Posted on February 26, 2014 in Countdown

At Least Three Reasons to Watch the Oscars This Year

If you’ve been following our blog, chances are you know that this Sunday night we’ll be glued to our TV’s to watch the Academy Awards. Three Arab films are up for Oscars this year: Omar, by Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, The Square by Egyptian American Jehane Noujaim, and Karamah Has No Walls from Yemen’s Sara Ishaq. All three shed light on events in the Middle East through perspectives not usually found in American media. The documentary, The Square, charts the events of the revolution through the eyes of several protestors for three years following the initial protests. The documentary doesn’t offer an inclusive view of every participant in Tahrir Sqaure, but gives the audience a glimpse of a conflict that moves so fast and cyclically that it can become a blur. At its core, Omar is a film about living under the occupation. Though fiction, the film illustrates how friendships, families and livelihoods are pervaded by the restrictions of occupation. Omar’s relationships with his friends and girlfriend are slowly eroded by the sense of paranoia and fear that comes from living with no freedom. The chance to see a story about regular Yemenis and their struggle to overthrow their government is what makes Karamah Has No Walls’ nomination exceptional. The 2011 Yemeni revolution, and the government’s brutal response, barely made headlines, but through this film a story that might have been left untold has been given a platform.

John Dingell, American Icon and Ally of the Arab American Community Set to Retire

World War II veteran, 59-year congressional representative and strong ally of the Arab American community, Rep. John Dingell (MI), announced that he will not seek reelection for a 30th term this election year. The longest-serving Congressman in U.S. history, Rep. Dingell, has authored the monumental 1990 Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act among other landmark pieces of legislation. He is perhaps best know for the single payer healthcare bill he introduced each year. As a representative of Southeast Michigan’s Arab American population, Rep. Dingell has been acknowledged by the community for his support for the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state, as well as lifting the decade-long travel ban on U.S. citizens wishing to travel to Lebanon. His departure from office may bring about significant change to Michiganders’ congressional representation as Senator Carl Levin, a senior democrat, has also announced his decision to retire from office. No bad jokes, sarcasm or cheap shots here—Rep. Dingell has truly been an icon of American politics over the course of the last half century. On our blog we write at length about Rep. Dingell’s legacy to Michigan, the country and to our community

You’re paying for an Islamophobe to train law enforcement officers

In the last edition of Countdown, we told you about a three-day counter-terrorism training seminar taking place in Culpeper, Virginia hosted by the county Sherif. To refresh your memory, the training is being taught by a known Islamphobe named John Guandolo who, among many other things asserts that Muslims "do not have a first Amendment right to do anything” and, oh yea, that CIA Director, John Brennan – the architect of the Administrations controversial drone program is a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood and is a spy for the Saudis. Despite a coalition letter from AAI and other organizations protesting the training, Guandolo’s seminar is proceeding as planned – illegally. Yes, that’s right. Not only is the training taught by a bigot conspiracy theorist, it’s in breach of federal law. Here’s why: the training Guandolo is giving is funded by the federal government through the Department of Homeland Security. Not directly, but DHS issued a grant to the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services which is the designated administering agency for DHS homeland security grants and which has jurisdiction over the Rappahannock Regional Justice Academy, the body that accredited the training. Now, it appears, according to a report quoting Sheriff Jenkins of Culpeper County, the Academy has pulled its accreditation of the training but what’s unclear is whether or not that means DHS is still funding the program. Under the 2014 House appropriations bill money spent on “any training, programs, presentations, and speakers regarding counterterrorism... which are acquired from an entity other than the Department, must be consistent with applicable laws with respect to racial, ethnic and religious profiling.” Well, guess what? Guandolo’s training doesn’t make the cut. That means you’re paying for an anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist to train law enforcement officers. That’s like someone punching you in the face and then demanding you pay the medical bill because they hurt their hand.

Are we in for a Democratic birther movement?

If you thought the birthers were specific to one far-right cohort of the Republican Party, think again. Democrats, too, are guilty of espousing the same type of ostracizing rhetoric – not against Obama, of course – against Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), the Tea Party favorite who could become a Republican presidential candidate. In an email sent out to supporters, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) alleged that Sen. Cruz was ineligible to run for president because he was born in Canada and therefore, not really American. Though were not suggesting Grayson’s attack on Cruz’s citizenship is on the same level as sustained efforts to cast president Obama as a non-citizen and secret Muslim (those were far more widespread, offensive, and an affront to our national character) but they are certainly akin. We don’t want to pay credence to Rep. Grayson’s email, but here are the facts: Sen. Cruz’s mother is an American citizen and Sen. Cruz has been an American citizen since birth. If Rep. Grayson or his staff has a problem with Cruz’s citizenship credentials, then he should explain to American diplomats stationed abroad that, according to the Constitution, if their children are born outside the US, that they can never become president. We think that telling American children they have no hope of one day aspiring to become the President of the United States is the definition of un-American. If these types of jabs continue to take shape so far in advance of the presidential elections, looks like we could be in for one heck of a ride come 2016. Let’s focus on debate over politics and policy, not unfounded attacks on citizenship status. 

Egypt: Weʼve Seen This Before

Egyptʼs government resigned abruptly this week, likely setting the stage for Egyptʼs popular military chief, Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, to run for president. The new prime minister, Ibrahim Mehlib, who was a member of former president Hosni Mubarakʼs ruling political party, said that he would form a new government within days. Former Prime Minister Hazem Beblawi did not give a clear reason for his government's resignation, but some speculate that the resignation opens up the way for Sisi to announce his candidacy for president, since he would have to resign as defense minister first. The recent political changes have been coupled with a widespread crackdown on journalists, academics and others accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. Some academics, like the American University in Cairoʼs Emad el-Din Shahin, say they can no longer speak freely for fear of being accused of supporting the Brotherhood. Egypt's court sentenced 220 supposed Morsi supporters accused of inciting violence and protesting with out permits to prison. Three Al Jazeera journalists are also currently facing charges of aiding and abetting terrorism amid online campaigns to raise awareness. Egypt's recent events are worrisome and the military-led government is leading Egypt down a path away from democratic principles. Apparently, the State Department thinks this is all "pretty common in democracies when they're in their new stages." We'd like to disagree - it's not common, nor is Egypt looking like a democracy.  

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