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Tadamon! 10 Years of Notes from the Global Intifada

The Editors
Date Published: 
March 11, 2011

Notes from the Global Intifada – Believe it or not, over the past year we at Left Turn had been discussing changing our tag line, it is as though a long time can go by without fundamental change happening, and then all of a sudden there is a week when everything takes off.

Ten years ago when Left Turn emerged, momentum seemed to be on our side. In 1999 historic protests shut down the World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings in Seattle. A wave of anti-corporate globalization protests that had begun building in the movements of the Global South seemed to sweep into North America and finally caught the people of the US. A project that could document and project this global rebellion for a specifically US audience seemed necessary and full of possibilities.

“The second Palestinian intifada, which erupted in September of 2000, in some ways had just as much of an impact on those who started Left Turn as the protests in Seattle. The popular uprising came on the heels of the Lebanese resistance’s eviction of Israel from southern Lebanon, the first major defeat of Israel since its creation in 1948. The protests throughout the Middle East in solidarity with the intifada were massive and in almost every Arab country turned to issues of democracy, poverty and corruption and, inevitably, against the dictators that ruled over them.” –- Rami Elamine, editor

Ten years later, as we began editing the 10th anniversary issue, we were again captivated by a world in revolt. With excitement and awe we watched the people of Tunisia topple the corrupt regime of Ben Ali. The spark spread to Egypt, where for 18 days we were gripped by the sights and sounds emanating from Tahrir Square. Millions of Egyptians inspired by Tunisia had launched a revolution to unseat the Mubarak regime. As in 2000, the protesters took to the streets to demand democracy, propelled by a combination of poverty and lack of economic opportunity.

The US government has struggled to respond to the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. Right up until the very end the White House effectively supported Mubarak, a man the US has supported for 30 years with billions of dollars in military aid. Journalist Robert Fisk said it best when he pointed out that people’s democratic movements in the Middle East are exactly what Washington fears most — more than terrorism, more than Radical Islam.

But if you watch cable news or read the mainstream papers and magazines, you get a very different story. Radical Islam is the greatest threat to democracy, freedom and the US. Two wars are being waged because of this alleged threat, whole political careers in the US are built on it and a mainstream news industry is thriving because of it.

“I think that one of the most important contributions that Left Turn has made to the anti-war movement has been its analysis of Islamophobia. Tainted by mainstream media and fear-mongering politicians, the American left has always been confused about Islam. The advantage that Left Turn has had is contributions from Muslim writers who understand the nuances of “Islamic Fundamentalism.” These contributors know how to debunk the idea that Muslims are homogeneous and affirm that what is lumped under Islam in mainstream media is actually a dumbed-down distortion of complex social, political and cultural issues.  — Zein Elamine, contributor

For those of us in the US, watching events unfold in the Middle East and North Africa has been compelling and emotionally stirring. Who among us is content merely to observe others fight for their liberation? No, watching these happenings stirs something deep within us all that speaks to our own desire for liberation. The joy we feel in others’ triumph is also hope for our own.

Solidarity is not merely to support others in their struggle, but to realize a shared interest in struggle. The thousands of Wisconsin teachers and other state employees who took to the streets and occupied their state capitol building to demand the right to collective bargaining were clearly inspired by the events across the Arab world. Signs in Madison referred to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker as “Hosni Walker” and “Mubarak of the Midwest” and insisted that the “Pharaoh must fall.” Other signs referred to the protests at the capitol as “Wisconsin’s Tahrir Square.” As labor struggles have increased in Egypt after the fall of Mubarak, the solidarity between Egyptian and Wisconsin workers was wonderfully captured by a widely distributed picture of a protestor in Tahrir Square holding a sign that said, “Egypt stands with Wisconsin workers.” 

“Solidarity can be at its most potent and beautiful at the times and in the places where they try hardest to keep us divided. We see this time and again. But the shared interest remains. When a victory is won for domestic workers in New York City, it strikes a blow for the rights and dignity of immigrant women of color not only in the US but in Haiti, the Philippines and Guatemala as well. When migrant workers from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India organize to fight for better working conditions at their jobs in Iraq, the same subcontracted mercenaries wielded against the Iraqi people are used to suppress them. When borders are erected against us and the power of the state is employed to criminalize and incarcerate us, as in SB1070 in Arizona, coalitions of people come together across interests to oppose them and fight back. Eroding the borders that keep us separated, we realize that the struggle is a common one — we are all on the “fault lines of the global economy.” — Pranjal Tiwari, editor

As an all-volunteer, grassroots media project, Left Turn is reporting from the fault lines of the global economy. The articles in Left Turn are the stories and analyses of struggle and triumph all too often unreported in mainstream corporate media.

“The corporate media and political leaders have tried to sell the myth that we have reached the end of history. But from Tunisia to Wisconsin, mass movements have shown that the only thing that is sure is that change is inevitable. For those who have dedicated their lives to social justice, the very real revolutions happening in the Middle East and North Africa have demonstrated that change is still possible, and that justice and liberation will not come from the top down but from grassroots organizing and sustained, strategic struggle. The inspirational movements in these other countries have the potential to teach a scared and complacent US movement important lessons, and break through an Islamophobia that is common even among many who consider themselves left.” — Jordan Flaherty, editor

Sitting down with a copy of Left Turn is as much an experience of viewing as of reading. In reporting movements — the global intifada — the visual spectacle that is the backdrop, frame and setting for events is as important as the words. In effect, art and visuals are another kind of voice people have to show resistance.

“Visual cues have a deep impact on our perception of self and society. Capitalism has exploited this sensitivity to undervalue our sense of self-worth and has forced us to fill the subsequent gap with merchandise. For generations, radical artists and photographers have responded by using their own means to deter this trend. With their pencils, paintbrushes and spray cans, they have spread messages of solidarity, justice and hope throughout the world, from the anti-occupation graffiti on the apartheid wall in Palestine to public art projects in the favelas of Brazil. With their cameras, artists have also been there to capture images and humanize stories that mainstream media would otherwise have ignored. Left Turn has had the privilege for a decade to host the artwork of a number of these incredible artists who have helped leftists visualize what ‘global intifada’ looks like.” — Vasudha Desikan, art editor

In Arabic the word intifada literally means “shaking off,” and we are witnessing how people are actively shaking off the oppressions that tie them down. What will be next? We don’t know, but we can take heart that ten years after Left Turn’s first edition, the global intifada — with all its ebbs and flows — continues … and so does Left Turn.

“We sometimes joke that at times it feels as if Left Turn is a ‘movement publication without a movement,’ but it is at times like these that we quickly catch ourselves and reaffirm that our modest contribution continues to be an important one. It is because of the support and positive feedback of so many of our readers that we continue the stubborn task of producing a print project in the age of digital media and the 24-hour news cycle.”  – Max Uhlenbeck, editor

As we move into our second decade, we continue to grow and evolve with the movements we seek to document and celebrate. With this issue we are thrilled to formally welcome Walidah Imarisha to the editorial collective. Over the past several years Walidah has been responsible for editing some of our most groundbreaking content, including the feature section in our recent Other Worlds Are Possible / Visionary Fiction issue. In this issue she edited our special section on the movement to abolish the prison industrial complex.

Thank you to everyone who has made this magazine possible over the past ten years. This includes all of our writers; subscribers; sustainers; advertisers; artists; distributors; readers; our fiscal sponsor, the Washington Peace Center; and, of course, the organizers and activists on the frontlines who have inspired us. We would not exist without you, and we look forward to continued and united rising up and shaking off!

-Morrigan, Max, Vasudha, Jordan, Pranjal, Walidah, Tej, Francesca, and Rami