomit and throw rocks.

What does a gay family look like?

The Human Rights Campaign is a nonpartisan organization devoted to advancing "equality based on sexual orientation and gender expression" and ensuring that GLBT Americans "can be open, honest, and safe at home and at work." With a membership of nearly 600,000 and an annual budget of 30 million dollars, it is the largest and most wealthy gay rights organization in the nation. Its task is twofold: to lobby the federal government to include the needs of GLBT individuals and families in national legislation, and to support state gay rights organizations in their efforts to lobby the legislature and overturn anti-gay laws and ordinances. Last year, according to Seth Kilbourn, Director of the Marriage Project, the HRC gave 1.7 million dollars to state gay rights organizations and devoted 1.6 million dollars to its education and get out the vote efforts.

When the HRC decided to lobby for marriage rights, therefore, it sent a strong signal to other organizations that gay marriage should be the issue around which the gay movement should coalesce, and many, such as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, followed suit. The HRC created an ad campaign as a central component of their lobbying efforts, running the ads in newspapers and periodicals with a readership potentially sympathetic to gay and lesbian rights.

The ads - black and white photographs of gay couples - are beautiful, and have a visual and textual consistency. One ad depicts a white lesbian couple sitting under a tree with their daughter, another an interracial lesbian couple who stand with their heads resting lightly against one another, and yet another a "senior" white lesbian couple who sit on a park bench holding hands. The text accompanying the photos explains that "Anna and Marion are worried about losing their house," whereas "Jo and Teresa don't qualify for full social security survivor benefits even after a lifetime of paying taxes." Marriage, the ads explain, will save these families from troubles straight couples never have to face. Implicit in this stylized representation of gay families is the argument that gay people deserve marriage rights because they are "just like you," with the implied receiver of the advertisement a straight, middle-class professional who is either already married or aspires to be. The tacit link between the viewer and the people in the photographs is their shared notion of what it means to be a family - quite literally, of what a family looks like.

Though the ads are attuned to the multicultural spectrum of gay and lesbian couples, they are silent on the issue of class. The message is clear: gays and lesbians work hard, save money, buy houses, have children - in short, want to achieve the American Dream - and they deserve its benefits because they pay their taxes like everyone else. To be fair to the HRC, it's important to remember that the ad campaign was designed not only to persuade viewers to vote against anti-gay marriage amendments, but also to counter the propaganda put forth by groups like James Dobson's Focus on the Family. When you're in an image war, it makes sense to fight fire with fire - for every freshly-scrubbed Christian family, HRC substitutes an impeccable pair of gay men, designer pants neatly pressed, beaming proudly at their twins.

What's lost in all this attention to the politics of representation, however, is the long-term impact these images have on the gay community and the element of the straight world that chooses to valorize them. By arguing that gay couples deserve the recognition and rights conferred on those who are married, HRC and others have also chosen to create a particular image of gay culture, one palatable to straight people because the realm of difference exists in the space of the private. Because most Americans believe in the right to privacy, and because the Supreme Court overturned Bowers v. Hardwick, making sodomy legal, HRC strategically evokes the law of the land to buttress the arguments for gay marriage. Because gay couples differ from straight couples only in the realm of sexual object choice, the campaign implicitly argues, they should not be subject to discrimination.

In this sense, the argument for gay marriage becomes not only a discussion about rights, but also about the distinctiveness of gay people. If to be gay is just about a sex act, and now a legal one at that, then discrimination against gay people becomes merely a matter of sexual prudery. Anyone who is hip enough to realize that sexuality is more than the missionary position, it would seem, should be able to support gay marriage, and by extension, full gay rights.

But it is precisely this argument that denies the radical diversity of queer culture, and the fact that queer identity, for most who embrace it, implies far more than sexuality.

By representing the family as a nuclear unit composed of a couple and their children, the HRC's ads tacitly reinforce the definition of the family that fundamentalist Christians have claimed is under attack. Sociologists have long demonstrated that the notion of marriage and the family that is currently celebrated by conservatives is inherently white and middle-class, doesn't represent the majority of family structures in the country, and is a recent invention. While it is hardly shocking that conservatives are claiming an ahistorical definition of the family as a way to promote a very contemporary agenda, it is notable that when gays and lesbians share this definition, they erase the diverse models of the family that are one of the hallmarks of queer culture. In this sense, even as they fight for the rights for gay and lesbian couples, the HRC and others capitulate to the idea that the conservative definition of the family is the ideal standard to which all others hope to conform.

Rauch builds on this argument by maintaining that established couples benefit society by making a commitment to care for one another. Because this commitment is difficult, those who do the work should receive special benefits. To the straight eye, gay culture appears to suffer from "a case of Peter Pan syndrome," he concedes, but "marriage says . . . if you will make a commitment, you will receive the legal recognition and special status which only marriage brings. If you assume the responsibilities of adulthood, you will get the prerogatives." If those who are "adults" deserve special status, then by extension, those who are single or who live in communal living arrangements do not. Rather than arguing that all people deserve healthcare, for example, Rauch and others contend that married people, by virtue of their relationships, deserve more rights.

When I posed this challenge to Seth Kilbourn, he told me that "the healthcare system is broken" and that HRC "wants to be a part of any debate" about reforming the system. The question becomes, what would happen if all the money raised to promote gay marriage was instead used to lobby for universal healthcare?

Gay Sex Doth Not a Queer Make

For Mattilda, who quipped that HRC should stand for "homogenous ruling class," the choice to make marriage the centerpiece of gay rights is "frightening" because it demonstrates the power those in mainstream organizations have to allocate resources and to choose which segments of the larger queer community will receive the greatest benefits. What has happened to the gay community, he asks, when queer residents of the now valuable Castro neighborhood of San Francisco protest the building of a shelter for homeless queer youth because it compromises their property values? It is only those who already have class privilege and property, he argues, who are able to attain full social equality when granted the rights linked to marriage. "Why are homelessness and police brutality not queer issues?" he asks, and why does the movement not fight to overthrow the systems of power that discriminate against many people, rather than just queers?

Among queers, the argument for gay marriage not only implies a set of assumptions about class privilege and political priorities, but also has become inseparable from the question of representation. Because gay people lack the numbers and financial power to attain civil rights, they must petition straight culture to be recognized. Galling as this proposition is, it immediately raises the question of what it means to be gay, in the eyes of the straight world and then in the eyes of queers. To say that being gay is only about sexual object choice is to argue within the narrowest possible parameters. There is no need to engage the question of why married people deserve health benefits and those in other communal living arrangements do not. There is no need to define marriage, and there is no argument about what it means to be queer. Instead, gay people become straight people who love someone of the same sex. Those who are transsexual or who refuse a fixed notion of gender identity are not only left out of the current discussion, they would have to create a completely separate set of arguments to defend their civil rights.

If to celebrate marriage is, symbolically, to celebrate a traditional notion of the American Dream, then those queers who reject gay marriage are also often rejecting a particular notion of being - one associated with whiteness, with class privilege, with suburbia, with monogamy, with children, with property. It is the wholesale rejection of American individualism, in fact, that is frequently the subtext of the dissent, among queers, to the arguments for gay marriage. It is clearly inconceivable to some Americans that there are those who might not order their lives along this particular path by choice, rather than by disenfranchisement. There are certainly many queers who do long for a traditional conception of marriage and the family and are denied these structures because they are different. And there are many queers who are, in most respects, indistinguishable from their straight neighbors.

But what is important is that many who embrace a notion of queer identity to queer not only sexuality but also being believe that queer culture is vastly superior to that of the straight world and is in danger of losing its voice under the marketing blitz created by the queer wedding industry. The question becomes, what would happen if all people were granted the rights accrued to marriage, and not just couples? What would happen if the greatest, most exorbitant fantasies of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell actually came true? In what ways would American culture be radically changed not by the mainstreaming of virtually straight couples, but by the queering of America? I suppose the question I am asking, one impossible to answer, is the extent to which the queer subculture is alternative in a creative or a reactive sense. It seems that these questions have yet to be raised, precisely because those who identify as queer want no part of mainstream culture, and those who want in are willing, it seems, to sacrifice at least some of their privileges of difference.

A Star in Mosul

Over the last decade, the internet has become the international water cooler of our times. Everybody has a version of what happened yesterday and, now, everybody has a chance not only to tell but also to publish his or her story.

This became doubly important in Iraq, where war, insurgent bombs, civilian casualties, roadside attacks, U.S. tanks, and soldiers all create confusion and uncertainty in daily life.

As mainstream U.S. news outlets rely on embedded reporters to tell the stories, people are turning to a different source for on-the-ground reporting: blogs. The first of now more than 30 bloggers out of Iraq was Salam Pax (not his real name), who began posting letters to a friend in Jordan in December 2002. Hours before U.S. troops attacked, Pax wrote the now infamous words on March 21, 2003: “2 more hours untill (sic) the B52’s get to Iraq.” The Iraqi bloggers write posts in varying levels of English, often intended for audiences outside Iraq. The writers include dentists, high school students, architects, and engineers. According to Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, electricity shortages keep most Iraqis from having regular access to the internet.

Scattered throughout the blogs are readers’demands for the identities of the Iraqi bloggers. It is a blogosphere idiosyncrasy that a majority of bloggers, regardless of national boundaries, choose to write under pseudonyms. The responses to disclosure requests are usually variations on, “If you don’t believe it, then don’t read it.” For some Iraqi bloggers, the answer tends to be “I don’t want to get killed,” or “I want to continue writing freely.” One thing is certain, however. On the many Iraqi blogs, there is an immediacy, a visceral truth about what’s happening in neighboring houses and streets. Whether their identities are known or not, bloggers connect with readers on an emotional level. And, given the lack of U.S. reporting on civilian casualties and injuries, many Iraqi bloggers provide eyewitness accounts of things that cannot be otherwise known. Even if one of them may be untrue, they are a slice of reality, chosen by the writer, and filtered through their words and perceptions.

A Star in Mosul is the blog of 16-year-old Najma Abdullah (a pseudonym – Najma is “star” in Arabic), who also calls herself “Aunt Najma” after recently welcoming her niece Aya into the world. Her father is a doctor and her mother is a civil engineer and university lecturer. Abdullah is in an advanced high school for girls and is eager to attend a university, but her education is currently another casualty of war. Her words, however, are making history. The next few pages feature an abridged version of Abdullah’s blog from November and December 2004. No spelling errors or typos have been corrected.

[Translations of commonly used terms: Eid, Eid al-hada; Muslim holiday known as “Feast of the Sacrifice”; Futoor: Meal taken at sunset to break fasting; Hijab: Traditional Muslim woman’s headscarf; Gargoor: Grover from Sesame Street]

Friday, Nov. 12, 2004: Crying with no tears

Everything started the day before yesterday; they declared a curfew at Mosul TV from 4PM Wednesday, till 6AM on Friday. The Arabic media didn’t mention anything and so half of the Iraqi people didn’t know about it.

In the meanwhile my oldest sister was in our house, it has passed 4PM when we knew about it, so we decided to drop her at her house (Which is the same as her parents-in-law) in the morning next day.

The morning came, I was sleeping at my room upstairs, and a war of bullets started… I decided to move myself down when it started to be a heavy fighting and there were also explosions and mom was shouting at me to get down… It was 10AM. My oldest sister was ready to go, but she can’t go in such situation so she decided to wait till it clams down.

My brother-in-law was supposed to come before the Eid. We didn’t know when exactly, because the hospital’s phone is broken… My oldest sister (Let’s call her S now) was so worried that he’ll come and get stuck in the other side of the city because of the curfew, so she tried to call him on a friend’s mobile, it wasn’t working but it did at about 11AM, she told her to tell him not to come because the situation is too bad and he won’t make it till here.. The friend told her that he already started his way to Mosul an hour ago. Here S started to worry too much!! Till about 11:30, her sister-in -law called and told her to call her husband on the mobile because she’s Trying to and failing… She said also that her father-in-law got shot in his leg while trying to get back from the clinic, and he’s in the hospital and that her husband should go with him since nobody in the neighborhood can move his head out of the door! The war was horribly improving.

S called her brother-in-law, and he told her that he is in the hospital and that his father has DIED…

I can’t describe how I felt, I was crying and shaking and the tears wouldn’t go out… I just held Aya who’s just lost a grandpa and made sure she won’t cry and make things worse. S was terribly SAD, confused, and WORRIED about everything. Mostly about her husband who’s in his way to a big surprise and about her sister-in-law who’s alone at home in the middle of the war, pregnant in her 9th month.

For 4 hours and a half, we were stuck at home, making sure dad won’t get out of the house in this war, trying to clam Aya who was frightened after a loud explosion… Those were one of the most horrible moments in my life. People calling asking if what they’ve heard about S’s father-in-law was true, my sister crying and worried (I’ve never seen her like that), 3 cars burning in the street, and then S’s brother-in-law called and asked about the place where they keep the cotton (They brought his father home, and they’re trying to wash him like the Muslims do to their dead before burying them), there were no enough cotton and they can’t go out to buy some.

I talked a lot till now so I’ll try to shorten things. At 3PM, things calmed down… Dad drove S to her house, and there they were ready to get the body and burry it. Dad went with them since he was his friend, and came back after we’ve had futoor.

Till 5:30, my brother-in-law finally arrived! Thank God. He was stuck for 1:30 minutes with his luggage on the other side of the bridge, and he came on foot from the bridge to his house, eager to see his little daughter after a month of absence… And here he comes, to find his dad dead and buried! Nobody knows who shoot him, but everybody knows that he’s now in Heaven. He died in the night of power, fasting, and shaheed. At least he’s seen his first grandchild who’ll carry his name (Aya)… His son said that this was the death that
he’s always dreamt of.

I had two eye doctors. Both are dead now!! Imagine! Both are killed now! This one was so kind and he was shy from me more that I was from him. Both men are great in everything and have the best manners and I’m not exaggerating. Okay, it was a long day that I slept at 10 o’clock and I was so tired. I woke up at 2:30AM (The mosque was calling at that time, telling us to be careful and to guard the neighborhood because a bad group of robbers and destroyers has entered the city somehow!!) and started praying and reading Quran till 5:15AM.

It’s the night of power, we should pray a lot… Then mom woke me up at 12AM, I was awake along time ago, but I knew there’s nothing to happen, days are looong these days, and the things that happen are rarely good. Now, we can’t even get near S’s house. An American Stryker is near the house shooting every car coming near by. We wanted to get Aya here so that S can be more comfortable but we couldn’t.

Dad is trying to convince me that everybody has his own day to die and that not allowing him to get out is not a solution!! That’s how things are going on, the war is not over and I slept at the sound of bullets and explosions last night… Mom said that this war is the worst among all the others… The Arabic media didn’t mention anything!!

Tomorrow is Eid; this is the worse night of Eid I’ve ever been in. I wonder whether we’ll wait for that song like always, or just forget about it. I’ll wake up tomorrow (If I’m alive of course) and put on my new clothes, and see if we’re going to get out…

PS: I made lots of mistakes in the brother-in-law, sister-in-law thing since I don’t know how you call them in English).

Monday, Nov. 15, 2004: What’s happening for two days??

Okay, today is the first day of Eid.. I was mistaken when I said it was yesterday, it’s just confusing because the mosques did say that it was yesterday but then we had an announcement on TV that denies it, so we just fasted another day and started the Eid today.

It doesn’t seem like we’re going out of the house! Although I really wish I will since I spent a lot of time fixing my hijab!! Mom and dad went and took Aya to spend the day here and then they’ll drive her back to her mom before the curfew starts at 4 o’clock. They say that the Americans release violent dogs in the streets at night so that people won’t get out (I want some respect!! Dogs!). I remember when I used to get bored at night when people start leaving and the Eid ends, now I haven’t even seen any of my uncles since dad came back from Egypt.

My bundle of joy (As someone once called her) came today with a toy from her dad, he calls it Gargoor, it’s one of the characters of Semsimi street (Not sure of the spelling).. Mom gave her her gift of Eid from yesterday, it’s that thing that spins over her head on her bed at night and sings. Her mom said that the emotions on her face when the toys started spinning and singing (Twinkle Twinkle little star!!) were unexplainable, she was totally surprised and excited. She’s surely helped her father a lot these days, she’s talking to him all the time.. She doesn’t speak Arabic yet, just Irr, Orr, Arr and such words.

Thursday, Nov. 18, 2004: Going out..!

Yeppy, I saw two more uncles today. It was calm in the morning, so we went out and visited two of my uncles, and then dropped by my big sister’s house and I saw my brother-in-law for the first time for a month, and he was alright as it seemed, a little angry at crying Aya..

The weather was nice and the sky was really blue with white big nice clouds. The water is the street is reflecting the blueness of the sky and all the other things were washed by the rain. I took some pictures that I’ll try to post here.. We made an arrangement with my sister and her husband that we’ll come tomorrow and take Aya to stay with us till the curfew (At 4PM). Nobody seems to be going to school soon, and the parents aren’t ready to send their kids there..

We also bought bread, we’ve been unable to buy it for a week, now I can eat sandwitches as much as I want.. We bought falafel too, which is by the way my favourite meal.

There are no Police nor American soldiers in the streets we went through, just people.. The gasoline stations were full, and there were also a long line of cars and the drivers were waiting to their turn to fill their cars. We can see those black pieces of cloth that the Iraqis have used to write their dead people’s names on, plenty of them were hanged along the road, most of them were killed by either the terrorists or the American soldiers.. I’ve called my friend yesterday who told me about her brother’s friend who is in the medical school.. Robbers have tried to kill him and his 18-year-old brother for their car but for some reason didn’t get the car, the 18-year-old one died and the other is in the hospital now.. In the same accident, a woman with her infant were crossing the street, the infant got a bullet and died in the hospital!!

As some Iraqis have used the walls to practice their free speech after the war, a wall of a school has a writing that says: “We’ll kill everyone who’ll participate in the elections”, in Arabic.. I was few days ago urging my parents to go participate in the elections, if we didn’t vote, who will!! But, I guess I’ll stop urging anyone now since it’s a dangerous thing like everything else.. Let’s just hope that the ones who’ll vote will vote for the RIGHT person.

Friday, Nov. 26, 2004: What’s happening? (Updated)

Today, at 7PM, we had electricity for the first time in 35 hours!! We spent all this time on the generators. There was no problem except for water. Water is so cold in winter, the heaters only operate on electricity (Although we have non-electric heaters, but dad hoped that the electricity will come soon and he didn’t turn them on), and with no heaters, we have very cold water! At night yesterday, I brushed my teeth, the water was so cold that all my teeth started aching! I didn’t dare to wash my face with such cold water although I needed to (I’ve declared a war against acne!).

Today, I heard one BIG explosion and few far shooting! Nothing close to us. I’m having a difficulty with studying. Although we didn’t go back to school, but we do need to study! Whenever I take a school-book to read, I lose any desire to study. Whenever I take a book (Any book but not a school-book), I start reading right away with no laziness! We might go back to schools if things stayed that way, calm and stable compared to the past few days. And now, dear bed, here I come :)

Good night everybody, Najma

Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2004: Bad news, funny news and good news

Let’s start with some bad news.. A neighbor got kidnapped today at about 7:30AM. I heard the shooting and some shouting in the morning but didn’t know what happened, dad heard about the kidnapping in the mosque (That’s where all the neighbors exchange their news). He was kidnapped from his BED.. The kidnappers called then asking for money (50, 000 US dollars!!) I had a terrible mistake at the Chemistry exam today, it can cost me from 5 to 20 marks. I almost cried but the students were admiring my courage and how I don’t cry at such stuff so I just couldn’t cry..

That’s better. A little bomb exploded infront of our car the day before yesterday on our way to school. There were strykers infront of us but the explosion was small and no body was hurt. I turned the mobile on right when the explosion occurred, mom called at once, and said that dad has jumped out of bed and he’s looking for us outside! I felt so sorry for them, I can’t imagine how they felt when they heard the explosion.

A funny news.. I gave mom the right to have my hair cut, for the first time. I didn’t
care if she messed it up or not, for two reasons, nobody will see it since > > we’re not getting out of the house, and there’s no way that I can’t have it cut by a hair
dresser, they close their shops early and we can’t get out of the house.. I > > just kept praying that she won’t mess it up, and kept laughing of the strange way she held the scissor. Well, the results aren’t bad at all! Now, some good news. Aya’s cousin was born today, it’s a girl, but we didn’t know what they named her. My older sister left Aya at our house and went with her husband to the hospital to take care of her sister-in-law, her husband was in Baghdad and couldn’t attend the birth of his first child (Just like his brother).. Those men don’t have luck to watch their children’s birth.

And as usual, I’m sure there was something else, but I have to go to sleep.. Good night.. Sleep tight...Don’t let the bed bugs bite...

Saturday, Dec. 25, 2004: Merry Christmas everyone

We went to school today, it was raining heavily, and it didn’t make me feel well. But, when we reached school, they sent us back to our houses. I don’t know when will we be able to go back to school and start a stable year. We’re running out of bread, and the bakery shops aren’t having enough gasoil (I can’t distinguish between gasoline, gasoil or anything else), and this is a problem..

Some people are freezing in their houses from the cold weather and they have no gasoil to turn on their heaters (That’s something else I’m not sure of its name, I don’t think you even use it!). Plus, I was telling mom that I’ll need to take a shower today when dad told me that I’ll have to wait till Thursday; we’re not getting enough electricity to heat the water, and we don’t have enough gasoil to heat it on fire. Yes, it looks like we’re going back to the dark ages and mom will soon have to bake the bread by herself..

Some better news; mom and dad are planning to buy us a video digital camera to take videos of the new changes in dear Aya’s life. She discovered yesterday that she has feet and was so happy about it like her mother said.. So, Christmas is not promising here.. It looks so dark outside although it’s 2PM.. We went out tomorrow for my cousin’s birthday (Who became 7 years old) and people are talking about how courageous we are to go out at 4PM!! I felt sorry for this boy, he was so afraid the day before yesterday when plains were throwing rockets from the sky. But I don’t blame him, mom was so scared too. I feel like I’m getting more pessimistic everyday. But I’m more positive than I look like here..

Okay, Merry Christmas one more time, and good bye.

Ed. note: the hospitalized brother later died.

This Song is My Song

After Texan Brad Neely watched the first Harry Potter movie, he decided to DIY it into something new, writing and performing an alternate parody soundtrack that anyone can download and play while watching the movie. In his version, Wizard People, Dear Reader, Harry, Hermione, and Ron are alcoholics and Quidditch has homoerotic undertones. His new version has been shown at the New York Underground Film Festival and the San Francisco Indie Fest.

Using elements of others' works can lead to new art, but it can also be seen as a form of poaching someone else's creative output. Others believe that remixing culture is part of a vibrant new cultural movement. One of the strongest advocates for this movement is DJ/conceptual artist Paul Miller (aka DJ Spooky).

Recently, DJ Spooky has been touring, presenting his video remix of D.W. Griffith's 1915 film The Birth of a Nation called "Rebirth of a Nation." DJ Spooky is part of a larger cultural context for remix culture. On his web site (, DJ Spooky explains that he created this new version to challenge the way people view the original film and history itself. While the original film is disturbing and racist, used as a propaganda tool by the Ku Klux Klan, DJ Spooky does not veer away from the artistic intensity of the original film. "Repressing memory is not a good way to make sure that we learn from the mistakes of the past," he said in a phone interview.

"DJing helps people view collective memory, to help us understand how we create culture from digital memory. [Remixing culture helps us] to have tools to think of the present and to understand the past. The hardest part is for America to live up to its ideals ... which is due to lack of awareness of history." In addition to remixing Birth of a Nation, DJ Spooky has remixed the Blue Series, an influential jazz release, into "Celestial Mechanix." He also plans to continue to remix films – his next film-based project is a remix of Nazi-era propagandist Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will.

Remixes aren't always done with artistic motivations, but can sometimes just serve as the results of a frustrated fan armed with video editing software. Many fans of the original Star Wars trilogy who had waited almost 20 years for more movies from George Lucas were disappointed with the new movies. One anonymous fan took action in 2001, by creating "The Phantom Edit" from the movie Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, by re-editing the movie, eliminating the reviled Jar Jar Binks character and focusing on action sequences. While DJ Spooky is able to re-edit Birth of a Nation any way he wishes because the copyright has expired, those remixing more contemporary work, such as the Phantom Editor, face a host of legal entanglements.

Fan-created film remixes allow individuals to have control when previously they could only be passive participants in their fandom – now they can remix their fandom into "perfection." After all, what really makes film remixes different from adaptations – except that remixes are not always "authorized"?

Even more than video sampling, music sampling has become a ubiquitous part of our culture, but not without its own legal consequences. When the Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique was released in 1989, it was considered a masterpiece of sampling, including over an estimated 200 samples. However, it took the Beastie Boys 12 years after the release of Check Your Head in 1992 to clear a six-second three-note sample of jazz flutist James Newton's composition "Choir" used in "Pass the Mic."

Once a composer of a song authorizes a recording, anyone can then record the same song – U.S. copyright law does allow for "covering" an entire song. This is how Orgy was able to cover New Order's "Blue Monday" in 1998. This is also why the profoundly creepy Kidz Bop CDs have all of your favorite adult-oriented and sexually suggestive songs sung by children, lyrics intact, such as Britney Spears' "Toxic," and Maroon 5's "This Love" ("I tried my best to feed her appetite/Keep her coming every night/So hard to keep her satisfied" and "My pressure on your hips/Sinking my fingertips/Into every inch of you/Cause I know that's what you want me to do"). What this means is if Joe Blow's punk band records a whole album of MC5 covers, the music publisher is required to give them clearance – as long as the band pays for it.

This leaves artists in the peculiar position of seeing their entire compositions redone by others without their permission, but still able to keep others from using small parts of the whole. While sampling has become accepted as a form of cultural remixing (if the right people are paid), mash-ups have become controversial.

The latest form of sampling, mash-ups, layer or twine two different songs, often of differing genres, together. Mash-ups are different from traditional sampling because they often layer two or more complete songs, rather than using small portions of a song. Most mash-ups are not legal; however, mash-ups are all over peer-to-peer networks and remix web sites. Fans and DJs have created these new songs for a variety of reasons, but originally there was no commercial potential due to potential copyright issues.

Fear of lawsuits did not keep an unauthorized mash-up of Nelly's "Work It" and AC/DC's "Back in Black" from being played extensively on several radio stations. DJ Danger Mouse created a well-publicized mash-up, "The Grey Album," from Jay-Z's The Black Album and the Beatles' White Album. In response to being threatened by the Beatles' record label, on Feb.24, 2004, (aka "Grey Tuesday") over four hundred web sites hosted MP3s of "The Grey Album."

There has recently been a wave of authorized mash-ups, with more mainstream artists finding the commercial value in using this new art form. At the Brit Awards 2002 (UK version of the Grammy Awards), Kylie Minogue performed "Can't Get Blue Monday Out of My Head," combining the lyrics of her song "Can't Get You Out of My Head" with the music to New Order's "Blue Monday." After the positive reaction to this performance by an artist loved by remixers, the music industry abandoned its resistance of this new musical form. On this side of the Atlantic, MTV recently announced the creation of a new show: "MTV Ultimate Mash-up." The first product of this show is a Jay-Z/Linkin Park collaboration – including a mash-up of Linkin Park's "Numb" and Jay-Z's "Jigga What."

An art form that was originally created by fans and DJs can now be used by corporations who have the money to clear any music that was used, but still leaves many of the non-corporate mash-ups in limbo. Like early jazz, rock, and rap artists, the innovators are not the ones who will be benefiting primarily from this new art form. While corporations will use the innovative artistic techniques and art forms created by others, when corporations own creative work, they are not as free with sharing.

Art is built on the past, but the present realities of copyright law often stand in the way of using the creative output of others in new ways. While music traditions including folk and gospel have allowed artists to copy and retell the songs of others, contemporary artists are expected to obscure how they use previous art to create their own. Directly using the work of another runs the risk of landing in court.

When a political parody web animation, JibJab, rewrote the lyrics and used the music the song, "This Land is Your Land," by Woody Guthrie, to poke fun at the presidential election, a company claimed ownership of the song's copyright.

While it turned out that the copyright had expired, the idea that "This Land is Your Land" could not be used for remixing is antithetical to the way in which the song itself was created. "This Land is Your Land" was created within the folk music tradition where artists borrowed freely from each other and earlier artists, sampling and copying considered to be part of what makes music work. According to the Electronic Freedom Foundation's web site, which includes musical samples, "Woody Guthrie lifted the melody of 'This Land Is Your Land' essentially note-for-note from 'When the World's on Fire,' a song recorded by country/bluegrass legends the Carter Family 10 years before Guthrie wrote his classic song." It is difficult for the law to fit situations like this where long-term collaboration leads to the production of music – and other creative works.

Based on the idea that new art is intrinsically linked to existing art, in late 2002 and early 2003, Stay Free magazine hosted a unique art exhibit, "Illegal Art," in New York and Chicago, composed of remixed culture. As stated in the exhibit's materials, "Borrowing from another artwork – as jazz musicians did in the 1930s and Looney Tunes illustrators did in 1940s – will now land you in court. If the current copyright laws had been in effect back in the day, whole genres such as collage, hip-hop, and Pop Art might have never have existed." This exhibit shows the vitality of remixed art, not through direct copying, but through incorporating elements from previously created art.

Culture builds upon past culture regardless of copyright law or threats of lawsuits. The latest examples of remix culture are part of a tradition that builds upon previous culture the same way that folk music, gospel music, and storytelling does. "Remixing is not destroying the original," says DJ Spooky. It is like Lego blocks, [allowing us] to build upon and reinterpret. "Another world is possible, remixing helps us see it."

In the Heart of Darkness

"Huntsville... that place gives me the creeps... The penitentiary is the main employer down there and it always makes me wonder who should be behind those walls, the prisoners or the citizens."
- Dallas-based photographer Phil Hollenbeck on his visits to Huntsville, TX

Heading south on Highway 45 just outside of Huntsville, the Death Capitol of Texas, one might see vultures circling the dark piney woods that surround the little town.

Huntsville is home to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Huntsville "Walls" Unit, the facility -- one of seven prisons in the area -- that houses Texas's infamous Death House. So far this year, the State of Texas has executed eight people charged with violent crimes against humanity. Since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976 and reimplemented in 1982, there have been 313 people terminated by the State of Texas. Virginia is second on the capital punishment list, with a total of 89 executions. All of Texas's 313 human lives were taken inside the "heart of darkness," which is Huntsville.

The Walls Unit is not in the middle of the piney Huntsville State Park, just south of the town itself, or in some other remote place. Rather, it is in the middle of town, located just next to Sam Houston University and surrounded by homes in which Huntsville's citizens live and raise their children.

The Walls Unit, named after the 32-foot-high brick wall that surrounds the facility, was built in 1848 and houses 1,700 inmates and the "Death House," where executions take place.

Jeff McCarthy, a waiter at the Tejas Cafe, is from Houston, but moved to Huntsville to go to school, majoring in pre-law. At one time he lived across the street from the prison. McCarthy and his friends have a ritual: They have a burger and a beer across the street from the Walls Unit every time there is an execution, at a restaurant called Killer Burgers.

"I think that the executions do affect us to some degree, but the executions aren't really publicized," McCarthy said. "Unless, there is a 'big' person being executed and there are protesters, nobody ever talks about it. Also, the prison is the main industry. If you don't work for the prison or for the university, then you aren't working. [To understand Huntsville], you have to look at the economics; whenever the prison has layoffs the town really feels it."

McCarthy said the Walls Unit in the middle of town never really bothered him until he found himself looking over the prison walls from his apartment at night. "It is crazy that the prison is in the middle of the town," he said. "At night when you drive by, all the cells have cable television, and in every single room you can see the televisions flicker....It is weird to see all those lights flickering."

The general consensus around town is that the prison is a good thing because of the money and jobs it generates.

Chris Schmitt, receptionist/secretary for the Huntsville Chamber of Commerce, is pleased to give out any information visitors might need to enjoy Huntsville more effectively. She lives just outside of Huntsville, having moved from Houston after 19 years to get away from the traffic. "The prison executing people doesn't bother us one bit," Schmitt said. "In fact, that prison, the Walls Unit, is just down the street. Here is a map with the route highlighted."

As you enter Huntsville on 45, the first thing you see -- besides the prison just off the highway -- is the state Prison Museum, where Jessica Kunkel works as a cashier. "The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDC) and then the university are the two largest employers," she said. "Huntsville would certainly not be the same city if the prison wasn't here. The college wouldn't be the college without the prison because our biggest program is the criminal justice program and it wouldn't be as extensive as it is without the neighboring prison system."

The Prison Museum was opened in 1989 and its purpose is to "preserve and display prison artifacts as well as educate the public on the history and culture of Texas prisons."

According to Kunkel, the Prison Museum's biggest attraction is "Old Sparky," the electric chair used from 1918 to 1964. "We have people on weekends who are visiting family members and friends in the prison units who come to the museum," Kunkel said. "We also have a lot of criminal justice majors from Sam Houston as well as correctional officers and other employees of the TDC. Also, we are located off of Highway 45 and we get a lot of [tourists] who come in because they have seen our sign and stop."

Although the prison is Huntsville's biggest employer, most of the town's citizens are reluctant to talk about the ways the deaths within the Walls Unit affect them.

"We are probably a little more apathetic about the executions," Kunkel admitted. "I would say your average native Huntsvillian is less likely to be one of the protesters of an execution than someone from somewhere else. We are less likely to be aware when an execution is happening than someone else, even though it happens in our town."

James Willett, former Walls Unit warden and current Director of the Prison Museum, said he had seen his fair share of death within the walls. In fact, he had seen so much death he cannot recall exactly how much: "The media reported about 89 when I retired, but I don't know because I have never sat down and figured it up. Eighty-nine executions in the three years I was a warden there."

Willett said his job as warden was not a pleasant one, and witnessing executions affected him greatly. "It was very much a difficult job, just in watching somebody die," Willett said. "There is not anything enjoyable about that."

Willett moved to Huntsville in 1970 and has enjoyed living and prospering with the city and its people. "I think without the prison system you would probably be lucky to find a red light here in town," Willett said. "I don't think the people in Huntsville [are] affected the way most outsiders think so. I always get asked questions about the executions here in Huntsville, but most of the people don't pay any attention to it. Typically, I like to say that if you went down to the local cafe on the square and asked them about the execution that was going to happen that evening, if there was one, you would be telling most of them something that they don't know....It is just something that goes on here...something that isn't necessarily drawn upon. They just try and keep it out of their lives. Whether you are for it or against it, it gets kind of old awful quick around here."

Current Governor Rick Perry, the Republican who followed George W. Bush into the Texas Governor's office, had nothing to say about the people of Huntsville or how the death row located there has touched their lives for good or ill. (Incidentally, Bush as Governor reviewed and approved 152 of the 313 executions since 1982 in Texas.) Perry did send a letter to me with these comments concerning what he and the "vast majority" of Texans feel about the death penalty:

"Like the vast majority of Texans, I believe that the death penalty is an appropriate response for the most violent crimes against our fellow human beings. In fact, I believe capital punishment affirms the high value we place on innocent life, because it tells those who would prey on our citizens that they will pay the ultimate price for unthinkable acts of violence.

"The power to make life and death decisions is the most sobering responsibility imaginable. I have always exercised this power with the gravity due such a decision, and I will continue to review each capital punishment case brought before me to ensure that due process is served."

The executions that occur in Huntsville have produced a devastating apathy in the citizens of the town. The majority of the people of Huntsville have lost the will to worry, wonder, or care what happens inside the walls of the seven prisons located in the area -- as long as what happens stays inside those walls. The Walls Unit was built to keep the prisoners in, but metaphorically it keeps the prisoners hidden, so the citizens who live and breathe because of the prison don't have to think about the reality of what is occurring inside the Walls Unit. And to themselves.

As Willett said, "When I left [the Walls Unit], I was glad that I didn't have to mess with those types of things anymore."

Vivica Defrancesco, a waitress at the TW's Steakhouse, located on the town square a mere block from the prison, said she couldn't remember why she moved from nearby Houston to Huntsville. "Personally," she said, "I think this is a dead little town."

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