Thursday, May 3, 2012

Review: Alia Malek's "Patriot Acts" in Arab Lit (in English)

My review of Alia Malek's important and ever relevant "Patriot Act: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice" is up on M. Lynx Qualey's Arabic Literature in Translation.  The book is part of McSweeney's Voice of Witness Series.

Still trying to find more on the topic, I attended a talk last night at the CUNY Grad Center, "New Modes of Profiling: Muslims, Arabs and South Asians in Post-9/11 United States" with two speakers from Southern California.  For me, as a non-expert, putting names on programs whose effects many of us directly witnessed without understanding (PENTTBOM, Voluntary Interviews, and NSEERS) is more important than those deeply mired in research understand.  Connecting such labels that appear on Power Point slides with the faces of people I know or with stories I personally know of, was more upsetting than I expected.  Of course I've heard of most of these terms--but the haunting and detached voice of an expert who puts it all together as an organized system with a time-frame and statistics and who can explain that, while tactics have changed, the eerie and undefined "goals" of such systems haven't should frighten more people than it does.

Yesterday's speakers, like Malek's book, wisely stressed the importance of putting these cases of surveillance, arrests, informants, and entrapment, in the context of a history of war time society, such as Japanese internment camps, the "Red Scare," and the Civil Rights era.  Another speaker also said people have spoken out much more quickly about these issues than those in the internment camps in the 1940s. But this context, should be used carefully to promote the importance of continuing to speak out to end such cycles of violence.

 Last night, when I asked about places to get more information on this topic, I was somewhat dismissed  (not by the speakers)--and told there's information everywhere.  If this is true, when I talk to smart, educated people about the project I'm working on, why have so few ever even heard of the "Special Registration" or NSEERS?  Though these cases drop into the news at times (such as the recent allegations of the NYPD's activities in New Jersey and Connecticut ) in-depth, reliable information is hard to gather, which is why books like Malek's books geared to readers who aren't experts are so important.

Leaving now to hear Nobel prize winner Herta Muller speak about her upbringing in Romania and "the school of silence."  Part of PEN World Voices this weekend:  "Herta Muller: On Silence."  Muller's "The Appointment" is one of my favorite novels.  I've looked forward to hearing her this afternoon and tomorrow for months.

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