band annie's Weblog

I have a parallel blog in French at


November 2014



How to support the Syrian democrats in their daily resistance? What can cinema do to help people who try to make their voice heard at the risk of their own lives? The war in Syria has been raging since March 2011: bloody dictatorship on one side, jihadists and terrorists on the other. Despite the horror suffered by the civilian population, the word and artistic creation seem to have liberated themselves. Films and debates try to shed a light on one of the darkest pages in the Middle East’s recent history.


14:30 PREMIERE Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait – Ossama Mohammed 
Preceded by the shortfilm: Under the Tank – Eyas Al Mokdad
17:00 > 17:15 –The Celebration – Ghayath Almadhoun (Reading & projection)
17:15 > 18:45 – Debate
19:00 – PREMIERE Our Terrible Country – Ali Atasi 
In the presence of Ali Altasi

19:00 Io sto con la sposa –  Antonio Augugliaro, Gabriele Del Grande, Khaled Soliman Al Nassiry  
In the presence of the Directors
Followed by a debate with: Antonio Augugliaro, Gabriele Del Grande, Khaled Soliman & Caroline Intrand (CIRÉ – Coordination et initiatives pour réfugiés et étrangers)

21:15 Return to Homs –  Talal Derki 

More info: 

19:30 – The Immortal Sergeant – Ziad Kalthoum 

RELEASE @ AVENTURE > 11.12.2014 
Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait – Ossama Mohammed
Return to Holms – Talal Derki
Our Terrible Country – 
Ali Altasi

More info: 

Sunday 07.12.2014 – 11:00 > 22:30
Rue Ravenstein



The Mystery of Abdul-Rahman, or Peter Kassig

NOVEMBER 17, 2014




“They tell us you have abandoned us and/or don’t care but of course we know you are doing everything you can and more,” Abdul-Rahman Kassig, born Peter Kassig, wrote to his parents, Ed and Paula, when he had been held by the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham for several months. He knew that his captors might kill him—“it may very well be coming down to the wire here”—and in the end they did: over the weekend, ISIS released a video of a member of the group displaying Kassig’s severed head. He was twenty-six years old, and from Indiana. In the letter, he’d sought to prepare his parents for that end, and, perhaps, to forestall the visions they might have of his last moments: “Don’t worry Dad, if I do go down, I won’t go thinking anything but what I know to be true. That you and mom love me more than the moon & the stars.”

Kassig was kidnapped delivering medical aid to people affected by the civil war in Syria. He had been a soldier, a Ranger in Iraq, then a college student, and, very briefly, a husband. (The marriage ended in divorce.) Along the way, the Army trained him as a medic, and he took classes to learn to be an emergency medical technician. On a vacation to Lebanon, where he encountered Syrian refugees, he realized that his medical knowledge was an asset, a gift he could hand to desperate people. Just before he was supposed to go home, he had, as he wrote in an e-mail to family and friends, “the best conversation that I have ever had with my mom. From 4,000 miles away in a shelled out parking lot in Beirut I told her about what I had been involved in over the last week.” He had found his “calling”:

Yesterday my life was laid out on a table in front of me. With only hours left before my scheduled flight back to the United States, I watched people dying right in front of me. I had seen it before and I had walked away before.… I’m just not going to turn my back this time, it’s as simple as that.

“My whole life has led me to this point in time,” he wrote. He stayed, and bandaged wounds, cared for people in clinics, and, just generally, helped. He was drawn across the Syrian border into a zone of both war and jihadi kidnapping. Joshua Hersh, who encountered Kassig when he was working there, wrote that he “didn’t try to convince me that going back was safe, or even wise. But his commitment to the relief project he had embarked on was untempered, and it was clear to me that he would soon go back.” In a wrenching statement posted to Facebook on Sunday, his parents said, “We are incredibly proud of our son for living his life according to his humanitarian calling,” and asked that people donate to a Syrian relief group in lieu of flowers.

Altruism is a mystery, in the best sense of the word, in the same way that love is. It’s not one we always need to solve; often, it leaves us most puzzled about ourselves, about our own lives spread on a table. (Larissa MacFarquhar has written about this.) But there are also two other, more specific mysteries associated with Kassig’s death. One has to do with his conversion to Islam. The other is why this ISIS beheading video did not resemble others.

At some point in his captivity, Peter Kassig, who was raised Methodist, converted to Islam and took the name Abdul-Rahman.* That is what his parents called him publicly when, after a period in which they were trying to quietly work for his release, they began to speak out; they referred to him as Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig in the statement after his death was confirmed, when it would no longer have been useful; President Obama also used the name Abdul-Rahman, in calling the murder “an act of pure evil.” Kidnappings often include forced conversions—the men who abducted more than two hundred girls from their school in Nigeria claimed that the girls had converted, but no one would hold those children (or adults in similar situations) to religious declarations made under duress. Kassig’s parents have said, through their family Twitter account and other statements, that they believed he was sincere—and he was, by nature, sincere and searching. They were also, as Kassig rightly said in his letter to them, doing everything they could think of to save him. His mother appeared in hijab in video appeals to his captors, and also at a prayer vigil at an Islamic center in Plainfield, Indiana, where the Muslim community rallied around him. Indeed, the Muslim voices advocating for his release were as many and varied as one could get. They included college students in America, refugees in Syria, and even members of the Islamist Al Qaeda affiliate Al Nusra Front, who remembered him as someone who treated wounded rebels, among others. (This may also hint at the mixture of rebel forces.) It didn’t work. Conversion was never protection. It was not ISIS’s goal to make Kassig a Muslim, nor was it in its interest to acknowledge him as one. They wanted to murder an American, and they did.

This is what Kassig wrote, obliquely, about the questions he must have known his parents had about his conversion, in that letter from captivity:

In terms of my faith, I pray everyday and I am not angry about my situation in that sense. I am in a dogmatically complicated situation here, but I am at peace with my belief.

Kassig’s parents knew him best, and what “dogmatically complicated” and “peace” might mean to him. In the same letter, he said, “I cried a lot in the first few months but a little less now.” The choice for the rest of us, going forward—when deciding, for example, what name to call him, or to entertain the idea that the conversion was part of where Kassig’s life was leading—seems clear: follow Ed and Paula Kassig’s lead, and give them room to think about what God meant to their son.

Then there is the mystery of the video. The others each involved a hostage kneeling in an almost art-directed outdoor setting, reciting a confession, and then having his head cut off with a knife. This one did not. Instead, the ISISmember who stands there with his head calls him Peter Edward Kassig and states that he “doesn’t have much to say. His previous cellmates have already spoken on his behalf.” Before that, as if to make the point that they do, still, film themselves in the act of decapitation, there is footage of ISIS members killing captured Syrian soldiers this way. Perhaps there is footage of Kassig that the group has in reserve. But its absence so far has led to speculation that, as the Times put it, “something may have gone wrong” from ISIS’s perspective during the filming of his murder.

What could that be? There are immediate romantic fantasies: a defiant speech, a brave silence. Maybe—but keep in mind that Kassig, who was dying, didn’t owe anyone a gesture like that. It might just have been that a bomb went off nearby, or that, as the Times suggested, drones drove the executioners inside, or crossed the sky in the middle of the shot, or something prosaic, like a cameraman’s fumble. Or there could have been something that particularly spoiled its propaganda value among Muslims: for example, a profession of faith. He didn’t owe that to anyone, of any faith, either.

When he wrote to his parents as a hostage, Kassig thanked them for raising him, and for the things and the scenes that they had shown him. “I wish this paper would go on forever and never run out and I could just keep talking to you. Just know I’m with you. Every stream, every lake, every field and river. In the woods and in the hills, in all the places you showed me. I love you.” That was the end of the letter.

Update: At a press conference Monday afternoon, Ed Kassig said, “Please pray for Abdul-Rahman, or Pete if that is how you knew him, at sunset this evening.… Lastly, please allow our family the time and privacy to mourn, cry—and yes, forgive—and begin to heal.”

*Correction: A previous version of this post said that Kassig was raised Catholic.



John Coltrane Blue Train Full Album

The salt of the earth – trailer

During the last forty years, the photographer Sebastião Salgado has been travelling through the continents, in the footsteps of an ever changing humanity. He has witnessed the major events of our recent history ; international conflicts, starvations and exodus… He is now embarking on the discovery of pristine territories, of the wild fauna and flora, of grandiose landscapes : a huge photographic project which is a tribute to the planet’s beauty. Sebastião’s Salgado’s life and work are revealed to us by his son, Juliano, who went with him during his last journeys, and by Wim Wenders, a photographer himself.

Ilan Pappe (relay)

Prof. Dr. Ilan Pappe speaks at IPMN Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois. October 23, 2014, Church of Our Savior in Lincoln Park.

Belal Fadl on Egypt becoming “A Nation of Snitches”

Belal Fadl, an Egyptian screenwriter and columnist who has continued to speak his mind on the brutality and hypocrisy of the country’s military regime, has published a five-part series with the news site Mada Masr on the history of domestic espionage in Egypt. Our good friends at the professional translation service Industry Arabic have translated the final installment in the series; the earlier ones are available in Arabic on the Mada site. 


When a ruler depends solely on the power of oppression and completely impedes rational thinking, he no longer concerns himself with ensuring that there is an informant for every citizen.  Rather, he seeks to drive each and every citizen to become an informant of his or her own volition.

Some weeks ago, Abdel Rahman Zaidan, coordinator of the Revolutionaries Front in East Cairo, published a testimony on his Facebook page that soon became widely shared.  In this testimony, Abdel Rahman states that as he was riding a microbus [shared taxi-van] home, he was surprised to hear a middle-aged woman begin to fiercely criticize Sisi, the current government, and the Interior Ministry, much to the shock of those riding in the microbus with her.  One of the other passengers, encouraged by what the woman was saying, joined her in openly attacking Sisi, the government, and the Interior Ministry.

Before Abdel Rahman could join the discussion, the woman suddenly asked the driver to pull over next to a church along the way.  As soon as the microbus stopped, the woman stuck her head out the window and called to the church guards, shouting, “Save me! There’s a Muslim Brotherhood terrorist in the microbus!”

The guards rushed over, began beating the young man who had criticized Sisi, and pulled him from the microbus. The woman also got out of the microbus in order to accompany them and to testify to the heinous act that the young man had committed. She shot a sharp glance back at the other passengers, as if defying them to intervene, and stated proudly, “We’re cleaning up this country!” The remaining passengers, shocked at what had happened, sat frozen in their seats as the microbus drove away.

Abdel Rahman concludes his testimony by advising his colleagues – who are busy defending their comrades who are among the students who have been detained, providing for their needs, and publicizing their cases – to refrain from talking about politics on public transportation in order to focus their efforts on what is most important. He urges them to avoid falling into this new security trap, set to ensnare anyone who expresses opposition to what is happening in Egypt.

read full article here


Albert Einstein – God bless him – defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  And I think if you asked him to define filth, he would say that it is repression: a repression that labels as traitors all those who warn the people of the danger of repeating the same actions that have led to their defeat in the past, expecting that these actions will somehow lead them to victory now. It’s like expecting milk from an ant’s…well, let’s just say from an ant. [The expression “getting milk from an ant’s c#nt” means attempting the impossible]. 

97 Years Ago: Balfour and British Imperialism in Palestine

p.200 #244_1


“The four Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far greater import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.” – Arthur James Balfour


November 2nd marked the 97th anniversary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration declaring “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” in a letter from U.K. Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to British Zionist partisan Lionel Walter Rothschild. Although the Zionist movement had an active leadership, which had inaugurated a series of congresses and established modest settlements in Palestine, it is the endorsement of Zionism by the leading imperial power of the day that would elevate the nationalist crusade into a genuine European colonial project à la the Afrikaners’ South Africa.
p.102 #96

For Lord Balfour, Zionism stirred Protestant aspirations for a Jewish “return” to the Holy Land and appeared to settle the so-called “Jewish Question” by guiding the waves of eastern European and Russians Jews fleeing anti-Semitic pogroms to Palestine rather than Western Europe and North America.


At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, the victorious leaders of the United States, France, Italy, and Great Britain awarded the latter dominion over Palestine in the framework of a League of Nations mandate that entrusted London with carrying out the task of establishing representative institutions and recognition of the Jewish people’s “right to reconstitute their National Home [in Palestine].”


The unavoidable contradiction between supporting a Jewish homeland and self-determination in an overwhelmingly Arab country was not missed by Balfour, who attended the conference and wrote in a memo, “the contradiction between the letter of the Covenant [of the League of Nations] and the policy of the Allies is even more flagrant in the case of the ‘independent nation’ of Palestine… For in Palestine,” we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country.” That contradiction was easily settled by Balfour as the epigraph above concludes the memo.
p.246 #294

British sovereignty over Palestine and sponsorship of a now confident colonial venture furthered Zionist settlement growth and, more crucially, suppressed inevitable Palestinian resistance to Zionism, particularly the 1936-1939 revolt. The success of the Zionist project in the birth of the State of Israel, and its corollary of Palestinian expulsion, dispossession and military occupation, would have been inconceivable without British imperial aid and support.


“Everything that has followed in that conflict-riven land has flowed inevitably from this decision” to endorse a Jewish state in an Arab country by “the greatest power of the age,” Journal for Palestine Studieseditor Rashid I. Khalidi wrote in Resurrecting Empire. Whatever one may think of Israel and the Palestinians, it would be hard to argue against the judgment that Palestinians and Israelis continue to residue in the shadow of the Balfour Declaration and all its attendant consequences.


Portrait of Lord Balfour and the original declaration:


Featured Articles from the Journal of Palestine Studies:


Colonialism, Nationalism, and the Politics of Teaching History in Mandate Palestine

Author: Elizabeth Brownson

Source: Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 43, No. 3 (Spring 2014), pp. 9-25


Dividing Jerusalem: British Urban Planning in the Holy City

Author: Nicholas E. Roberts

Source: Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 42, No. 4 (Summer 2013), pp. 7-26


War-Time Contingency and the Balfour Declaration of 1917: An Improbable Regression

Author: William M. Mathew

Source: Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 40, No. 2 (Winter 2011), pp. 26-42


From Law and Order to Pacification: Britain’s Suppression of the Arab Revolt in Palestine, 1936–39

Author: Matthew Hughes

Source: Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 39, No. 2 (Winter 2010), pp. 6-22


The Hebrew Reconquista of Palestine: From the 1947 United Nations Partition Resolution to the First Zionist Congress of 1897

Author: Walid Khalidi

Source: Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Autumn 2009), pp. 24-42


Was Balfour Policy Reversible? The Colonial Office and Palestine, 1921-23

Author: Sahar Huneidi

Source: Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Winter, 1998), pp. 23-41


 The Unregarded Prophet: Lord Curzon and the Palestine Question

Author: David Gilmour

Source: Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Spring, 1996), pp. 60-68

Asking Assad to stay is asking Syrians to be party to a charade

Article is one year old but still valid



In Ambiguities of Domination, political science professor Lisa Wedeen examined the Syrian regime’s rule of domination under then-president Hafez Al Assad.

She noted a dual role for Syrians: both propping up the regime’s propaganda and at the same time subverting its power via the symbols and rhetoric of everyday life and popular culture. This seminal work, published in 1999, a year before Al Assad junior took power, explained to outsiders the inner mechanisms of an authoritative regime. Its relevance is significant today under the shadow of Hafez’s son Bashar and with the fate of a blood-soaked Syria, now in ruins.

In a particularly powerful chapter entitled Acting As If, Wedeen writes: “Power manifests itself in the regime’s ability to impose its fictions upon the world.” The complicity of the people within this imposition enforces the regime’s power of domination. In other words, the regime’s power is mainly constructed by the people’s enacted participation in that very construction.

According to Wedeen: “The politics of acting ‘as if’ carries important political consequences: it enforces obedience, induces complicity, identifies and ferrets out some disobedient citizens …”

Indeed, one of the fundamental ways the Syrian people functioned in the police state was by “acting as if”. Acting as if nothing was going on as Hama was pummeled in 1982. Acting as if they loved the leader even though they were terrified of him.

The tragedy of Bashar Al Assad’s rule is that his father’s construct of complicity has, over the past 32 months, bled far beyond Syria’s borders to encompass the entire region and international community.

As world leaders discuss the merits of the Syrian opposition attending Geneva 2 peace talks without preconditions, they flip the narrative of the revolution. A narrative in which Mr Al Assad is upgraded from a brutal dictator that deserves no more than a cell at The Hague to a potential “partner” in the transitional peace process.

The latest demeaning analysis offered to Syrians is to act “as if” Mr Al Assad maintaining power would end the brutal war that was unleashed by Mr Al Assad himself. Governments act as if dragging the Syrian opposition to the negotiation table without any preconditions will result in a political solution to a raging war. World leaders act as if Mr Al Assad’s cooperation in dismantling his chemical weapon stockpiles is reducing the amount of bloodshed, even as the cluster bombs and scud missiles continue to fall onto civilian populations.

As the slated 2014 Syrian presidential election approaches, “Syrians will have their voices heard at the ballot box” is the current refrain of Assad loyalists. As if presidential elections can even be a possibility in a country where over seven million people are displaced. And Mr Al Assad himself acts as if his nomination is not even problematic, to say the least.

For what purpose is all of this acting “as if”? To save Syria from the very regime that created this catastrophe in the first place?

The act of “acting as if”, like the fable about the emperor and his non-existent clothes, twists lies into elaborate truths to the point where even well-intentioned people, including Syrians themselves, are left to wonder: “Should Assad stay?”

Faisal Al Yafai, writing in these pages, approaches the “unthinkable question” of Mr Al Assad remaining in power to save Syria, arguing “all of that could be worthwhile if it ends the conflict”. True, but the most important word in that sentence is “if”.

While Al Yafai rightly points out that no one has any good ideas to end the protracted bloody war, the idea of Mr Al Assad staying in power may just be the worst one.

Most Syrians are worn out by the gruelling violence that has taken a toll on all aspects of life. Most Syrians want peace and stability. If faced with a sincere choice – Mr Al Assad remaining in power in exchange for a ceasefire, the release of all political prisoners, opening humanitarian and medical aid corridors into Syria, and beginning the long process of refugee return – most Syrians would swallow the bitter pill and choose Mr Al Assad. This choice is the result of being left alone to fight two enemies armed by foreign forces with virtually no support. It is a choice of despair.

It is also an unfairly framed choice for one simple reason: Mr Al Assad will never uphold his end of the bargain. Syrian history, old and new, is a reminder of how the Assad regime deals with the people’s dissent. Both father and son have displayed their relentless tactics of retribution. (See Hama, 1982. Or Syria, 2011-2013.)

Making a judgement call based on the grim Syrian present – well over 100,000 dead, thousands in torture cells, millions of displaced and refugees, foreign fighters and extremists battling for foreign ideologies and agendas, mass destruction of cities, towns and villages, an out-of-touch political opposition that is corrupt and impotent, and millions of exhausted Syrians who just want it all to end now – is simply a convenient and careless cop-out.

It’s easy to look at this list of tragedies and claim that saving what’s left of Syria should be the only priority and argue that preconditions to the negotiations will only ensure more stalemate and bloodshed.

Merely glancing at the present is not only naive, it’s immoral. History tells a different story. Stories of mass murder and destruction 31 years ago in Hama, stories of thousands of torture and rape cases, stories of boys whose fingernails where ripped out because they wrote “freedom” on their school walls, stories of enforced policies of “Assad or we scorch the country”, and more recently “Kneel or starve”. Those stories document the despicable and undeniable truth of this regime.

We live in dark times when tyrants are hailed as saviours and martyrs are called terrorists.

History repeats itself – as Hama did before Daraa, and Hafez before Bashar. History also bears witness to the simple fact that sooner or later, every tyrant’s rule ends. In fact, tyrants have fallen over the centuries of our collective civilisation, on this very land called Syria.

Perhaps we will not be able to rejoice soon (or not even for decades) that the Assad regime is finally finished. That will not change one fact: asking for him or his regime to stay will not save lives. Instead, this decision will take more Syrian lives. Thousands more lives.

Deceptive options and skewed choices can be framed as powerful persuasions, as the “last hope” and the “moral choice”. These “solutions for the Syrian conflict” mock the Syrian people’s heavy sacrifices, bloody history, and desire for a peaceful future of freedom and dignity.

If the world has now decided to act “as if”, this complicit world should know that the Syrian people ended that charade 30 months ago. That was their unambiguous choice.

Beyond the dead, tortured, and displaced people; beyond the destroyed cities and scorched landscapes; beyond all what we have lost; does the world really expect Syrians to go back to acting “as if”? As if they loved the illegitimate leader in Damascus? As if the tyrant’s clothes were not soaked with the people’s blood? As if the lies had become the truth? As if history had never unfolded in the terrible ways it did?

As if nothing had happened at all?

Amal Hanano is the pseudonym of a Syrian-American writer

On Twitter: @AmalHanano

Read more: 
Follow us: @TheNationalUAE on Twitter | on Facebook

في دمشق

Blog at

Up ↑