VOMENA 6.11.14 – “Human Rights in Iran and speaking out against the Zionist hegemony in the US”

June 12th marks the 5th anniversary of 2009 post-presidential election protest movement in Iran.

 It was a watershed moment in Iranian history, when millions of Iranians took to the streets to protest the fraudulent re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Thousands of people were arrested, tortured or killed, and many disappeared, while thousands of young Iranians were forced to leave the country – and Ahmadinejad was never ousted. Five years later, in the aftermath Hassan Rohani’s election, what, if anything, has changed?

Malihe Razazan spoke with Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran

According to Ghaemi, almost a year after Rohani’s election, not much has changed: “It was just a year ago that [Rouhani] created a lot of hope, especially for the young population who voted for him to ease the restrictions and improve the human rights situation. Unfortunately, not much has happened. There is a minority clique who is controlling the security, intelligence and judiciary. And they don’t seem to be wanting to relinquish power. And if anything, they have increased their oppression and human rights violations.”

Later in the show, Khalil Bendib interviews Allan Brownfeld about zionism in Jewish-American communities.

Years before the tide of overwhelming pro-Israel sentiment within the Jewish community started turning in America, Allan Brownfeld had been commenting on the myriad signs of growing disaffection with Israel in the pages of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs magazine. Khalil Bedib spoke with Mr. Brownfeld about a recent article in which he documents several incidents of rebellion against the heavy-handed Zionist hegemony within the organized Jewish-American community, and the increasingly frequent failure to stifle all dissent when it comes to the issue of Israel-Palestine.

In a speech for the National Summit to Reassess the Special Relationship between the U.S. and Israel, he says:

…First, Judaism is a religion, not a nationality, that American Jews are American by nationality and Jews by religion, just as other people are Protestant, Catholic, or Muslim… It is my opinion that what has happened to American Judaism has completely corrupted its religious nature. What we are witnessing today, synagogues flying Israeli flags, programs urging American Jews to immigrate to Israel, their real homeland, is a form of idolatry, making the sovereign state of Israel the object of worship, rather than God.

Allan Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and a contributing editor to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.


VOMENA 6.4.14 – Practicing Return and Voting or Not Voting in Egypt

Today we will discuss the recent presidential elections in Egypt.

Despite massive pro-military media propaganda in Egypt, and threats of large fines against those who did not vote, the election commission had to extend the voting for a third day in an attempt to draw more people to polling booths. As predicted, ex-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared himself the president of Egypt with 96% of the votes. So was it apathy or an effective Egyptians boycott? What explains the lack of voter turnout when the military has been getting support from a huge sector of the Egyptian public?

Khalil Bendib posed these questions to Cairo-based activist and journalist, Hossam El-Hamalawy.


Later in the show, we discuss the creative ways Palestinians have used to practice their right of return over recent years.

We will speak with Samera Esmeir, associate professor at the department of Rhetoric at UC Berkeley about her recent article, “A Guide for the Perplexed: On the Return of the Refugees” published on the Middle East Research and Information Project. In this text, professor Esmeir focused on the the the return of some of the Palestinian refugees to their village Kafr Bir’im, located in northern Palestine in the Galilee, whose residents were expelled in 1948.

“Refugees no longer, we have returned!” a group of Palestinian youths declared in 2012 as they decided to practice their right of return by going back to their village of Iqrit in northern Palestine.A year later, some of the refugees from the neighboring village Kafr Bir’im declared their return to their village. Announcing that they were no longer refugees, to Israel’s consternation, they moved to live in the church and in the two-room school structure of the village, holding gatherings, parties, events and concerts.

Kafr Bir’im’s history and refugees struggle with the Israeli courts as they continued occupying their land. Samera Esmeir started taking us through the village which was declared by the Israelis a national park in the aftermath of the 1948 Nakba.

Read Samera Esmeir’s article, “A Guide for the Perplexed: On the Return of Refugees” here. 

VOMENA 5.28.14 – Coal mine tragedy in Turkey and correcting ancient Persian history in schools

On May 13th, a mine explosion in the western town of Soma, Turkey, triggered an underground fire which killed more than 300 coal mine workers. This was not the first coal mine disaster in Turkey but it’s the deadliest mining disaster in Turkey’s history. The tragedy has raised questions about the impact of neo-liberal and privatization policies of the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) and its far reaching impact on the lives of millions of workers in Turkey.

On this edition of Voices of the Middle East and North Africa, we will have a conversation with Erdem Yörük, an assistant professor of sociology at Koç University in Turkey about the the impact of the politics of the AKP party on workers’ rights and safety in coal mines and other hazardous industries in Turkey.

According to a report on the BBC, mining safety incidents are not new to Turkey – Around 13,000 miners suffered accidents at work in 2013, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute. On average, for every million tons of excavated coal, more than seven miners die every year, according to a report by the Economic Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV).

Many blame these accidents on loose regulatory standards and privatization. Since the state leased the mine to the Soma Holding Company in 2005, the company has cut mining costs by up to 80 percent – most likely at the cost of worker safety.

“Work safety? There is no work safety. They cut corners wherever they can,” Veli Yilmaz, a coal miner in Soma for nine years, told the Guardian. “The foremen receive a bonus if we produce more coal than planned. So all they worry about is working faster and extracting more coal.”

Just weeks before the disaster, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) voted against a motion in parliament calling for a thorough inspection of mines throughout the country.

“We are sick of going to the funerals of miners. We have to do something to stop these fatalities,” said Ozgur Ozel, an MP from the Republican People’s Party (CHP), who called for the inspection.

Five company officials, including the mine’s operating manager, Akin Çelik, have been arrested on charges of causing death by negligence as part of an investigation into the disaster.


Later in the program we will have a conversation with John Lee, Associate Professor of history at UC Santa Barbara and Dr. Jaleh Niazi of HistoryAdvocates, about a new campaign to bring radical change in the way ancient Persian civilization is being taught in California K-12 public education.

Jaleh Niazi is a member of the History Advocate campaign, an effort to correct California schools’ biased representation of ancient Persian civilization. You can learn about the campaign at historyadvoctes.com.

5.7.14 – Ilan Pappé and the foundation myth of Israel

In this week’s program, we’ll have a conversation with prominent Israeli scholar Ilan Pappé about his new book The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge. In it, Pappe examines the way successive generations of Israeli historians have framed the 1948 conquest as a “liberation campaign,” and created a foundation myth that went unquestioned in Israeli society until the 1990s.

Mr. Pappe’s new book has been described as a powerful and urgent intervention in the war of ideas concerning the past, and the future, of the Israel and Palestine.

To continue to support this kind of programming, we need your help! VOMENA’s home station, KPFA 91.4FM, is in the midst of ap ledge drive. Call 510 848-5732 or toll free 1-800-439-5732 to donate, or contribute through our site, kpfa.org.

[Audio will be uploaded soon]

VOMENA 4.30.14 – A Lecture from Ali Abunimah: The Battle for Justice in Palestine

On today’s show, we’re broadcasting the lecture from Ali Abunimah on the failure of a two-state solution, which was given to benefit the Middle East Children’s Alliance. As Israel and its advocates lurch toward greater extremism, many ask where the struggle is headed. Abunimah offers a clear analysis of this crossroads moment and looks forward with urgency down the path to a more hopeful future.

Ali Abunimah is the author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli Palestinian Impasse and newly released The Battle for Justice in Palestine. He co-founded and directs the widely acclaimed publication The Electronic Intifada. Based in the United States, he has written hundreds of articles and been an active part of the movement for justice in Palestine for 20 years.
This lecture was originally given on April 22nd, 2014, and was sponsored by the Middle East Children’s Alliance and KPFA, the home of Voices of the Middle East and North Africa. To continue to support this kind of programming, we need your help! Call 510 848-5732 or toll free 1-800-439-5732 to donate, or contribute through our site, kpfa.org.

VOMENA 4-23-14: US-Iran relations and more

Last week, in accordance with a court document filed in New York, the Department of Justice agreed to distribute proceeds from the pending sale of an Iranian-owned 36-story skyscraper in Manhattan. Proceeds would go to the families of victims of various alleged attacks by Iran-backed militants in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Israel, among others.

In this week’s show, Shahram Aghamir speaks with Mansour Farhang, professor emeritus of international relations at Bennington College in Vermont, about current US-Iran relations as well as the US plan to sell the building housing owned by the Alavi Foundation and Assa Corporation.

The Alavi Foundation is a private not-for-profit organization devoted to the promotion and support of Islamic culture and Persian language, literature and civilization. Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said on Saturday, “Confiscation of the properties of an independent charity organisation raises doubt about the credibility of US justice.”

The plan is the latest in a legal battle over the skyscraper, known as the Piaget Building, which was built in 1978 under the Shah of Iran. In a 2009 lawsuit, the Manhattan US attorney’s office claimed the Alavi Foundation was controlled by Iran. The court ruled that that Assa Corporation and Assa Company Limited, who own less then half of the building, were a front for Iran’s national Bank Melli. Last year, a federal court ruled that the skyscraper was subject to government forfeiture for “shielding and concealing Iranian assets” in violation of US sanctions law. According to The Guardian, Iran has called the seizure illegal and a violation of religious freedoms. So what is behind the recent dispute over the Alavi Foundation?

4.16.14 Personal Status Law in Iraq and Iran funding Iraqi Shia militias to fight in Syria

from Al Jazeera

On this week’s show, we look at the Iraqi cabinet’s approval for a new personal status legislation, called Ja’fari law, named after the sixth Shi’ite imam Ja’afar al-Sadiq. He established a school of jurisprudence (Shi’ite) in Madina in the 8th century. The draft law is now awaiting a final vote by the Iraqi Parliament, and has created an uproar among Iraqi women’s rights and civil rights community.

If approved, the Ja’fari law will abolish the current Personal Status Law No 188, which is considered one of the most progressive in the Arab world. The new law will roll back the right of women in marriage, divorce and child custody, as well as inheritance. It will lower the age of marriage for girls from 18 to 9 and for boys to 15.

In this week’s show, Malihe speaks with prominent Iraqi women Rights’s activist, Basma AlKhateeb, who volunteers with Iraq 1st CEDAW, Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women Shadow Report Coalition as expert and trainer. She spoke from Baghdad about who initially proposed the law and what the implications of this law are for Iraqi women.

Shahram Aghamir speaks with Martin Chulov, the Guardian’s Middle East correspondent, about one his recent reporting trips to the Iraqi city of Najaf. Iraqi Shia militias killed in Syria are the newcomers to the city’s cemetery, the biggest in the world. They discuss the growing political force Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq’s connections with Iran and thousands of Iraqi Shia militias funded by the Iranian government to fight on the side of Bashar Al Assad, who is predicted to win the next election in Syria.

Chulov writes, “The newest occupants of the cemetery were killed not here in Iraq but in Syria, where they fought under the green flag of the Middle East’s most potent new Shia Islamic political force, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (League of the Righteous).”

4.9.14 – “The Battle for Justice in Palestine” and MENA films at San Francisco International Film Fest

In this week’s show, Khalil Bendib speaks with Ali Abunimah, co-founder and director of website The Electronic Intifada about his new book, “The Battle for Justice in Palestine”. We’ll ask him about the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel and the future of Palestine.
Abunimah writes:
“Efforts to achieve a “two-state solution” have finally collapsed; the struggle for justice in Palestine is at a crossroads. As Israel and its advocates lurch toward greater extremism, many ask where the struggle is headed. This book offers a clear analysis of this crossroads moment and looks forward with urgency down the path to a more hopeful future.”
 Khalil speaks with Ali Abunimah about the main thesis of his book and the global BDS movement.

Later in the program, Malihe Razazan interviews Rachel Rosen, director of programming at the San Francisco International Film Festival about the annual festival, which will start on April 24th and it will run through May 5th. This year’s festival will feature 168 films, including 74 Narrative Features, 29 Documentaries, and a number of world and U.S. Premieres, including a number of films from the Middle East and North Africa.

Not featured in our show, but also of note: Jose State University Persian Studies is hosting for the first-ever “Cultures of the Iranian Diaspora”, a two-day conference featuring panels on visual arts, literature and film with Bay Area and nationally-acclaimed writers, artists and filmmakers.

The conference also features two special free events:

  • “Inja o Oonja: Stories from Iranian American Life” — a staged adaptation of three short stories from Tremors: New Fiction by Iranian American Writers on Friday, April 11. 7 pm, Le Petit Trianon Theatre, 72 N. 5th Street. Free and open to the public.
  • Filmmaking in the Diaspora– A Screening and Discussion Babak Sarrafan’s “Doosteh Hameshegy–Forever Friends” and Mo Gorjestani’s “Refuge” on Saturday, April 12. 7  pm, SJSU Student Union Ballroom. Free and open to the public.

For more information about the conference, visit: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/581896


4.2.14 – “Saudi Arabia’s Regional Ambitions and National Poetry Month”

On today’s show, we will explore Saudi Arabia’s regional ambitions in the Middle East and how US-Saudi relations are evolving.

Last week, amidst media reports of tension between the two countries, U.S. President Obama visited Saudi Arabia to meet with Saudi King Abdullah. Though Saudi Arabia has always been a staunch US ally, of late, foreign policy differences have arisen between the two countries. On this edition of VOMENA, we will explore Saudi Arabia’s regional ambitions in the Middle East and how US-Saudi relations are evolving. Shahram Aghamir interviews Toby Jones, a historian of the modern Middle East at Rutgers Univeristy. He is the author of Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia.

April is National Poetry Month and this week we are bringing you some of the poetry of the Middle East’s most celebrated poet, Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish, translated by Iraqi poet Sinan Antoon, author of Baghdad Blues.

3.26.14 – “Tunisia’s New Constitution and Twitter Banned in Turkey”

Protesters hold placards reading “Do not touch my Twitter” during a protest against the Turkish government’s Twitter ban. [CNN]

Unlike its less fortunate neighbors to the east, since the fall of its long-time dictator Tunisia has so far managed to stay free of major violence and disorder. Host Khalil Bendib interviews Tunisian political scientist, Nadia Marzouki, a Jean Monnet Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, about the recently passed Tunisian constitution.

Last week, Prime Minister Erdogan waged – as some have called it – a digital coup d’etat by banning the widely used social media network Twitter. On March 20th, during a campaign rally for the March 30th local elections, he said “We now have a court order. We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic!”

On Thursday evening, Twitter users in Turkey were welcomed to their screens by the message “Twitter is blocked in Turkey by court order.” What was behind this daring move by the Turkish government and why has Prime Minister Erdogan decided to lash out primarily at Twitter? Host Malihe Razazan put these questions to Alexander Christie-Miller, a Turkey-based freelance journalist who writes for the Times of London and Christian Science Monitor.

A Turkish court just overturned the ban, and the government has 30 days to restore Twitter service to the country. Global news network, Vocativ, recently revealed that despite Erogdan’s dislike of the social media network, he has an “army” of fake accounts posting content supportive of the Prime Minister’s party and politics.


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