Western Treatment of Arabs in Film – Thats Entertainment ?


My television viewing habits are fairly fragmented and not exactly the stuff of scholarly appraisal, but once in a while I see something that I think deserves further examination. This happened to me today.

I saw an advertisement for Turner Classic Movies which was touting their “Race and Hollywood:Arabs in Film” series, only this year the “race” depicted are Arabs (TCM might have been better served by substituting the word “culture” for “race” but that is a totally different subject). They are attempting to analyze how the West views the Middle East and Northern Africa through its popular movies. While this is a noble gesture, and no doubt the people at Turner Classic Movies are sincere in their attempt to shed light on an unfair portrayal, TCM is approaching their topic incorrectly in my opinion.

During the month of July host Robert Osborne is joined on Tuesday and Thursday nights by noted Middle Eastern media expert Jack G. Shaheen in discussing that night’s feature film, which will have an Arab theme. So far, so good. The devil is in the details however. Here is a partial list of films they use as a backdrop to discuss Hollywood’s depiction of the East. Among others are The Thief of Baghdad From 1940 and The Sheik from the 1930s featuring Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Using movies from almost 75 years ago to frame an intelligent discussion of the state of Hollywood’s depiction of a people is a stretch to say the least. Also listed is Tarzan the Fearless (no comment here,none is necessary) and Caesar and Cleopatra. To be fair some more modern movies are on their roster,but they include the comedy Jewel of the Nile as well as Three Kings. To further drive me crazy they are showing such politically sensitive films as Ali Babba Goes to Town and shorts by the Bowery Boys AND cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny.

The premise that “Arabs in Films” only includes those portrayals made in California is short-sighted and,well, just plain incorrect. The movie industry in this part of the world has a rich past and is thriving. The Dubai International Film Festival is now considered a must for budding film makers, on the same level as the Sundance Festival in the United States and the venerable Cannes Film Festival in France. There are thriving film companies in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and many independent moviemakers are springing up all over the Middle East and Northern Africa.

The time has long since past when movies meant films made in Hollywood exclusively. The peoples of the Middle East and Northern Africa are not just belly-dancers nor are they desert thieves or terrorists, although this is how some “classic” Hollywood movies have depicted them.

People in the West need to see how people of other cultures want themselves portrayed on the large screen. Only then can an intelligent discussion about the subject take place.

Turner Classic Movies can, if they wish, add to this dialogue or they can extend a worn out stereotype which even in its heyday never made much sense.

More on this subject in a later posting. Let me know what YOU think.

Cheers, Jeff


Turner Classic Movies

The Arab Film Industry by Richard Seymour,BNET

By Jeffrey Warren, Special Report for Breathing Freedom. All opinions contained herein are those of the author.







Egypt’s Justice System Draws Ire of Human Rights Groups

 Though the rebellion managed to topple President Hosni Mubarak, the emergency laws that helped sustain his regime are still in effect, leaving a large number of protesters behind bars without access to lawyers and families, human rights groups say.

Taher Nagati awoke early Saturday and squeezed into a cramped sedan with his lawyer for an hour’s drive in chaotic morning traffic to military court.

Nagati, 24, a biomedical engineer, hoped to penetrate Egypt’s secretive military justice system in search of his brother, Loai, a prominent Twitter activist who had been arrested during a street protest Wednesday.

But when he arrived at “C-28,” a forbidding concrete fortress that serves as a military courthouse, a throng already swarmed the front gate, desperate for information about friends or relatives. Nagati’s heart sank.

“We’ve had our revolution, but we still have some of the same old injustices,” he said.

The rebellion may have toppled President Hosni Mubarak, but emergency laws that helped sustain his regime are still very much in effect. Dismaying Egyptians who have long revered the country’s military, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is using the same laws to arrest activists and others.

Since January, more than 10,000 people have been detained under the military tribunal system, including up to 5,000 activists and protesters, human rights lawyers say. A few thousand detainees are still in custody, activist Mona Seif said.

Detainees are routinely denied access to lawyers and families, human rights groups say. They are swiftly tried and sentenced by military tribunals and packed off to military prison. Late last month, Amnesty International said that trying civilians in military courts “violates fundamental requirements of due process and fair trials.”

Protesters and activists have received sentences from a few months to seven years, Seif said. Most fall under the military rubric of “thuggery,” charged with assaulting police, resisting arrest, trespassing, obstructing traffic or possessing weapons or explosives.

Loai Nagati, 21, a computer science student who condemned military tribunals in his popular Twitter posts, was among 49 people arrested near Tahrir Square during clashes Tuesday and Wednesday. The demonstrations were among the most violent since Mubarak was overthrown Feb. 11.

The confrontations with police laid bare simmering resentments of a ruling military council many Egyptians consider opaque, authoritative and unresponsive.

In fact, the council funnels activists through military courts precisely because they are unaccountable, charged Ahmed Ragheb, a human rights lawyer who represents detainees.

Ragheb said detainees are entitled to lawyers, but the military routinely keeps lawyers at bay, providing false or misleading information about detainees’ status. Often, tribunals convict and sentence detainees before lawyers can find them.

“Or they assign them inexperienced lawyers, just to complete the show,” Ragheb said.

The council has declined to say how many detainees are being held, Seif said. Nor has it indicated how long emergency laws will remain in effect, Ragheb said, meaning they will probably last at least until after parliamentary elections scheduled for September.

Two officers serving as spokesmen for the ruling council did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Taher Nagati learned of his brother’s arrest not from the military, but from Twitter posts by Loai’s friends. He has worked on his brother’s case round the clock, begging off work and barely sleeping.

He has taken several two-hour taxi rides to the military prison where his brother is being held, only to be denied access to Loai. He persuaded an officer to deliver eight medications Loai takes for a chronic heart condition.

Ahmed Hasmet, Loai’s 29-year-old lawyer, met Loai through his Twitter posts and volunteered his services. The charging document, which accuses him of assaulting police, resisting arrest and interfering with police duties, contained a statement from a police officer who said Loai threw rocks at police.

“But how can we trust his account when the police are the ones who arrested him and turned him over to the military courts?” Hasmet asked.

Source:Los Angeles Times

African Union States Asked to Ignore Gadaffi Arrest Warrants

The African Union has called on its member states to disregard the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, a move that could weaken the ability of the world court to hold the Libyan leader accountable for crimes committed against his people.

The decision states that the warrant against Gaddafi “seriously complicates” efforts by the African Union to find a political solution to the crisis in Libya.

AU chairman Jean Ping told reporters the ICC is “discriminatory” and only goes after crimes committed in Africa while ignoring those committed by Western powers including in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“With this in mind, we recommend that the member states do not co-operate with the execution of this arrest warrant,” said the motion whose passage was confirmed by Daniel Adugna, a spokesman in the AU commissioner’s office.

If the AU’s 53 member states abide by the decision, it opens the possibility that Gaddafi could avoid prosecution by seeking refuge on the soil of neighbouring nations. That has so far been the case for the former dictator of Chad, Hissene Habre, who was given asylum in Senegal over 20 years ago, and who is yet to face trial for the alleged torture of hundreds of his opponents even though Senegal agreed in 2006 to create an ad hoc court to try him.

Gaddafi’s chief of staff, who was present at this week’s African Union summit, applauded the AU’s decision, holding a copy of it in his hand as the heads of state emerged for their declaration after a day of closed-door deliberations regarding Libya’s future.

Diplomats said that the African body is divided between those who believe Gaddafi needs to step down immediately and those which want to find a dignified exit for a longtime leader.

“This is a Libyan affair and it needs to stay a Libyan affair,” said Gaddafi’s chief of staff, Bashir Saleh. “How can you ask someone to leave his own house?”

The AU also passed a decision saying Senegal must assume its responsibilities and try Habre – or else allow him to be extradited to Belgium, which has offered to try the Chadian leader.

“It is incumbent on Senegal in accordance with its international obligations to take steps to bring Hissene Habre to trial, or extradite him,” the statement said.

A New Day Dawns




Worldathon was born in early March,2011 in response to the amazing political and personal events unfolding in the Middle East and Northern Africa, a snapshot in time which will forever be known as the Arab Spring. Spring has turned to summer and we have had to face some editorial facts.

As our name implies we originally intended to cover unfolding events the world over, whether they be Chinese suppression of the Tibettan people, the struggle of women in Saudi Arabia to obtain something as basic as their driver’s license or (yes) even an occasional “feel good” event such as the Royal Wedding in Great Britain. We have however been kept busy with the heroic struggles of the people living in what is now known in the media as the MENA region- the Middle East and North Africa.

You have no doubt noticed our abscence for the last month. We have taken this time to re-assess our mission as a blog. Where should our emphasis be in order to report stories in an unbiased manner while covering the largest area possible ? Are we truly worldwide in scope or should we re-name ourselves and become a blog devoted exclusively to the MENA area ? As executive editor it has fallen to me to preside over what has at times been a rather contentious debate over this central subject. Exciting at times and maddening at others,we simply needed to find our path in the blogosphere. As a group we have finally arrived at a decision.

Monday July 4,2011 is Independence Day in the United States where we are based (in Boston). It marked a new start for the former British colonies. That day will mark Worldathon’s new start as well.

Under the name Breathing Freedom we will be exclusively covering the Middle East and Northern Africa. We will also be a daily blog,being published at approximately 0100 GMT every day. In addition we will be inviting submissions from guest contributors with extensive knowledge in this area of the world. By concentrating solely on one area of our world we hope to offer more in depth coverage. We won’t just cover armed conflict,but rather the culture and people of the lands we hope to get to know better.

Please watch for the new us. It is my hope that you will be even more pleased with our finished product every day. New beginnings are always exciting, aren’t they ?


Jeffrey Warren,Executive Editor


Nato: Gadaffi now being targeted in Libya

In an apparent reversal of policy NATO has decided to directly target Muammar Gadaffi in allied bombing runs, according to media sources including CNN. A NATO official, speaking on condition of anonimity said the shift comes as the coalition involvement has continued on longer than many officials had anticipated, and may show some of the on going involvement of the Obama administration in the background. It is well knoown that the American leader was wary of getting involved in Libya and is eager to end the hostilities.

Top commanders at NATO are emphasizing that though this is a shift in overall policy there will be no change otherwise in the ramped up bombing campaign against command and control centers in Libya overall, and in Tripoli in particular. Former NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark said Thursday that Gadaffi is not being directly targeted because he is the head of state of Libya, but rather because the tagegeting of civilians is being carried out by a direct chain of command which Gadaffi leads. The brutalizing of civilians is expressly spelled out in the United Nations Resolution as the basis for the allied coalition to use “all means at their disposal” to end the violence. It is apparently that last UN phrase which backs up NATO in what is now a no fly zone/manhunt for Gadaffi.

Whatever the justification is put forth by NATO this change in tactic can be nothing short of great news to people in several besieged areas the the West of Libya, as well as the thousands who live daily under the threat of torture,rape and murder at the hands of a dictator who is so totally out of touch with reality that even an official price on his head remains undeterred. The coalition bombs areas in and around Gadaffi’s compound day and night and it is apparent that NATO has reliable intelligence as to the Libyan leader’s whereabouts. There are reports coming from high ranking coalition officials that Gadaffi may have been injured during one such run two weeks ago, although how badly remains to be seen.

To the millions of Libyans who yearn to be free and to see their proud nation join the ranks of the world community once again lets hope the new tactical change bears some fruit in the coming days.

It can not come soon enough.

Cheers, Jeff

Libya: Nafusa Mountains Face a Humanitarian Disaster

   For the last two months,while much of the world’s attention has been fixated on the extraordinary events unfolding in Misrata, another nightmarish hell on earth has been enveloping the Nafusa Mountain region of Libya, especially the town of Yefren and AlQalaa. As I write this urgent calls are going out to the forces of NATO by various human rights groups to intervene in this crisis.

   As many as 10,000 civilians are trapped in these towns, unable to escape the unending assaults of the Gadaffi regime’s war machine. Some estimates also say that up to 40,000 other citizens have disbursed into the Nafusa Mountains,their exact whereabouts unknown. There is no electricity or gasoline available and the towns main water supply has been cut off. The townspeople are now collecting rainwater from a local resevoir as their only source of water.

Perhaps the situation which threatens Yefren with utter calamity is the lack of food

   No food has entered the mountain region since March 1, and virtually all available food storage facilities are bare. The last of the supplies from food warehouses,such as they are, will be running our within the next two weeks. Only a few staples are left, such as spaghetti, cooking oils and tomatoes. What will happen after that is gone is anyones guess. Without outside help to break the siege these people will be left to slowly starve, while being shelled by tanks and rocket launchers. In addition Yefren’s hospital has been taken over by the pro-government forces to be used as a sniper’s nest, leaving Yefren without any adequate medical care. Medicines for the critically injured and those with various illnesses,including type 1 diabetics have long since run out.

On the pages of this blog I have railed on about humanitarian crises in various areas of Libya. I have even been taken to task by a reader or two who feel that I am too biased in my blogging. Be that what it may the situation in the Nafusa Mountains could not be more bleak. The allies, who have done so very much to help break the siege of Misrata and are helping cripple Gadaffi’s ability to kill his own people will get to Yefren and environs and will eventually break them out as well.

The thing is,if they don’t act quickly the number of people left there to thank them will be much smaller. If you pray please do so today for the courageous people of the Nafusa Mountain region.

Cheers,  Jeff

Why Libya Matters so Much

In our increasingly insular world there is a temptation to marginalize anything that doesn’t happen in ones own backyard. To a certain extent most people’s mindset is that of someone who doesn’t live in the era of the internet,social media and cell phones. To those people the concept of the Arab Spring mattering to their lives,much less the Libyan conflict affecting them is contrary to everything they believe in. This is incredibly short sighted.

   Outside of its own borders Libya has been ostracized by the world community for  the better part of four decades, the legacy of Colonel Gaddafi‘s exportation of terrorism, such as the Lockerbie, Scotland bombing of a passenger jet. The world community has also been long aware of his brutal repression of  Gaddafi’s own people, but in a selfish world many people put that aspect aside (to our collective shame). In any event when the Libyan people finally saw an opportunity to end this madness, and sought their own freedom from this man, the world stood up and took notice. But why care now ?

To much of the world Gaddafi IS Libya- its very face to the outside world. Many people are not aware that pre-Gaddafi Libya was a peace loving country and a center of intellectual thought. The arts once thrived in Benghazi and Misrata especially, with thriving artists colonies and groups of writers creating exquisite poetry and thought provoking books. The Libyan people are also by nature very curious, and several schools of scientific thought were either created or advanced within its borders.

   In a current day political sense Libya is crucial on the world stage as well. The Libya that our elders knew was a bullwork of freedom and a stabilizing influence among its neighbors in Northern Africa, as well as the Middle East. In a world which is anything but stable a free Libya would become more than a luxury. Libya stands a very real chance of becoming once again a leading promoter of organic freedom among the oppressed peoples of many countries. Libya will once again become a force for the inherent freedoms which all people aspire to- freedom from want and fear,freedom of the press, freedom of political expression as well as that of self determination. For these, and many other,  reasons the liberation of the Libyan people does matter to the world. In a very real sense this conflict is not just about the overthrowing of a perverse and brutal regime which is only interested in its own existance. It has become a symbol of the rights of peoples worldwide, every bit as important a rallying point as Tahrir Square in Cairo was (and continues to be).  To turn our back on the suffering of these brave Freedom Fighters is to turn our back on our own rights. Perhaps we in the West don’t want to think about the sacrifices Libya is making, even laying their own lives down so that their fellow countrymen may enjoy those basic liberties we so often take for granted.

Oh yes, Libya most definately matters. To think otherwise doesn’t even make sense in your own backyard.

   Cheers,  Jeff