Sunday, January 11, 2009

What hope is there?

History has proven that silence is the greatest propagator of injustice in the world. Over the past eleven days as Israeli bombs rain down on Gaza, I have thought much about this silence and waited in vain for that tremendous outcry of dissent one would expect to hear from the world in response to such an aggression. I have anguished in my helplessness and so I do the only thing I am capable of doing. I break my silence. I break my silence so that I will never have to tell my son that I did not speak out against what I believe to be one of the greatest violations of human rights which has been going on now for 60 long years.

Unfortunately to take issue with the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is most always in America oversimplified to be a form of anti-Semitism or in the least, a defending of the terrorism that Israelis face in the region. I could not more honestly and sincerely express that my firm rejection of Zionist nationalism is NOT in any way a grievance towards the Jewish people. Furthermore I wholeheartedly believe that like every human being, as a birthright, they deserve to exist and live out their lives in peace. But peace cannot exist where there is injustice and the political movement of Zionism to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine where Arab families had been living for generations, has given rise to one of the greatest injustices committed in the 20th century. This injustice enacted by the forced expulsion and murder of innocents has left millions of Palestinians destitute, permanently exiled, most living in refugee camps in a state of indigence and hopelessness. With over 4 million refugees registered with the UN and an estimated 2 million more unregistered, all of which are excluded from any Israeli peace efforts, Palestinians are one of the largest displaced people in the world.

The question that has plagued me for so many years is how can the Jewish people let this happen? How can a people who survived the atrocities of the holocaust subject anyone to the same degradation, depravation and dehumanization that was inflicted upon them? How could a people who lost 6 million in the holocaust justify their right to exist by destroying 6 million innocent lives? If the answer is that Israel has a right to defend itself against terrorism then it is hard to comprehend how systematic acts of murder and aggression will do little but birth a new generation of irreversible radical idealism which will continue to manifest in various form of violence against the Israeli people. .

Terrorism is defined as "the use of violence and threats to intimidate for political purposes". Does the slaughter of innocent Palestinian children, women and men not constitute a form of terrorism? How does the killing of over four hundred Palestinians in one week justify the deaths of eleven Israelis by Hamas rockets over the past eight years? When did an Israeli life become more precious than a Palestinian life? Is it not a huge double standard for the US government to demonize Iran for transporting weapons to Iraq when it is US made bombs and guns that are killing innocent children and women in Gaza? The answer is clear as we have seen in the Bush administration’s illegal invasion and decimation of Iraq, that the mightier often feel their crimes are justified so as long as they believe in the righteousness of their cause. And it is this sense of self-righteousness that has given way to the depraved indifference we see for innocent lives, threatening the most basic moral codes of human existence.

As illusive as peace may seem at this time given the rancor of sixty year old wounds on both sides, for many of us who believe in the significance of justice in the resolution of this conflict, a major step towards reconciliation and eventually peace would be for Israel to withdraw form the Palestinian territories it has been unlawfully occupying since 1967 and to abide by international law and dismantle the hundreds of illegal settlements it built and continues to build in these undisputed areas. The Palestinians like the Israelis deserve to live in security, with dignity and more importantly with hope. Without hope, without a reason to live, it would be difficult for any human being to engender a value for life, and if there is no value for life, it is easy to succumb to nihilistic delusions and imperil the lives of innocents on the path to self- destruction.

What hope is there for us as a race if we do not see the interconnectedness of our fate? What hope is there for us as a race if we do not speak up for those whose voices have been silenced? What hope is there for us as a race if we identify ourselves more with our culture and our religion than with our humanity? What hope is there…

Azam Ali

My love, admiration and immeasurable respect for Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of non-violent struggle against imperialism, is no secret. Gandhi had great sympathy for the persecution of the Jews, yet he was always politically and religiously against imposing a Jewish national home on the Palestinians. In an article published in the Harijan in 1938 he expressed his views very clearly on this issue and I find it to be some of the most profound words ever expressed on this subject.

" My sympathy does not blind me to the requirements for justice. Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs. What is going on in Palestine today cannot be justified by any code of conduct. Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews as their national home. "

" And now a word to the Jews in Palestine. I have no doubt that they are going about it the wrong way. The Palestine of the Biblical conception is not a geographical tract. It is in their hearts. But if they must look to the Palestine of geography as their national home, it is wrong to enter it under the shadow of the gun. A religious act cannot be performed with the aid of the bayonet or the bomb. They can settle in Palestine only by the goodwill of the Arabs. They should seek to convert the Arab heart. There are hundreds of ways of reasoning with the Arabs, if they will only discard the British bayonet. As it is, they are co-sharers with the British in despoiling a people who have done no wrong to them. According to the canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds. Let the Jews who claim to be the chosen race prove their title by choosing the way of non-violence for vindicating their position on earth." – Mahatma Gandhi (Published in The Harijan November 1938)

Friday, April 04, 2008


It is with the greatest joy that I share with all of you the news of the birth of my son, Iman Ali Torkian. He was born on January 3rd, 2008. It rained that day and for a few days after following a huge dry spell which I took as a fortuitous sign. I have been so fortunate in recent years. In 2003 I married my beloved friend of 17 years, my musical partner and soul mate Loga Ramin Torkian in Panchgani, India where I was raised and lived for eleven years. Now with this added blessing Iman has brought I am experiencing renewed meaning and enormous elevation in my existence.

I have spent much of my life unwaveringly devoted to generating positivity through my music. This has been my greatest act of worship. I have great admiration for those who work hard in life especially when it is done in the form of service. It is this belief system within which I endeavor to raise my son.

I became pregnant in April of 2007 while on tour with Niyaz in New Mexico. We continued to tour until July traveling to Mexico and Europe so Iman is already quite familiar with the hectic life of musicians. As soon as we returned from Europe we began working on Nine Heavens, the new album. It is futile for me to attempt to articulate with words the experience of feeling a life grow inside of me while creating a new body of work. It was nothing short of a miraculous experience. All I can say is that a great amount of love and passion was poured into Nine Heavens making it for obvious reasons my most treasured body of work.

There are certain experiences in life which alter our perception and change us forever. The death of my mother in 2002 was one such experience and presently the birth of my son. More than ever, I now feel this overwhelming sense of obligation to help make this world a place I would want my child to grow up in. More than ever, I have a purpose.

Azam Ali

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

In the shadows

In the shadows
my mother waits
for her house
to be rebuilt
her hours bloom
into unmeaning flowers
and wilt
at the feet of her youth

now and then
she may gather a few
and strew their petals
upon the dust of her days
while vagrant hope
delivers her
a promised cadence
of toil and pain

many a day
I have seen them
wash ashore
upon languid waves
treasures she wove into garlands
spurned by the sea of oblivion

In my house
the walls are silent
and the deathless tree of war
is still in bloom
the light begs to dissuade
my heart’s rancorous torrent
as virtue yields
her final fruit

My place too
is in the placeless
my home
drowned with the garlands she wove
in the shadows, I wait
for my house to be rebuilt
in the shadows I wait
to go home

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Middle East Crisis

It is very difficult to be a part of this world and remain unscathed by the events which are manifesting so violently around us. It is hard to imagine that any good could rise from the ruins of so many shattered lives. The suffering unfolding right now is incomprehensible, and will most likely remain a rancorous wound for decades to come.

I have come to realize in recent days that it is not peace which is lacking in this world, but Justice. I have grown increasingly and uncomfortably aware of the ease with which the word peace precedes the launching of missiles. In this, our darkest hour in recent years I can only look for some solace in the words of a man whose profound ideology and capacity for reason long outlived his physical being- Mahatma Gandhi. The greatest man in my opinion to have walked this earth, believed that violence and democracy cannot coexist, that violent means will only give violent freedom, and that non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind.

It is hard for me to comprehend any belief system in which one life has more value than another, since regardless of our cultural and spiritual identities, we all share the same genetic code. It is therefore incumbent upon those of us who value all life to try and remain magnanimous during these times and eschew the resentment and anger which can so easily polarize us.

Azam Ali

"Peace will not come out of the clash of arms but out of justice lived and done by unarmed nations in the face of odds." -Mahatma Gandhi