The social Matrix

The social Matrix

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Pope Francis' Comments on Homosexuality

   Last week Pope Francis surprised many people when he stated gays should be respected, and deserve to be treated with dignity, while on a trip back to the Vatican from Brazil. “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”  said Francis to a group of reporters. Its hard to disagree with the Pope's sentiments  after reading power testimonies such as this story. men at a funeral . The news about the Pope's comments surfaced at the same time when another prominent religious figure, Bishop Desmond Tutu, has said that he would not want to go to heaven if it is "homophobic."

Wikimedia Commons

  The Papal Pendulum 

  Controversy over the existence of homosexuality in the Catholic Church was especially present during Pope Francis' predecessor's time in office.  Some Traditional Catholics, equated homosexuality with pedophilia. They rationalized that the problem with child abuse was linked to homosexuality because the majority of victims were boys. However, liberally-minded Catholics say that there is no proof that homosexuals are more likely to molest young children than heterosexuals, and that it shouldn't matter because the clergy are supposed to be celibate once it is in office. Both sides of the debate agree that the banning of gay men from the clergy will create a shortage of priests, that will curtail the church's global outreach. 

   While Pope Francis is not embracing same-sex marriage anytime soon, his views are in stark contrast when juxtaposed with his predecessor. In his first encyclical released in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed the Church's position on homosexuality. This papal directive, was embraced by many conservative Catholics who were concerned that secular society might influence church policy. Pope Benedict XVI didn't stop at homosexuality either. He even criticized, agnosticism, atheism, Marxism and liberalism. For Benedict, the battle against these ideologies was part of a larger war pitting absolute truth  against cultural relativism. This is why many Catholics were surprised, especially conservatives, when Pope Francis declared that even Atheists can get to heaven.   

No Christian Consensus 

  The debate over homosexuality in the church isn't limited to Catholics. There are other Christian denominations that have struggled with this issue. Desmond Tutu's  Anglican church has had to wrestle with this issue as well.  Episcopal church made headlines when it consecrated the first openly gay bishop. This decision, created tension between the American Episcopal church and it's parent branch, the Anglican church. 

  During the time Ratzinger was articulating the Vatican's position on homosexuality, the Lutheran church was finding it's voice in the debate. For example, in 2005 Bishops took action against a congregation in California and Minneapolis for installing gay clergy.

   In 2004, the debate over homosexuality in the church, caught the media's attention as a Lesbian Methodists minister from Pennsylvania, went to trial. Rev Irene Elizabeth Stoud, a pastor in Philadelphia, was accused of having an active Lesbian relationship. Stoud even had a defense attorney to arbitrate her case in the court of Methodist law.

   There are also mainline churches that are considerably liberal on the issue of homosexuality such as the Unity and Metropolitan Community churches. The United Church of Christ, was in the news for its controversial AD over its acceptance of gay couples. The denomination, hosting 6,000 churches and over 1 million members, paid $1.7 million to have the AD featured on TV commercials.

Quoting Scripture 

  There are verses dispersed throughout the bible that are prima facie anti-homosexual such as Leviticus 18:22 and Deuteronomy 23 17-18. However, many liberal observers such as Bishop Carlton Pearson, and Bishop Shelby Sponge, who argue that it is important to look at the verses  in its proper context. For example, much of the laws in Deuteronomy and Leviticus are related to hygiene that dont apply to non-Jews such as eating selfish, touching pigs skin, and wearing cloth of two different fabrics.

   Although Jesus did not say anything specifically condemning Homosexuals many conservative Christians point to the letters from Paul such as 1:26-27 to support their views on homosexuality. However it should be noted that during that time the Romans lived in the Greek city of Corinth, where the locals worshiped a hermaphrodite, and straight men and women would exchange sex roles as a part of worship. Similarly the city of Sodom is often cited as an example of God's wrath against a society that accepted homosexuality. Again, looking at the historical context, the city of Sodom had many problems associated with it including idolatry, pride, slothfulness. Homosexuality wasn't the city's main moral issue. 

Where Homophobia meets Christianity

   Still, even today, Christian fundamentalists try to use the story of Sodom to discriminate against gays. One of the most recent examples, is Uganda where Sen. James Inhofe  (R-OK) travels to  Uganda to meet with leaders such as David Baharit, who introduced and authored anti-homosexual bill that would make homosexuality a capital punishment. Despite enacting this legislation in 2009, Baharit was still invited to the White House for a Prayer Breakfast a year later. However, the invitation was later rescinded. Some Christian leaders, claim that gays commonly engage in coprophagy. 

  The remarks from both Pope Francis and Desmond Tutu demonstrate that homosexuality will continue to play a divisive role in Christianity. With over 200 denominations, Christianity is hardly monolithic  when it comes to homosexuality. 

  The statements from these religious leaders, isn't going to cause a consensus in the Christian community over this issue, but it does offer Christians a much-needed moment of spiritual introspection.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Is Zimbabwe's 33-year-long Leader's, Robert Mugabe, Power Waning?

   Elections in Zimbabwe are underway as prime minister/presidential candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, has accused Mugabe and his party, ZANU-PF, of rigging the process. The opposition is claiming that that there are deceased people on the voter registry lists. The voter rolls contain over a million people who are dead or left the country, and 116,000 centenarians Moreover, the prime minister has accused election officials of discarding 70,000 votes from security forces, that were in favor of Tsvangirai.

   The political landscape of the south African country is starting to change. In March, Zimbabweans, went to the polls to vote in a referendum for the new constitution contain many democratic elements, including limits presidential terms, a bill of rights banning torture, and cruel punishment, and the creation of a constitutional court to protect the rights of citizens enshrined in the new constitution.

   One group in particular looking to benefit from the new constitution are women. For years Zimbabwean women had been stigmatized for being childless. Some women were beaten by their husbands if they were found to have taken contraception. However, the fight for reproductive rights in Zimbabwe started to change as the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council, funded by the United States government started a campaign to decrease the birth rates. The campaign involved 800 women who rode their bikes throughout Zimbabwe reaching 70 percent of the population. As a result, the population has leveled at 13 million, and proportion of women taking contraception (43%) is higher than the average in sub-Sahara Africa.

   In addition to reducing population growth, Zimbabwe has made significant economic progress in the last few years. most of the progress is attributed to finance minster, Tendai Biti, whose policy choices cut inflation to single digits after getting rid of Zimbabwean currency and replacing it with the American dollar and other strong currencies. This is remarkable, given the fact that at one point inflation had risen to 231 million percent!

  Still, Zimbabwean officials should precede precariously with any new economic policies. In the early 90s Zimbabwe implemented Structural Adjustment policies, which cut the budget in half but also reduced social services such as medical care, food subsidies and free education. The effects of making poor economic decisions were especially acute in 2000 during the food riots. Moreover, Mugabe's  failed land reform policy also contributed to the volatility of food prices. In an effort to give land back to black farmers, Mugabe took land away from white farmers without compensating them. Many white farmers were killed and over 300 were arrested. 

  This incident caused international consternation and resulted in economic sanctions. This wasn't the last time Mugabe received criticism. During the last election in 2008, the world watched as supporters of the Tsvangirai, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), were attacked by Mugabe supporters. In the aftermath of the violence, 200 people were killed and 5,000 tortured. 

       Former United States president George W. Bush criticized Mugabe for making Africa look like a land filled with autocratic leaders: 

“African leader’s good example, stood in stark contrast to the African leader dominating the headlines, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Mugabe had stifled democracy,  subjected his people to hyperinflation, and turned the country from a net food exporter to a net importer. His disgraceful record was proof that one man could ruin a country."

   Zimbabwe's relationship to the United States has always been shaky. In the 1980s Mugabe held conferences for the non-aligned conferences in which heads of states critical of American foreign policy attended. Moreover, Mugabe is not known for making the most diplomatic comments. Recently he called South Africa's International Advisor to the president, Lindiwe Zulu a prostitute for questioning his political readiness. 

  Still, Mugabe has survived several round of “elections” since he came into power, ever since the British Crown lost its hegemony over  Zimbabwe.  Mugabe faced no competition during the first two elections in the 80s, but the political dynamics in Zimbabwe started to change as it become one of 9 African countries to include a provision in the constitution for multi-party elections. However, given what happened yesterday, it doesnt look like ZANU-PF will relinquish its power anytime soon. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Placing the Chaos in Congo in Context

Courtesy of Wiki Commons

    For the last 15 years the Congo has been arguably the most volatile region in the world. More than 5 million people have been killed in a two-decade long conflict that has included six other African countries.  Recently,  Reuters has reported that the Congolese army assaulted civilians in a rebel-dominated military base in the eastern region of the African country. International attention on the Democratic Republic of Congo will continue to dominate the global news as the United Nations prepares to send soldiers, known as the “Foreign Intervention Brigade” consisting mainly of African troops, to stop the rebel group M23 from advancing.

   International actors are growing concerned over the Congo conflict and its destabilize effects on the rest of the continent. The UN decided to pursue a militaristic solution to the volatility on the large African nation, after 1,500 UN Peace Keepers, watched as M23 seized, Goma.  Since 1999 the United Nations has spent 10 billion dollars to limit the violence in the Congo.  Moreover, a few countries, including Beligium, China, and the United States are training “commando battalions” to aid the Congolese army. Also, surveillance drones will be used to monitor rebel activity. In 2000, the United Security Council issued resolution 1304 which called for the end of Uganda and Rwanda’s involvement in the second Congo war.

   The conflict is complicated because of allegations that link Rwanda with M23. The M23 is actually a fairly new  rebel group formed in 2009 after a failed negoations. The United States criticized Rwanda after a Human Rights Watch report surfaced claiming the small African nation backed the rebel group. Naturally Rwanda officials have denied these allegations. However, Rwanda officials aren’t alone in their skepticism. Jason Stearns, author of Dancing in the Glory of Monsters; The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa, has written on his blog, Congo Siasa  that much of the accusations about the M23-Rwanda connection are over exaggerated.

   However, nearly two decades earlier, in response to the genocide in Rwanda, Rwandan troops entered eastern Congo and executed between 500 to 800 refugees. The soldiers opened fire on the refugees under the pretense that the soldiers were going to provide food for the refugees and help them repatriate.   

Courtesy of Wiki Commons

   Of course this isnt the first time refugees have been gathered up to be slaughtered. The attack on Burundian and Rwandan refugees by anti-Mobutu forces which resulted in 100 dead civilians, is a perfect example. During this time period, THE AFDL (Alliance des Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Congo-Zaire), a rebel group devoted to overthrowing Mobutu, tried to galvanize other Congolese citizens  to kill Hutu refugees by comparing them to “Pigs” and telling them that the Hutus were going to kill them. Anytime the AFDL stumbled upon a Hutu refugee camp they responded with indiscriminate firepower that killed numerous refugees.

   The violence against innocent civilians by all armed-combatants wasn't limited to torture and execution many used rape excessively to dehumanize their opponents. In 1995 the Zairian security group, Civil Guard, raped women near Kindu. Two years later, eye-witnesses note that the AFDL raped women during an attack on refugees trying to reach the UNHCR in order to be transported back to Rwanda. Recently, one Congolese solider admitted to raping 53 women. 

   Another common theme throughout much of the conflict was the use of child soldiers. Near the beginning of the second war in 1998, children were recruited in the Katako-Kombe region. These children help transport arms, and stolen property, they were often abused and subjected to humiliating punishments. Boys were forced to rape young girls in an effort to make them men, if they refused they were executed. In response, the International Criminal Court has charged specific individuals with unlawfully enlisting children into combat and issued warrants for their arrests.

   All these massacres were recorded in a comprehensive leaked report issued by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The report analyzed over 600 violent occurrences between 1993 until 2003, the document, which catalogues the atrocities committed in three separate time frames, showcases Congo’s endless cycle of violence. The report was so powerful, that Rwanda threaten to pull troops out of Darfur if it were published.

   Of course the violence didn’t begin with the AFDL. It was the former Congolese leader Mobutu Sese Seko, who created an environment rich in hostility and brutality. Near the last few years of his presidency, Mobutu, in conjunction with the Union of Federalist and Independent Republicans, created a military group, JUFERI, that carried out attacks on civilians. The attacks were mainly aimed at the Kasaians, an economically-rich ethnic group, which attempted to coordinate attack with another ethnic group to topple the Mobutu regime. Numerous Kasaians were killed, expelled or tortured.

Courtesy of Wiki Commons

   There are multiple reasons why the Congolese people were eager to overthrow Mobutu. In an effort to concentrate political power, Mobutu eliminated a multi-party system, and took control of the legislative and judicial branches. Furthermore, the imprisonment, harassment, and torture of opposition groups made it difficult for democracy to evolve. In addition to the former Zairian leader’s political malfeasance, it was his greed, coupled with incompetent economic policies that alienated the Congolese further. It was estimated that Mobutu accumulated between five to 8 billion dollars. Of course it wasn’t just Mobutu stealing money from the citizens, a general’s wife was stopped while she was carrying 17 briefcases filled with money.

   Mobutu’s failed economic programs such as the Maluku steel mills, Inga hydroelectric plant, and the domestic auto-industry are just some illustrative examples. During Mobutu’s regime, inflation rose by 1,000 percent while the national debt ballooned and production halted. This is a bit unusual given the fact that the Congo, has a physical environment more conducive for agriculture than other African countries. Moreover, with natural resources such as cobalt, industrial diamonds, forests, and large lakes, Zaire, would have been an economic superpower if it weren’t for poor economic and political decisions. 

   It’s reasonable to assume that Mobutu’s ascendency into political office in 1965 was a direct result of United States intervening in central Africa in an attempt to derail Soviet expansionism during the Cold War. During that time the United States decided to topple Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba because it was uncertain if the former leader had communist inclinations. In addition, the United States provided both financial and military support, which allowed Mobutu to carry out human rights violations with little accountability or transparency.  

   In contrast to conflicts in the Middle East, such as Syria where much of the funding for the conflict originates in other countries, it is the mineral-rich natural resources that is fueling the conflict. The Congo is known for its gold and tin-filled mines. In addition, Congo also has mines rich in cassiterite, that is used in laptops, coltans (cell phones) and wolframite ( light bulbs).

  Approximately 80 percent of all minerals, are taken from the mine without begin accounted by the government. Moreover, over a billion dollars of potential government revenus from exporting gold alone is not added to the gverment's budget every year. 

  The Congo can not grow economically until it can figure out a way to minimize the violence throughout the country. As of yesterday, the BBC reported that the  international community, is calling on all citizens  to turn in their arms or be listed as a rebel fighter. Ultimately, stability  in the region, will depend on the effectiveness of the UN brigade.  

Monday, July 29, 2013

Hip Hop Journalism and Black Stereotypes

In lieu of the outcome of the Trayvon Martin trial, and the tangential discussions on the state of young black males that followed, Including Jay-z's and other rappers responses.  I decided it would be a good idea to revisit a paper I wrote in   about the hip hop media's culpability in perpetuating racial stereotypes. I was especially motivated after conservative pundit, Bill O'Reilly pontificated on Lil Wayne's negative influence on young black men. 

I apologize in advance for the awkward formatting. 

  Spoken Word artist and hip-hop journalist Raquel Cepede once called hip-hop journalism a “sixth element of the culture.” Currently there are approximately five hip-hop magazines on newsstands; (Vibe, XXL, URB, Source, and Scratch) that cover hip-hop culture. Each magazine has its own personality. Scratch magazine for instance emphasizes hip-hop music production and djing and studio equipment. Unfortunately the majority of hip-hop magazines aren’t as culturally aware.

  The problem starts when opening any hip-hop magazine. While perusing through the first 30 pages I noticed that they are filled with nothing but advertisement and it becomes increasingly prima facie that the staff of these magazines are more concerned with keeping their advertisers satisfied than with reporting a comprehensive analysis of the urban culture it supposedly represents. 

These magazines appear to enjoy caricaturing rappers as misogynistic thugs who only rap to pay off their new Bentley.  This would be understandable if there wasn’t a cornucopia of other rappers to choose from. In addition, hip hop magazines like the general media itself, only focuses on the rap artists who dominate the Billboard charts while leaving graffiti artists, break-dancers, and others out of the picture.

Since its inception it was inevitable for hip-hop to choose magazines for its media vehicle. They both share a similar goal and history. The rapid growth of magazines became financially prosperous and abundant as an effect of urbanization and industrialization. 

Hip Hop, in a similar way, became a product of urban culture and used technologically advanced musical devices like synthesizers and samplers, to produce the soundtrack for the inner city. It’s also imperative to note how early magazines such as “The Liberator” an abolitionist magazine, had became a tool for political as well as social change (Playsted 1971) just as hip-hop magazines.

 For example there was an ad featured in XXL about Hip Hop Summit Action Network which listed things such as the elimination of poverty, equality in public education, adequate healthcare etc. as what changes the organization wanted to see happen. Also, in Vibe magazine there was an article written about the lack of nutritional resources in urban areas compared to suburban neighborhoods and how because of this type of institutional discrimination African Americans were more susceptible to Type-Two diabetes. (Meadows-Ingram,  Machinelike, 2003.) 

Unfortunately articles like these are few and far between. Still, overall you are most likely to find an article in Vibe about fashion or cosmetology than hip-hop sociology.                                                                                                 
One hypothesis as to why hip-hop magazines focus their collective attention on the excessive commercialism that is shaping hip-hop culture could be because of the celebrity- centric journalism that has engulfed mainstream media. Cedric Muhammad criticizes journalists for acting like eager sycophants who feel cool being in the presence of their favorite famous rappers rather than using a critic’s eye to be more analytical about their subject matter. 

 Howard Kurtz (1994) author of the Media Circus wrote “All of the media from the prestige press to the sensationalist rags, have been infected by a tabloid culture.” Kurtz sharply chronicles how in the early 90’s the media’s trivial stories about, multi-billion dollar cosmopolite  Donald Trump and his infatuation with younger women. Kurtz notes how Donald Trump overshadowed issues such as African political leader Nelson Mandela’s 27-year imprisonment ending as well as both S&L and HUD scandals.

 Consequently, as a result of the media focusing on issues of minimal importance such as Donald Trumps divorce they have ignored unscrupulous public figures such as Debbie Dean. Who funneled millions of dollars from HUD in the form of grants and handed them out to those who wined and dined her.  Trumptified spending habits ($400 million for a few Manhattan hotels, $675 million for a Taj Mahal styled casino, $29 million to buy his buddy Adnan Khashogi’s yacht) had kept the Donald in print. Likewise the the celebration of avarice, is also a common theme in hip-hop magazines.

 Donald Trump’s extravagant expenditures have little to do with the news as does rapper Havoc’s BMW 745I or black Escalade have to do with hip-hop. Other articles such as “Top Billin” and “Hot Wheels” (Anslem 2005) give descriptions of cars with astronomically high price tags attached to them. The Raison d’être for this is because the existential automobile has always been a token of American capitalism--ever since the advent of Coup De Vile Americans have used cars as a sign of class status (Turney 2005).

 As a result of this, sooner or later the magazines started to become more of a tool for marketing rather than cultural preservation. Journalists are aware of this problem. In fact one journalist told Raquel Cepede that writing about rap music was akin to writing “insipid advertorials for the Versace brand, jewelry, and guns.”  (Cepede 2004) Serene Kim argues that commerce is as important to hip-hop as art and that fans should not be so critical of artist making money even if they are exploiting the culture (Kim Serene 2003). It’s understandable that rappers should be able to make a living even via product placement. The problem, however, as reiterated prior is the fact that there is a paucity of articles exploring rap as a lyrical art form.

Alongside commercialism both sexism and violence are other stereotypical trends that proliferates hip-hop magazines, while marginalizing participants of hip hop culture who do not exhibit these features. Scantily clad women such as a picture in Vibe featuring a R&B group called XSO Drive photo shot by Carlos Dallas Chiesa (Terrel 2003) has one of the three ladies holding her breast.

Moreover one of the three from the group talks about how she is writing a song for her “man” whom is on “lock” (prison.) This message conveys to young men  that beautiful women are attracted to harden criminals.

Another example of hip-hop magazine’s obsession with feminine vanity and sexuality is an article in Vibe magazine about butt augmentation. In the article the reporter discusses why the typical ideal “model” white, skinny is out of style while the minority females (Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce) with their curvaceous physiques, are in style. (Stukin 2004).

 It’s interesting to note that even though cosmic surgery has nothing to do with hip hop culture, when juxtaposed with an article in the same magazine written about graffiti. The former article featured a good five pages worth of coverage while the graffiti article was only half a page and was featured at the end of the magazine. 

   The hedonistic voyeurism that saturates all hip-hop magazines takes on a coy and lascivious form. From the “Sex Candy” photo-ops in XXL, to the ads in the back pages such as “Hip Honeys” and similar ads.
   Although the role of woman in hip-hop magazines is often presented misogynistic and is something that should be scrutinized and criticized the portrayal of men is equally if not more important. It almost seams painfully obvious that the goal of a hip-hop magazine should be to dismantle the stereotypes that the mainstream media has established not reinforce them.

   Unlike in the early 90’s when black men from the ghetto did not exist in the media unless he was a criminal. “What gets missed in all this is the vast number of blacks who live lives like everyone else,” recalls Newsweek columnist Joe Klein, “Its news to learn there are black men…who go to work.” Joseph Bates, a black youth, who had read an article about young black men and gun violence, retorted “They wrote what they wanted to write…they portrayed us as hard core gang member ready to incite violence.” (Kurtz 1994)

   The effects of such perceptions in the media are disastrous.

  In 2002 the source wrote an informative article about the prison industrial complex. In it, they discovered that 50 percent of the prisoner population was due to thievery or drug trafficking. More troublesome is the fact that the number of prisoners incarcerated has increased three times since 2002. In addition both Latino and black men account for 2/3 of the prison population. (Cooper 2000) Although institutional discrimination plays a major role in how young Latino and African men perceive themselves in the mainstream, hip hop magazines also have to assume some responsibility and not be naïve and sophomoric. 

  Columns like vibes “for the record” are filled with rappers run in with the law. Moreover rappers like Murphy Lee who used to skip school during his freshman year in high school, and is a self proclaimed “player pimp” only make my point more valid. (Sharp 2003.) This is just one of many rap cliches that finds its way in rap magazines. This is the chagrin that plagues hip-hop journalism.

  Hip Hop journalism’s love for sensationalism in the form of violence reached its pinnacle when Ray “Benzino” Scott and David Mays (2003) “co-founders” of The Source wrote a scathing diatribe about their dissatisfaction with the “current state of hip hop.” They wrote, “large products and images are being marketed…. under the title of “hip hop.” They continue by writing about how through the process of globalization hip hop is becoming increasingly diverse all while indicting rec. execs, journalist, radio companies for not playing an active role in the urban communities by not living there. 

   True, the media should be more responsive to the communities they represent but there are other factors involved besides regionalism. Besides Ray “Benzino” Scott had done more harm than good to hip-hop’s image. They go on to write that if people were more concerned about hip-hop then organizations should hire more David Mays and Ray Scotts rather than rely on “nerds with college degrees.” Ironically Mays himself is a graduate from one of the most prestigious school in the country, Harvard University

  They non-bashfully claim that the Source (their magazine) is hip-hop’s savior and that it represents “real” hip-hop. 
Since its beginning in the late 80’s The Source magazine has reached a readership well over nine million. In 1991 the magazine made a total of $3,000 on ads per page with a circulation of 40,000. Much to their own criticism the Source became largely commodified into a website, TV show, and a Hollywood style award show. They even out sold the Rolling Stones. Suddenly major companies such as Nike, Adidas, and others grew increasingly aware of the untapped market of urban youths. Soon other media outlets like MTV started incorporating hip hop into their music programming more often.

   It started to become less about the music and more about the “hip-hop lifestyle.” As a result millions of dollars of products were sold using hip-hop the “lifestyle” as a marketing device. The Source welcomed these multi-billion dollar companies to advertise with open arms.  Although the Source’s profits soared at an exponential rate, there were still internal problems that needed to be addressed.  One of the problems was separating business from writing. In other words some rappers were becoming irritated because they felt that if they had ads in the magazine they should have had more coverage and should be given higher album ratings. 

   A similar conflict of interest arose between both aforementioned David Mays and Raymond “Benzino” Scott, and other writers on the staff known as the “Mind Squad.” The problem was simple. In the beginning, in addition to launching the Source magazine Mays was also responsible for a rap group called the RSO--which included Ray “Benzino” Scott. David Schetuer, a fellow writer, was ostensibly keenly aware of Scott’s negative reputation, which included police investigations, murders, and other things about Scott and his group RSO. (Chang 2005.)

   The tension between Scott and Source journalists escalated to the point where Scott was bluntly threatening other Source writers for lack of coverage. Scott threatened that if he didn’t receive a four (out of five) for his album at least there would be people in “body bags.”  Soon after, Mays writes a three-page article on the group. Bernard, one of the other staff writers becomes dismayed and resigns because Mays wrote the article without telling anyone and had the article list Bernard as its author. Troubled by the lack of journalistic ethics, other fellow writers instantaneously decided to quit as well. However Mays was finally able to find a new staff and list Ray “Benzino” Scott as co-founder even though Scott himself had no journalistic experience. (Chang 2005)

  The effects of these trite images have promoted community discussions. In Cleveland columnist Sam Fullwood (2005) for the Cleveland Plain Dealer attended an event geared towards these polemical issues. The event took place at Myers University and featured Mark Anthony Neal and author of the controversial titular book “Why White Kids love Hip Hop,” were the guest speakers. According to the article both men demanded that hip hop culture stop depicting black men as thugs and gangsters, even though hip hop itself should be exonerated and rather the blame should be placed on the media that shapes and defines it. A more poignant question came when 16 year-old Natasha wanted to know how she could get black men her age to value education. She talked about a young man whose ambitions led him to only three life chances-a football player, basketball player, or a rapper.

  Hmm this sounds familiar.  Perhaps more worrisome was the boy’s apathy towards studying which would make his dreams a reality, and provide many opportunities as well.  Natasha, also observed that some black students would ostracize fellow black students because they had an interest in books and weren’t the media’s concept of what is “being black” mean.

  This conflict closely parallels the antagonism between underground alternative rap and commercial “gangsta” rap which hip hop mags saliently provide for more coverage than the former. The results of gangstas, drug dealers, and other characters being used as hip hop images was so profound and influential that it created a dichotomy between African-Americans and African immigrants. Africans view black Americans as being lazy, drug dealers, incarcerated and are solely prosperous by being either a rapper or playing a sport. (Freeman Kirby, Niang Thione 2006) 

  This is because of how African Americans are portrayed in the American media. It follows that because hip-hop is an urban African American and Latino cultural phenomenon and hip-hop magazines document this. It doesn’t take a cultural anthropologist to figure out what’s wrong. For the purpose of this paper it is important to delineate between underground/alternative rap artist and their more monotonous, insipid, prosaic rapping counterparts.
   According to AMG’s All Music Guide to Hip-Hop (2003) alternative and underground rap can be defined as a subgenre of rap that “refuses to conform to any of the traditional stereotypes of rap.” It’s sonically eclectic blending with other musical forms such as rock, reggae, soul and even folk. The most significant difference is that these artists tend to have more “inventive” lyrics than the more popular rappers. 

   For example,  one Aesop Rock song lyrically documents a young girl and her life long relationship with the art world. The Last Emperor raps about what it would be like to have his favorite rappers go to battle against his favorite comic book heroes (X-men, superman etc.) Jewish rapper Remedy has a heart-felt song about the nefarious events that took place surrounding the holocaust. Arguably the most non-stereotypical rap son as far as lyrical content is concerned is a song by an artist known as Sage Francis. The song is called “MakeShift Patriot”, which criticizes the media during the Sept 11 attacks, by rapping about how the media exploited the victims family by prying into their personal lives and how the media magnified the issue of xenophobia. This is just an example of a cornucopia of talented artists who barely are featured in hip hop magazines with only a few paragraphs let alone featured on the main cover- except for magazines like URB which is dedicated to more independent acts.

   In one magazine issue, in an exclusive interview with URB, (Sterling 2006) Slug a Minnesota rapper notices how it’s difficult for black kids because all of the reinforcements about rappers they’re seeing on TV and other media outlets are nothing but stereotypes. He continues by adding, “If you don’t feel that way and trying to see something else, where do you turn?” Slug summed up essentially what the purpose of underground hip hop was: “it made you think.” (Sterling 2006) This is exactly what John Stuart Mills meant when he wrote that “There have been, and may again be great individual thinkers in a general atmosphere of mental slavery.” (Sommerville, Santonie 2001) Why is this so?

 According to hip-hop journalist Jeff Chang, (2003) the main thing that separates artist is how media monopolies label certain artist. For example a conscious rapper, also labeled as a “backpacker” only reaches a certain niche: vegan, college educated, anti establishment. Because of this limit in marketability underground rappers as far as their artistic contribution is concerned become pushed aside for more racy and formulaic artists.

 The same thing happening to underground artist is happening to other hip-hop art forms. (Chang 2003) One of the earliest journalists of hip-hop culture, Steve Hager from the New Daily News was one of the first journalists to notice how graffiti art, rap, and break dancing were interrelated. As a result Hager ended up writing a book entitled Hip-Hop: The Illustrated History of Break Dancing, Rap Music and Graffiti.  This along with books like these became the hip-hop cannon or as Chang (2003) put it “the foundational works of hip hop journalism and scholarship.” 

  The lack of break-dancers and Graffiti artist in magazines led to the chagrin and consternation of hip-hop purist. Legendary break dancer Crazy Legs (Richie Colon) from the Rock Steady Crew, was upset because he felt that as rap became more popular people lost interest in break dancing. This is a hard issue to come to deal with because both rap and break dancing came from the inner city so there was a sense of kinship between them as illustrated by Steve Hagar. (Chang 2003) Although there have been a few articles in the past about break-dancers and graffiti artist they were a paucity compared to rappers, moreover it isn’t as if these dancers and graffiti writers suddenly disappeared. 

   For example there is a yearly hip-hop event in Cincinnati known as Scribble Jam that involves a graffiti expo.,  break dancing, djing, beat boxing, and MC (rapper) competition that has been in existence for over 10 years. It has had rappers like Rymefest  (who wrote some of the lyrics to popular rapper Kanye West’s “Jesus Walk” song) and even Eminem in its first here competing in the MC competition. Yet unbeknownst among hip-hop purist this event didn’t merit one article in any hip-hop magazines except for URB. It’s also interesting to note how artist rather than events or social issues that affect hip-hop graced the front cover of mainstream Hip-Hop magazines. (Muhammad Cedric)

   Aristotle once wrote that “The laws that previously existed continue in force but the authors of revolution have the power in their hands.” (Somerville, Santonie 2001) Likewise the negative monotonous traditional view of hip-hop is going to remain stagnant unless someone in the media decides to take action. The 1970’s sardonic spoken word poet Gill Scott Heron (one of the archetypes of rap) once made a joke in his nominal album  “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”  (1973 Heron) 

  The point that Heron was trying to make was that social change for the better was not to come about via television.  In other words because t.v. viewers were more preoccupied with  “Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville Junction” and “Glen Campbell, Tom Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink”  “a cultural revolution” that challenged racial inequality (like hip hop) would be overlooked and ignored. 

   However, with magazines there is a difference. Magazines use words to get their message across. As hip-hop poet Saul Willliams (2006) once wrote, “The written word is the consolidation of thought.” (Cepede 2004) Magazines have the power to make us look more in depth about an issue unlike t.v.’s brevity that enables people to lose interest. 

  Although some critics might suggest that I am being overly analytical and that the problem here is non-existent I am reminded of a petition circulating on the internet a few months ago. The petition was used to protest BET (Black Entertainment Television.) According to the website it alleges that BET had supposedly not played a hip-hop video by underground group Little Brother because it was deemed too intelligent. If hip-hop magazines choose to adapt this paradigm for what hip-hop is and should be then hip-hop, like my subscription, will be canceled. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Mubarak vs Morsi placing the Egyptian Protest in Context


   The 2011 protests in Tahir Square, was just the tipping point of a political transformation taking place in Egypt as news surfaces about the deposed former president Mohamed Morsi. Morsi, angered many Egyptians when he tried to rush a referendum on a new constitution, which some feel would expand his executive power while curtailing rights for women and religious minorities. In the end approximately a third of Egyptians actually voted on the new constitution.

  Criticism of Morsi increased when reports surfaced that Morsi supporters, attacked protesters. The protesters were bounded and held on the pavement, as the pro-Morsi forces tried to elicit confessions from the protesters. 

  Moreover some fear that  Morsi will try to impose an Islamic agenda on the rest of Egypt

  Morsi's record on human rights is worthy of criticism but it pales in comparison to his predecessor. Hosni Mubarak, as stipulated in the 1971 constitution, was in charge of the Supreme Council of the Police (SRC). The police are within the department of the Minster of Interior (MOI), which expanded from 124,000 employees in 1951 to 800,000 in 2006.

  Under Mubarak's leadership, the police have engaged in numerous human rights violations including arbitrary arrest, indefinite detention, and torture. Moreover, many suspects, guilty or innocent, didn't have access to any legal resources to defend themselves. Many suspected militants were not able to file an appeal to challenge the charges brought against them. 

   For example,  In June 1994, four defendants were executed a month after their trial.  Many suspects were denied access to civilian courts and instead had to go through a military trial. In one case, a group of Egyptians were arrested under the pretense that they were trying to establish an Islamic state. In reality, they were  campaigning for the parliamentary elections. As a result, the defense lawyers for the accused decided to withdraw from the trial because of insufficient evidence.

   According to a report  ("The Politics of Security Sector Reform in Egypt") from the United States Institute of Peace, The State Security Investigative Services, also within the MOI, engaged in  a lot of questionable activities, included election rigging, surveillance of political dissidents, and intimidating political opponents. During the 2011 protests, Some have accused the security apparatus of the government of dressing up as hoodlums to attack anti-Mubarak protesters.

   Of course the public's anger against the Egyptian police is not shaped from the 2011 protests in Tahir Square alone. In 2002, a 20-year-old Egyptian man was killed and 260 students were injured as police opened fire on a group of anti-Israeli protesters. In 2005, Abdel-Halim Qandil, editor-in-chief of a Al-Arabia, a newspaper centered on the politics of Egyptian nationalist leader Gamel Abdel Nasser, was beaten and left half naked by the Egyptian police.

   In the mid-90s approximately 47,000 Egyptians were arrested because they were associated with militant Islamists. Many family members and friends of suspected militants were subjected to torture unless the suspected militant turned himself in. Torturing methods included, beatings, electric shocks, burning with cigarettes, hanging prisoners by their ankles or wrists, which resulted in the Egyptian Bar Association, and human rights organizations, petitioning the Public Prosecutors Office, to take immediate action. Most of the complaints were ignored. This  issue was exemplified in the 1995 Amnesty International report Egypt:Death in Custody.

   The main source for many of these human rights violations stems from the emergency law enacted shortly after Mubarak became the president. The law, expanded police powers, and curtailed civil liberties. Human rights organizations have issued reports criticizing the law. According to one estimate close to 30,000 political dissidents were detained because of the law. No wonder the World Justice Project ranked Egypt 73 and 89 out of 97 countries in regard to civil justice and the protection of fundamental rights.

  This law even became a political tool, as it prevented many members of the Muslim Brotherhood from gaining seats during the parliamentary elections. In the end only 1 out of 150 MB candidates qualified to run for office. 

  However, to be fair, Morsi also angered many Egyptians when he imposed emergency laws in Jan. 2013. 

   Notwithstanding, Mubarak used several tactics to ensure a political monopoly. In the 90s Mubarak enacted electoral law 206, which gerrymandered districts in favor of the National Democratic Party (NPD.) Political opportunists seamed to expand in 2005 when Mubarak tried to amend article 76 of the constitution, which would allow more candidates to run for the presidency. However, the fact that the law would require the candidate to get support from 250 local or national elected officials, comprised mostly of members from the National Democratic Party, made it nearly impossible for the opposition to win. The end result increased the NDP's political capital from 75 percent to 95 percent of parliamentary seats.

  This political environment made it nearly impossible for the Muslim Brotherhood or any other opposition party to usurp the Mubarak regime in an election.

  Some politicians are eager to blame Obama for the events that unfolded in Egypt and suggesting that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the U.S. political system. Even the Muslim Brotherhood realizes these accusations are a joke.

  It would be interesting to see how many of these critics would respond if Bush were still in office. In his book, Decision Points, Bush criticizes Mubarak for imprisoning political dissidents and bloggers following the 2005 parliamentary elections.  The Bush administration played a key role in securing the release of opposition leader Ayman Nour. Moreover, during the elections, Bush provided funding for six independent organizations to advance democracy in Egypt. It's possible that money would have ended up in the coffers of the Muslim Brotherhood.

  Some in the media have equated the money given to Egypt as stipulated in the peace treaty with Israel, as supporting terrorist because the Muslim Brotherhood won the elections. The truth is that the Muslim Brotherhood has been around since the 1920s as a response to colonialism and rapid urbanization, and has re-appeared during Anwar Sadat's rule, as a non-violent political movement. The Muslim Brotherhood gained popularity in Egypt because of the privatization of mosques which expanded the capacity for political disagreements without governmental censorship, and because of its ability to meet the educational and health needs of many Egyptians.

  This doesn't mean that Egypt is devoid of radical Islamic groups that are devoted to using violence to advance its agenda, what it means is that there should be a distinction made between the different Islamic groups within Egypt. For example, the Al Jama'a Islamiya organization, has killed Coptic Christians,  and tourists. On May 4 1991, the group targeted and attacked numerous Coptic Christians were attacked in Manshiet Nasser in Upper Egypt. Moreover, the Christians' rights to practice their religion was severally curtailed.

      "All commercial transactions by Christians, including the sale of property, had to be approved by the organization, and Christians were forced to pay a tax (jiza) to the Group for each transaction. Christian residents were prohibited from public celebration of religious rituals and social events, such as weddings. They were also forbidden to play religious tapes in their homes if the sound carried outdoors. Repairs to the village church were not allowed to continue,"

Approximately twenty violent attacks against Coptic Christians was carried out from 1982 to 1991, however the number increased dramatically from 1992 and 1993 to 53 attacks.  As alarming as this information is, its important to realize that the Muslim Brotherhood has not been linked to any of these attacks. In fact, even Al-Qaeda has criticized the Muslim Brotherhood for being too soft. However, recent footage of the chaos in Egypt shows that the supports of the Muslim Brotherhood are just as ready to use violence as their opponents.

   Of course, no discussion of Egyptian politics would be complete without mentioning the military.  In some ways the military is looked at as an apolitical benevolent institution, that is only concerned with protecting the interest of the Egyptian people. However, its a little more complicated. In 2011, the military presented the Al-Semi document, which contained several guarantees to minorities and women, however the document also prevented any public scrutiny of the military's budget. One Egyptian said that Egyptian journalist were prohibited from reporting on the military. Even minor details such as the change in the style of military uniforms couldn't be published without consent from the Supreme Council of Armed Forces.

    Morsi realized the power of the military when he refused to prosecute military officials for killing protesters, during the highly volatile events that took place at Tahir Square even though a fact-finding mission accused military officials of human rights violations. In October, 2011 tensions between the military and protesters resulted in 27 dead and 4,000 injured citizens. The following month, 40 people were killed. However, instead of seeking justice for the victims, Morsi tried to appeal to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces,  likening criticism of the military to mere insults. Perhaps More surprising, is the fact that  the Nour party,a Salafist organization, supported the military's action to oust Mohamed Morsi. 

  In the end, it doesn't really matter who is in office, because it will be the people that will ultimately determine the fate of Egypt.