Outside the 2,000-bed temporary shelter in Baton Rouge’s River Center, a Church of Scientology band is performing a version of Bill Withers’s classic “Use Me”—a refreshingly honest choice. “If it feels this good getting used,” the Scientology singer belts out, “just keep on using me until you use me up.”
Ten-year-old Nyler, lying face down on a massage table, has pretty much the same attitude. She is not quite sure why the nice lady in the yellow Scientology Volunteer Minister T-shirt wants to rub her back, but “it feels so good,” she tells me, so who really cares? I ask Nyler if this is her first massage. “Assist!” hisses the volunteer minister, correcting my Scientology lingo. Nyler shakes her head no; since fleeing New Orleans after a tree fell on her house, she has visited this tent many times, becoming something of an assist-aholic. “I have nerves,” she explains in a blissed-out massage voice. “I have what you call nervousness.”
On September 4, six days after Katrina hit, I saw the first glimmer of hope. “The people of New Orleans will not go quietly into the night, scattering across this country to become homeless in countless other cities while federal relief funds are funneled into rebuilding casinos, hotels, chemical plants…. We will not stand idly by while this disaster is used as an opportunity to replace our homes with newly built mansions and condos in a gentrified New Orleans.”
The statement came from Community Labor United, a coalition of low-income groups in New Orleans. It went on to demand that a committee made up of evacuees “oversee FEMA, the Red Cross and other organizations collecting resources on behalf of our people…. We are calling for evacuees from our community to actively participate in the rebuilding of New Orleans.”
Hussain Osman, one of the men alleged to have participated in London’s failed bombings on July 21, recently told Italian investigators that they he prepared for the attacks by watching “films on the war in Iraq,” La Repubblica reported. “Especially those where women and children were being killed and exterminated by British and American soldiers… of widows, mothers and daughters that cry.”
It has become an article of faith that Britain was vulnerable to terror because of its politically correct anti-racism. Yet Osman’s comments suggest that what propelled at least some of the bombers was rage at what they saw as extreme racism. And what else can we call the belief—so prevalent we barely notice it—that American and European lives are worth more than the lives of Arabs and Muslims, so much more that their deaths in Iraq are not even counted?
When United Nations troops kill residents of the Haitian slum Cité Soleil, friends and family often place photographs of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on their bodies. The photographs silently insist that there is a method to the madness raging in Port-au-Prince. Poor Haitians are being slaughtered not for being “violent,” as we so often hear, but for being militant; for daring to demand the return of their elected president.
It was only ten years ago that President Clinton celebrated Aristide’s return to power as “the triumph of freedom over fear.” So what changed? Corruption? Violence? Fraud? Aristide is certainly no saint. But even if the worst of the allegations are true, they pale next to the rap sheets of the convicted killers, drug smugglers and arms traders who ousted Aristide and continue to enjoy free rein, with full support from the Bush Administration and the UN. Turning Haiti over to this underworld gang out of concern for Aristide’s lack of “good governance” is like escaping an annoying date by accepting a lift home from Charles Manson.
Even after her death, it seems the attacks on Zahra Kazemi will not end. It was only two months ago that Canadians were stunned by new evidence that the Montreal photojournalist was tortured to death while in Iranian custody. Kazemi was arrested in June 2003 while taking photographs outside of a prison in Iran, the country of her birth. To punish her for this transgression, Kazemi’s captors raped and beat her, according to a doctor who fled Iran to tell the story.
Close to two years later, there are new attempts to cover Kazemi’s lens, to prevent her photographs from reaching public eyes – only now the censorship is happening inside her adopted country of Canada. Last week Montreal’s Cote St. Luc Library removed five of Kazemi’s photographs from display after Jewish patrons complained of alleged “pro-Palestinian bias”; they left up the rest of the exhibition, which had already been displayed in Paris. Kazemi’s son, Stephan Hachemi, called the removal of the Palestinian photographs “a violation of my mother’s spirit” and rightly demanded that the library show the entire exhibit or nothing at all. So the library took down the entire show.