Sunday, February 28, 2010

Live theater performers from Iraq and Tunisia bring deep emotion, human connection to Tokyo stage

While living in Tokyo for nearly the past decade as a community peace activist, I have had several opportunities to interact with people from Iraq (human rights journalists, pediatricians, and visual artists, to be precise) during their visits to Japan on grassroots-level exchanges organized by local peace groups. Each time, I came away from the experience with marvelous memories and new friendships.

Last week, a fellow member of the Iraq Hope Network alerted members to two short theater acts taking place at Tiny Alice, a cozy theater in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district. The only available information was a short blurb including the names of the performers and the titles of their pieces: “Abu Ghraib Prison” from the Mustaheel-Alice theater troupe in Baghdad, Iraq; and “Woman Sindyan” from SINDYANA in Tunisia. Knowing from experience that this could be an opportunity for another interesting encounter, I headed together with one of my most engaged university students to check out the shows.

As we entered the diminutive theater, three foreign men who I assumed to be the Iraqi actors were standing in the doorway—one of them bedecked in all camouflage and wearing an extremely stern expression on his face. Still unsure of what to expect, my student and I took a seat in the only available spots, which were on the floor directly in front of the stage.

We soon learned from a pre-show announcement that the three men were in fact the play’s writer, director and musical composer, and that the show was inspired by the story of one of the writer’s friends—a musician who was jailed in Abu Ghraib Prison during the reign of Saddam Hussein. The play began shortly thereafter, immediately shocking the full range of our senses. The camouflaged man, who was clearly acting the part of the guard, cast a brutal gaze as the two prisoners writhed around on the ground, enshrouded alternately inside white sheets and silver tubing material. Also taking center stage were several musical instruments encased in chains and plastic wrap, which all three men took turns reaching for—and then violently throwing aside—to the backdrop of a screaming cacophony of dissonant music.

While the abstract, chaotic nature of the short work (as well as the fact that the only fleeting dialogue was in Arabic) precluded any fast conclusions about what precisely it might have been trying to convey, the general themes were hard to miss by virtue of their universal resonance: the pain and confusion of imprisonment; the resilience of the human spirit even in instances of severe repression; the blurred borders between captive and capturer.

The second work began after a brief intermission, when we were still reeling from the dramatic effects of the first. As it turns out, the Tunisian performance was in fact a one-woman show, with the actor embodying several personas—male in addition to female—and French phrases occasionally mixed in with the mostly Arabic dialogue. While the Japanese subtitles beamed above the stage were somewhat sporadic, we were able to understand that her various characters were expressing anger and indignation at certain times toward colonialist repression, and at others toward gender-based objectification. With a fire and passion that literally seemed to engulf the entire tiny theater house, the full range of characters and emotions embodied by this actor may as well have been those of an entire theater troupe.

The limits of language and theatrical understanding were finally transcended after the final curtain call, when all four performers immediately reassembled onstage for a fully interpreted discussion with the audience. We learned that the Iraqi prison guard had indeed been in character when greeting us at the door, as his previously steely expression had melted away to reveal an entirely different personage of warmth and friendliness. We also learned—as I had begun to suspect—that the Tunisian woman, Zahira Ben Ammar, was a well-respected, world famous performer.

“As actors, we serve as mirrors of society, expressing what is often left unsaid,” she told the audience. “As a female actor, I have the privilege of being able to express myself in ways that are normally not possible for women in other Arab countries. In addition, my show also tries to give voice to the profound pain that has touched all colonized peoples—whether in Tunisia, Gaza or Iraq. I suspect that some of these themes may also resonate with Japanese people, due for example to your painful history in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

Anas Abdhul Sammad, the stage director for Mustaheel-Alice, continued, “The first time that I saw Zahira Ben Ammar perform, in Morocco, I was moved beyond words. I am not a person who cries much, but after seeing her I actually went back to my hotel room and wept. I knew that I wanted to bring her with me to Japan to share her work with audiences here, and I am so grateful that she took time out of her incredibly busy schedule to join us.

I would also add that at the same time as the theater allows us to express the deep pain of things like oppression and war, I also find it very disheartening that the television in other countries only shows things like bombs and violence. Of course this is happening and it’s real, but what the TV does not show is the reality of ordinary people living our day-to-day lives. We are one small acting company among countless others in Baghdad, and we try to use theatrical expression to portray various aspects of the human condition.”

Echoing Iraqi visual artist Qasim Sabti, he continued, “The profession of acting, which has been around since the age of Babylon, will long outlive technologies such as modern weaponry. It has always been there to provide support and comfort to people during difficult times—even though the historical contexts are different—and it will continue to do so into the future.”

“I would like to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for being here tonight, and for allowing me to express a part of myself,” Zahira Ben Ammar said at the close of the nearly hour-and-a-half long discussion session. “I felt a strong energy in this room tonight connecting me with all of you---and this is the reason why we continue to do what we do.”

Before leaving the theater, my student and I were able to have a friendly engaged conversation and e-mail exchange with all of the actors, which served to confirm what I already knew: that the real relationships which matter most are not the unhealthy and destructive ones perpetuated by governments and militaries—but the deep connections that take root in intimately engaged spaces such as the one we created in the theater that evening.

Zahira Ben Ammar and the Mustaheel Alice Theater Troupe
(Photo: Kimberly Hughes)

--Kimberly Hughes

Performance photos: Tsukasa Aoki

Saturday, February 27, 2010

“Mr. Truman Meets Hiroshima on the Future of Nuclear Weapons, 1945-2020" -- Live Global Videoconference/Webcast March 1 (US), March 2 (Japan)

From Satoko Norimatsu at the Peace Philosophy Centre blog:
“Mr. Truman Meets Hiroshima on the Future of Nuclear Weapons, 1945-2020" -- A Live Global Webcast and Open Forum Originating from The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum (Independence, MO, USA) and The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (Japan)


Monday, March 1, 2010 7-9 PM (CST-Missouri)

March 1, 2010 8-10PM (EST - Toronto,Washington DC,New York)

March 1, 2010 5-7 PM (PST - Vancouver, San Francisco, LA)

Tuesday March 2, 2010 10AM - 12PM (Japan)

Originating from the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum (Independence, Missouri, USA) and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (Japan).

This historic webcast, presented by Webster University and the Holden Public Policy Forum, will be the first meeting between the museum representing the first head of state to use atomic bombs and the people in the city where the first atomic bomb was used. The live webcast and open channels for audience participation via Chat, Facebook and Twitter can be accessed at: this site or at other “watch party” locations.

The speakers and participants in this meeting discuss the basis for working toward a common vision about the future of nuclear weapons. For the world-wide citizen audience, this event is an awareness raising forum and opportunity to participate in working toward a secure, peaceful and sustainable future for humanity and the planet.


Introductory Video: "The Future of Nuclear Weapons: Voices and Images" (Webster University student video project)

Opening: Dr. Elizabeth (Beth) J. Stroble (President, Webster University)

Meeting Moderator: Governor Bob Holden (Holden Public Policy Forum)

"The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum and the Future of Nuclear Weapons" - Dr. Michael Devine (Director, Harry S. Truman Library & Museum)

Historical Context:

"Truman, Hiroshima and Nuclear Weapons" - Dr. John D. Chappell (Associate Professor of History, Webster University, and Author of Before the Bomb: How America Approached the End of the Pacific War (1997))

"Hiroshima’s Take on the Future of Nuclear Weapons" - Dr. Tadatoshi Akiba (Mayor of Hiroshima; and President, Mayors for Peace, NGO); Steven Leeper (Chairman, Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation); and Testimonials from "Hibakusha" (A-bomb witnesses)

Questions and Discussion

Online questions and comments moderated by Satoko Norimatsu
(Director, Peace Philosophy Centre, Vancouver, B.C.) and Dr. John Chappell

Conclusions and Next Steps

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

2010 International Year of the Dugong • Report from Save the Dugong Campaign Center

A Japanese NGO, Save the Dugong Campaign Center joined the 4th World Conservation Congress held by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

During the congress, the IUCN adopted a recommendation to protect the Okinawan Dugong during the UN 2010 International Year for Biodiversity.

The Japanese and the US governments has been planning to expand a US Marine base located at a biologically sensitive coral reef on the northwest coast of Okinawa, the last habitat of the Okinawa Dugong.

This video explains the situation in Okinawa; what Save the Dugong Campaign Center has done to appeal this situation in the other part of Japan, during the congress: and the meaning of this recommendation.

Related articles:

"US military base may wipe out unique mammal"Terra Viva)

"U.S. Judge Extends Act's Protections: New base must consider effects on dugong" (The Japan Times)

"Internationalizing the Okinawan Struggle: Implications of the 2006 Elections in Okinawa and the US" by Yoshikawa Hideki (The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

15th anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol

On February 16th, the15th anniversary for the coming into force of the Kyoto Protocol (2005), students of Hakodate La Salle Jr. and Sr. High School and citizens of Hakodatecame together to create a sand message at Ohmori Beach.

Their crossword of "KYOTO" and "350" signifies their importance of the Kyoto Protocol as a first step towards returning to a world where CO2 levels are below 350 parts per million in the atmosphere.

For more information about the importance of reducing C02 emissions to below 350, check out, an international organization building a movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis. On October 24th, 2009 they organized what is considered "the most widespread day of political action in the planet's history," with more than 5200 events in 181 countries to raise awareness of climate change.

- Posted by Jen Teeter

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Posthumous justice awarded in Yokohama Incident Trial

The Japan Times reported on Feb. 5, that the Yokohama District Court ordered compensation to be paid to the families of five now deceased men who were wrongfully imprisoned during wartime Japan. According to the article:
The Yokohama District Court ordered the government Thursday to pay compensation to the relatives of five now-deceased men for falsely imprisoning them in the "Yokohama Incident," often described as Japan's worst case of repression of free speech during the war.

The three-judge panel ruled that the wartime "tokko" thought, or political, police launched a one-sided, speculative investigation that prosecutors and judges endorsed.

The police, the prosecution and the court all bear heavy responsibility for the outcome, it said. In the decision, (Presiding Judge) Oshima accused the political police of conducting an "illegal" investigation, including the torture of suspects.

The five defendants were convicted in August and September 1945 of procommunist activities based on the wartime Peace Preservation Law.
Another articleThe Japan Times published last year reported:
In the Yokohama Incident, the Kanagawa thought-control police arrested about 60 journalists on suspicion of spreading the idea of communism in violation of the Peace Preservation Law during the Pacific War; more than 30 were indicted. Torture was employed during interrogation and four died while in detention. Most of the defendants were given suspended sentences right after World War II ended. The former defendants are all dead.
A longer article at The Asia-Pacific Journal entitled "The Retrial of the 'Yokohama Incident': A Six Decade Battle for Human Dignity" may be read here.

- Posted by Kimberly Hughes

Abolition Flame to join Peace Walk from Tennessee to the United Nations--starts in Oak Ridge, Sat., Feb. 13 • Obama Ups Spending on Nukes

The International Peace Walk Towards a Nuclear Free Future, organized by Footprints for Peace begins a journey of more than 700 miles--stepping off from the Scarboro Road gate of the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, on Saturday, February 13.

Over the next three months, walkers will follow a route through Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, arriving in New York City on May 1, 2010. The Abolition Flame--which travelled with the Global March for Peace and Non Violence--will continue its journey to the Nuclear Nonprolferation Treaty review conference that will begin on the 2nd of May at the United Nations..

Y12 enriched the uranium used in the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima, Japan, in August 1945. Y12 still being used-- upgrading and refurbishing the US nuclear arsenal.

Footprints for Peace, an Ohio based organization, has drawn together people from Australia, Japan and Europe, along with people from across the United States--including Indigenous peoples, religious leaders, Buddhist monks, students, artists and families—all joining to demonstrate their commitment to a nuclear-free world for future generations.

The Peace Walkers are carrying a letter from Tadatoshi Akiba, Mayor of Hiroshima and Director of Mayors for Peace, endorsing the walk and encouraging mayors along the walk’s route to become a part of Mayors for Peace campaign and join the effort to create a world free of nuclear weapons.

Footprints for Peace Australian organizer Marcus Atkinson:
While nuclear disarmament is something the world must achieve, we can only do it if we all work together to demand our leaders fulfill the promises made decades ago in the Nonproliferation Treaty.

We also need to use this time to look at the whole cycle of the nuclear industry. Nuclear weapons are the final product of an industry that has destroyed Indigenous people’s lands throughout the world, caused the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people and left whole cities uninhabitable.

There is no “peaceful use” of nuclear power, as the process from the very beginning of the cycle is so destructive. This walk will bring attention to all aspects of the nuclear industry and will be demanding progress on negotiations to create a nuclear weapons free world, while also creating debate on the nuclear industry as a whole.
Related News:

DMZ Hawai'i: Obama talks about ‘disarmament’ but seeks increased spending on nukes

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Martin Frid: Dali, Hiroshima, & Okinawa

Spanish artist Salvador Dali was deeply terrified by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and his exact, detailed style was very much suited to show the horror of the A-bomb, which the U.S. government tried to keep a secret by classifying photos and descriptions of Hiroshima and Nagasaki until the end of the U.S. military occupation of Japan in 1952. (The Bureau of Atomic Tourism has more details if you want to know more about the legacy of nuclear weapons in the U.S.)

Even today, do people understand the real horror of atomic bombs? If not, then, why not?

Dali's paintings are on display in Fukushima prefecture, where you can view Melancholy Atomic and Uranium Idyll and The Three Sphinxes of Bikini at the Morohashi Museum of Modern Art.

This video from the Nihon University (Nichidai) channel features an interview with Morohashi Eiji, the son of the founder of the unique museum, and scenes from the Morohashi Museum (29:20):#271美術館への誘い ダリの世界

Is there a hidden message in Dali's 1947 Bikini hydrogen bomb painting? Morohashi Eiji has the details in the video interview ( around 12:30-14:00).

Wishing to find out more about Dali's inspiration around this time: The Triangle offers this quote:
During the post World War II era, Dali found new inspiration in the person and the ideas of Werner Heisenberg and his Uncertainty Principle. Along with this came a renewed interest in spirituality for which Dali coined a new term: "Nuclear Mysticism". In his "Anti-Matter Manifesto" of 1958 Dali wrote: "In the Surrealist period I wanted to create the iconography of the interior world and the world of the marvelous, of my father Freud. Today the exterior world and that of physics, has transcended the one of psychology. My father today is Dr. Heisenberg."
Dali Planet notes:
The atomic bomb that levelled Hiroshima in 1945 had an enormous impact on Dali’s way of looking at the world. He was certainly among the first artists to recognise that the arrival of the nuclear age had fundamentally altered man’s perception of nature. In the decades to come Dali immersed himself in physics and produced dozens of works depicting objects exploded into their component particles.

In the year of Hiroshima he painted “Melancholy Atomic and Uranium Idyll”... In a bombed bunker intermingling atoms and electrons seem to draw a connection between aerial assault and baseball, one critic noting that the New York Yankees were known as the Bronx Bombers.
Dali also sculpted a statue, 'The Sun God Rising In Okinawa," to express his wish for peace and healing for Okinawa

When it was loaned to Urasoe City Museum in Okinawa for a 2008 exhibition, people called upon the owner to give it to the prefecture permanently. (Photo from Okinawa daisuki na ningen)

Strange, but I cannot think of even a single American artist who compare to Salvador Dali. Is there even one man or woman who stood up and made a case against nuclear weapons?

Classified Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by Hiroko Takahashi (pdf)

Written by Martin J. Frid and originally posted at Kurashi News from Japan.

(Co-blogger and reader of Kurashi, Pandabonium responded that African American visual artist Jacob Lawrence did a series of prints entitled "Hiroshima" accompanied by text by John Hersey. )