INTERVIEW WITH MARY RIZZO (Palestine Think Tank)
At the moment, I’m running a group site together with two extraordinary persons, Haitham Sabbah and Gilad Atzmon. It’s called Palestine Think Tank ( www.palestinethinktank.com) and it tries to focus on all the issues and analysis that the mainstream media is too cowardly or dishonest to print, and it is especially interested in presenting a group of great new writers to a wider audience. I also contribute to a site called Tlaxcala, a group of translators and we have a very big site done in quite a few languages. Both projects require a lot of time, so I am mentioning them both!
Do you feel that you continue to grow in your writing the longer you write? Why is that important to you?
Absolutely yes. You learn what topics can be tackled, even ones that you don’t feel totally informed about, and by writing, you force yourself to investigate. I also love great writing, so I am interested in an above-average standard. I also like it to be informative and entertaining as well as true.
I’m wondering what some of your memorable experiences are with blogging?
Before Palestine Think Tank, I ran a very popular blog called Peacepalestine ( www.peacepalestine.blogspot.com). It was constantly being attacked by certain people in “the solidarity movement” who felt threatened by it in one way or another. When I was being threatened to be sued and my blog was brought down, and then eventually locked for a while, my good friends and even many strangers came to the rescue to save it. On a personal level, it was extremely important. Before that, blogging felt like an activity I did with a handful of friends, but I learned at that moment there were hundreds of people who felt that the loss of the blog would have been terrible, and they set into motion some rescue measures. It was really so wonderful, to have such solidarity from people who care about something that they use but could easily be substituted.
What do you do in order to keep up your communication with other bloggers?
Emails, basically. At times Skype or the telephone, on rare occasion we do meet, but I really should be in more contact than I am! I do miss the friendship that is also about things besides politics, but we’re all pretty busy!
What do you think is the most exciting or most innovative use of technology in politics right now?
I don’t think technology really gives people the things they want, and when you let politicians try to use it, they certainly aren’t doing it for the good of the masses!
Do you think that these new technologies are effective in making people more responsive?
Well, I can say that were it not for technology in communication, we couldn’t have immediacy of information, and that includes translation into other languages and the chance to update items almost in real time.
What do you think sets Your site apart from others?
The desire to build a roster of writers who feel part of the site. There is a particular style that carried over from Peacepalestine, but it’s not interfering as much as I feared it would. I have basically gone from being a writer to being an editor, and I don’t mind the transition that much. I do love the variety of material that we publish. It is definitely the site I would read if I could only pick one! All my favourite writers and artists are there. But, we are always looking to build on a good thing.
If you could choose one characteristic you have that brought you success in life, what would it be?
Not that I’m that successful, but I have always tried to maintain an ability to adapt to situations. However, I am adamant about what I accept and what I won’t tolerate, so I guess within my limits, I have a clear idea of where I am going so my flexibility has its parameters that keep me very focused. People who have known me for 20 or 30 years tell me I am exactly like I was back then, despite the dramatic changes in my life. Also at times, choosing good people to accompany me through part of the journey is essential. I put a lot of trust in a few people, but I trust them blindly. That gives them freedom and responsibility and makes a creative relationship that is at times productive, and it is very positive when it functions.
What was the happiest and gloomiest moment of your life?
Happiest moment when my daughter finally got out of the incubator, I realised the force of life despite all odds. The gloomiest was when I lost three beloved people in the space of a year, particularly my father whom I was very attached to.
At the moment, it would be a long trip through central Europe, from Turkey to the Urals, visiting mostly remote areas that I’ve read about. In the future, a free Palestine from the Jordan to the Mediterranean. The other choice would be the grand tour of antiquity, from Mesopotamia, through Egypt and finishing off with Greece.
What is your favorite book and why?
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It is an outstanding novel, so dense and satisfying. A real master with the spoken idiom.
What’s the first thing you notice about a person (whether you know them or not)?
I am very particular about handshakes. I hate boneless ones. But I also notice and like people who don’t look irritated!
Is there anyone from your past that once told you you couldn’t write?
No, as a matter of fact, everyone knew I would write. I have always written. One of my first big gifts was a typewriter at the age of 9. I would write a few stories a day and make carbon copies of them to hand out to my friends. When I don’t write I feel depressed.
How bloggers can benefit from blogs financially?
I don’t know anyone in it for the money. The type of blog I am interested in doesn’t have anything but expenses!
Is it true that who has a successful blog has an awful lot of time on their hands?
One dedicates the time one has, no more, no less. It does take time to make attractive blogs and good posts, but it’s time taken away from other things.
What role can bloggers of the world play to make this world more friendlier and less hostile?
Friendship and peace are important, but sometimes in a blog, there are conflicts, it reflects the way the world is. What matters is to remember that people don’t read or write for punishment, nor to just reinforce what they already think or feel. They expect to get something from it, at times that is an emotion, so I do know that the little wars do have their moments when they are appropriate and the targets are valid. What I suppose matters is to remain constantly aware of the truth of issues and be able to verify everything written. People appreciate honesty more than they do a feel-good vibe that is insincere.
Who are your top five favourite bloggers?
There are really so many. I am meeting new ones each day too, but if I must nail it down, I adore Nancy Harb of Umkahlil, both as a writer and as a person. Haitham Sabbah, one of my partners in PTT is always innovative and is so wise and patient that he teaches me lessons in life. I really love an Italian blog by Miguel Martinez, Kelebek, a French one called Basta! run by Fausto Giudice is one of my favourites, and have discovered recently a blogger called Winter Patriot whose posts really amaze me.
Is there one observation or column or post that has gotten the most powerful reaction from people?
Of my own writing I’ve gotten a lot of reactions from one about the use of the Gilad Shalit campaign and its utter racism. Always the articles by Gilad Atzmon stir up commentary.
What is your perception about Pakistan and its people?
I unfortunately know so little! I got most of my information reading the book by Dominque Lapierre (Freedom at Midnight it was perhaps called in English) about the foundation of the States of India and Pakistan. Other than that, at the start of the Afghanistan war, I would read Dawn everyday, it was a good source of information. Beside that, I know far too little. I do have a personal prejudice though, when I lived in Chicago, I always wanted Pakistani doctors, they were the best.
Have you ever become stunned by the uniqueness of any blogger?
Many times! People like Steve Amsel, a certain “Erlenda” who no longer blogs, are unique in the netscape. You know you are reading them and them alone when you start, even graphically they have a certain style. I just recently discovered a blog “Race Rules” by George Thompson, and was so impressed I spent several hours reading months of his posts. The same with a blogger named Niki Raapana, both of whom I plan to write with or at least have write commissioned work for the site.
What is the most striking difference between a developed country and a developing country?
Economic difference between the rich and poor within that society. In America, even the very poor have the same “desires” for brand name products and at times are able to attain these substitutes for democracy. In developing countries, there is a more striking difference as the desires are not the same.
What is the future of blogging?
I think it has reached a plateau. All we can expect now is more of what we have, which is not a bad thing!
You have also got a blogging life, how has it directly affected both your personal and professional life?
Many of the people who I consider friends are those I only know through internet communication, so obviously, on a social level, it has introduced a new concept of who is a friend, but unfortunately, some of these friendships do turn out to be just superficial when you actually have invested a lot of energy into them, and it is disappointing when you realise you are on a very different wavelength after all. It takes talent to separate the screen relationships from the real ones, and a real friendship needs to be dynamic and have more than one dimension to it, also allowing space to work out issues that are not always pleasant. Playing games is something some internet people can’t resist but that can’t work in real relationships. Sometimes “internet people” become real friends, but not very frequently. It is amazing the speed in which friendships are made or broken, and the intensity of it! But the important relationships last. Professionally, it takes time away from work, so it has been negative as an influence. My family does not appreciate the time taken away from them and some do not like my politics, so they reject my writing. Recently, one of my sisters who had campaigned heavily for Obama was very hurt by my critical postings, which had gotten a lot of attention from other sites and blogs. It caused some moments of difficulty between us. We both take things very seriously.
What are your future plans?
To improve all the time, add better content and develop strong and lasting relationships with the contributors.
Any Message you want to give to the readers of The Pakistani Spectator?
I wish to send your readers greetings for the new year and encourage them to read critically and with a spirit of openness.