Monday, August 13, 2007


The existence of the t-shirt was picked up by the NYC press with headlines like “Gaza strip uprising in NYC.  As a result, the principal of an Arabic school that was due to open felt compelled to resign before the school even opened.  The reason:  the women’s group is hosted by the same Yemeni group that offered space to the school!

Bear in mind that the school is named after an internationally famous Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran, who lived in New York in the last century and that its mission is to bring an opportunity for teenagers of Arabic descent to learn about their heritage, and also to make Arab cultural contributions more widely known.  (One of the things few foreigners know is that for most Arabs, intifada refers to an internal struggle, getting onw’es own house in order.

Now for the second tee-shirt story:  Raed Jarrar is an Iraqi-born consultant for the American Friends Service Comnittee, who last year was prevented from flying on Jet Blue because he was wearing a tee-shirt that said, in Arabic and English: “We will not be silenced”.  On today’s program, he said that one of the agents who forced him to cover his tee-shirt before allowing him to board the plane explaiend to him that wearing it was the equivalent of someone going into a bank wearing a tee-shirt that said: “I’m a robber.”  (Jarrar’s website is

Beyond the frightening aspect of the treatment being meted out to individuals FOR SIMPLY EXPRESSING THEIR BELIEFS ON THEIR CLOTHING, is the juxtaposition of these behaviors to the call for a general strike.

While Americans invented the t-shirt as outerwear and the message tee-shirt as a form of protest, Europeans have a long tadition of practicing the general strike.  (One of the new French president’s first acts in office was to push through historic legislation that would ensure minimum service during transport strikes.  Such legislation has been mooted for decades, but always successfully fought off by French workers, who are the champions when it comes to French orneriness.)

The extent to which Europeans make use of the strike has become unimaginable in the United States.  That’s why, as documented in Michael Moore’s film “Sicko”, which is about more than just our unique backwardness when it comes to ensuring health care for all, American workers get on average two weeks vacation to the European norm of four, five and even six weeks. (In the sixties, in addition to six weeks vacation, Italian workers routinely got one or two extra months pay, which was specified in the job specs.)

The official banner for the call for a general strike on, mentions torture, corporate surveillance,  media and corporate government, tyranny, fascism and lies, It should also mention the poorest social benefits of the developed world.

Forty years ago, tee-shirts seemed like a daring cultural phenomenon, coming on the heels of the angry young men of the fifties, and the counter-culture of the sixties.  But it’s time to face the fact that tee-shirts are not much more than a form of self-cooptation.  Nothing gets to rulers like a broad-based strike.  Just look at Europe.

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