We make equipment, we give it to our so-called allies [in the Middle East], who we dont even know who the hell they are… 2,300 Humvees sent over. A couple of shots are fired and these guys run like a bunch of thieves, which they are. Our allies. Our allies. And ISIS picks up the weapons, the Humvees, the this. Its just incredible.” — Donald Trump, Des Moines Register, November 13, 2015.

Around the time when then-Republican candidate Donald Trump was talking about Humvees and thieving allies, women in Saudi Arabia were doing two things for the first time: voting and standing in elections. Loujain al-Hathloul was one of them. But her name was never added to the historic ballot. Fate had something else in store for this 31-year-old Saudi Arabian human-rights activist. 

Loujain realized that she was imprisoned with women who were sent to this ‘care home’ for simply ‘disobeying’ their male guardians. The Saudi government sees these women as delinquents. Our sister realized that freedom for these women wouldn’t come from just being able to drive, but to be free from male guardianship. — Lina and Alia al-Hathloul, sisters of Loujain al-Hathloul, Marie Claire, January 11.

Loujain first attempted to drive a car in Saudi Arabia in November 2014 when she drove from the United Arab Emirates into Saudi Arabia in defiance of the ban on women driving. She was arrested on December 1 by Saudi authorities and incarcerated for 73 days at the Dar al Reaya (care home). A time when, as her sisters Lina and Alia recall, Loujain “increased her activism.” Then in 2016, she, along with other activists organized a campaign calling for an end to the kingdom’s male guardianship system. 

Loujain was arrested on May 15, 2018 for her women’s rights advocacy, including Saudi women’s right to drive. According to Middle East Eye, she was rounded up along with “at least a dozen other women activists, just weeks before the decades-long ban on female drivers was lifted.” They were charged with allegations of communicating “with people and entities hostile to the king,” cooperating with “journalists and media institutions hostile to the king,” providing “financial support to foreign adversaries” and recruiting “persons for information detrimental to the security of the kingdom.” In other words, Loujain and her activist friends were charged with threatening the freedom of the kingdom. Freedom to suffocate their women subjects. Their rights. Their dignity. 

According to Lina and Alia, during the first 50 days of her pre-trial detention, Loujain was tortured. Besides keeping her in solitary confinement for a major part of that time, the Saudi authorities threatened, in their words ‘to rape our sister, to chop her body into pieces, and to throw her in the sewage system. They flogged her, waterboarded her, electrocuted her, and sexually assaulted her.”

Loujain’s father Hathloul al-Hathloul tweeted about the torture and sexual harassment, after which his account was suspended by Twitter. This is video of Loujain driving in October 2103, filmed by her father.

The United States government knows all about torture techniques like waterboarding and solitary confinement. That’s American freedom. That’s kingdom freedom.

It is utterly grotesque that at the same time Saudi authorities will host a motor sport event – including women drivers – while the heroes that won their right to drive languish in jail.  — Loujain’s supporters calling for the boycott of the Dakar Rally, The Guardian, January 5.

An annual motorsport event called the Dakar Rally dates back to 1979. The Paris-Dakar Rally moved to South America in 2008 due to terror threats in Mauritania, where it was supposed to be held. According to The Guardian article,  Saudi Arabia became the host in 2020 “as part of the kingdom’s multi-pronged strategy to open up to the world and wean off dependence on oil revenues by 2030.” The off-road race was flagged off on January 3. 

Our cars here in the U.S. are playing an important part in getting us through this pandemic. If it wasn’t for them, those of us who take social distancing seriously wouldn’t be able to drive up to our grocery store pickup lanes, for instance. Or sit in them and honk away every time we agreed with something Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had to say in their outdoor pre-victory speeches.

Can you imagine the United States without cars? Impossible. The American landscape wouldn’t be the same without parking lots. And feedlots, for that matter. Cars with “Eat Beef” bumper stickers. That’s America. That’s American freedom. Cars and highways and miles and miles of fenced-in cattle. That’s White-American freedom. Fuck yeah!

But is that really freedom? Nothing exemplifies the emptiness of American freedom more than those empty cars that we see parked outside convenience stores with the engines running, the driver taking his/her time shopping inside.

On December 28, 2020, when reports were coming out in the U.S. about the month being the deadliest in the COVID-19 pandemic with more than 65,000 confirmed deaths, Loujain was sentenced to five years and eight months by the kingdom’s Specialised Criminal Court (terrorism court). However, two years and ten months of the sentence was suspended, and she would be credited with the 32 months that she had already spent in pre-trial detention. Loujain would now only have two months of her sentence left to serve. According to The Guardian January 11 article, this move was made by the Saudis to hopefully “diffuse a potentially damaging early confrontation with the Biden administration.” 

In May 2017, a year before Loujain’s arrest, Trump set his term in motion by making Riyadh his first foreign visit and signing the biggest arms deal with the kingdom in US history. That was then. According to a recent BBC article, “concerns over Saudi Arabia’s human rights policy, including the detention of dissidents,” is one of the things the Biden administration’s new Congress wants to have a say in. This is now. Will Biden and Harris spend their energy and rhetoric uniting with progressives in their party or with the Republicans? Like they’ve done in the past? We’ll see.

No-one should be fooled by the Saudi regime’s attempts to sportswashing… Racers might not know it, but their participation there is to hide and whitewash the host’s crimes. — Lina al-Hathloul, The Guardian, January 5.

It doesn’t matter that Loujain might just have two months of her sentence left to serve. Her supporters and those of us who don’t take our freedom to drive for granted see her sentencing as an unconscionable act. And we see the Land of the Free’s pride in its freedom as a whitewash hiding imperial crimes that it has carried out in the Middle East. Like a sport. With their Humvees and $110 billion arms deals. Shameful. Let’s just call American foreign policy for what it is: Freedomwashing.

The Biden administration needs to be as vigilant in holding the kingdom’s atrocities accountable as it is about Trump and his assault on American democracy. Why wait, Biden? Unite with your own party. Now! Why wait for another two months? Free Loujain al-Hathloul Now!

JatiIndia Flag of Atrocities Caste, Present and Future: Masrat Zahra

“Rescue us from the sub-jail – what you call the media ‘facilitation’ centre,” reads a sign held up by a pair of, what you, JatiIndia — my name for this country of jatis/castes — call “anti-national” hands. Who qualifies as a so-called anti-national? Anyone who resists and exposes JatiIndian supremacy within the boundaries of the country, and in occupied Kashmir.

“Fake News!” shout the Narendra Modi government and its minions when Kashmiri photojournalist Masrat Zahra and other reporters like her go about doing their job, documenting the violence of occupation and usurpation. And what qualifies as “fake news?” Any words and imagery that challenge and oppose supremacy and occupation.

If JatiIndia’s right-wing BJP government is going to prefix words like “news” and “national’ with words like “fake” and “anti,” then let’s demand that they also apply them to those that utter them:  the government and anyone who is a perpetrator of violence and hate talk — ek sachh ka virodhi aur nakli deshbhakt (an anti-truth-cum-fake-patriot); and to the passive bystanders who just turn their heads away and stay silent.

What’s the godawful vision of these anti-truth-cum-fake-patriots? It includes rendering invisible the humanity and dignity of Kashmiris that predates the August 2019 revocation of Article 370, the loss of statehood and the division of their land into Bantustans. What followed in the sixteen months since and continues today resembles the Israeli laboratory of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which include the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. JatiIndia has now officially set in motion its profiteering agenda that by design attempts to “alter the demographic composition” of the region, “marginalize them in their own land, erode structures of self-government, disempower them politically and muzzle all voices of protest.”

Since August 2019, journalists like Zahra have been systematically targeted with, among other things, a months-long internet shutdown, mobile internet restricted to 2G speed, a government-sponsored media centre, “Cyber Police,” arrests, harassment, summons, intimidation, thrashings, draconian laws, and policies like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the “Media Policy-2020.” According to National Conference and Peoples Conference spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar,  “This policy obliquely stifles media’s right to ask tough questions and highlight lacunae in the administration. It seems to be a remnant of colonial-era censorships and will choke the already constrained space for free working of the press.”

I have been to jail many times because of reporting. I was summoned by the Cyber Police in March because of my tweet. I gave them in writing that I wont make any mistakes from now on. Then there was an issue with Masrat Zahra, Peerzada Aashiq, and Gowher Geelani. They summoned many journalists after them. We are insecure in the field. — Peerzada Waseem, Kashmir News Observer, The Kashmir Walla, December 26.

26-year-old Zahra was charged in April with posting, yes, “anti-national” content on social media. She wasn’t arrested, but as she says, it feels like a “sword hanging on my head” and that the charge “was filed ‘to send a message’ that even a young female journalist would not be spared.”

Part of a continuing series, these JatiIndia Flags feature a face of resistance to upper-caste violence and injustice at the center of a modified flag of India. The color orange symbolizes Hindutva politics; blue—a color historically adopted by the Dalit movement—here represents the country’s Dalits, Kashmiris, Adivasis and other minorities; the bottom green bar embodies the regions ecological foundations endangered by the ideology of extractive capitalism; the circular image, replacing the Dharma Chakra (Wheel of Law) signifies the view through the crosshairs of a saffron (Hindu nationalist) gunsight. 

The blue strip is done in chain-stitch embroidery, illustrating the long chain of atrocities that have been carried out by JatiIndia over the years on its own people, and the people of occupied Kashmir. Each blue chain-stitch, of which there are more than twenty thousand, represents a face of resistance. 

This week’s flag features a portrait of Zahra and all that she stands for and for which she is a target: she’s a Kashmiri, a woman, a reporter, and she resists occupation.

The series so far:

JatiIndia, December 24, 2020, Manisha Valmiki, chain-stitch embroidery
JatiIndia, December 13, 2020, Anand Teltumbde, chain-stitch embroidery
JatiIndia, October 16, 2017, Gauri Lankesh, watercolor
JatiIndia, August 15, 2017, The sang-bazan (stone pelters), Occupied Kashmir, pen & ink
JatiIndia, the 2002 Gujarat Pogrom, March 1, 2017, watercolor
JatiIndia, February 10, 2017, Teesta Setalvad, pen & ink
JatiIndia, December 23, 2016, pellet-gun victim, Occupied Kashmir, pen & ink
JatiIndia, March 29, 2016, Shaista Hameed and Danish Farooq, Occupied Kashmir, acrylic on paper
JatiIndia, March 29, 2016, Rohith Vemula, acrylic on paper