Gaza Diary: January 30 2009 10:33 PM

Are you from Pakistan?

I am not sure how he knew for we had not met nor spoken to each other.

I was just about the get up to leave Al-Awda mosque in Rafah, Gaza when a man sitting behind me introduced himself and asked if I was from Pakistan.

How did he know? Why did he think so? Nothing about my appearance that day – I in my conventional trekking pants and checkered shirt, suggested my background.

How did he know?

The way you said your namaaz, specifically the way I said the final salaams (face turned right, and then left) was different from the way they did it here in Gaza and he had only seen that method when he had lived in Pakistan some years earlier.

Here, the told me, you wait for the Imam to say both salaams (left and right) before the congregations follows.

In Pakistan, we do so at the same time as the Imam.

Yes, indeed, I am from Pakistan – a Kashmiri born in Pakistan in fact.  He smiled, and vigorously shook my hand and said in near perfect Urdu ‘Ap say mill karr bahoot khushi hoey!’ – ‘It is a pleasure to meet you!’

I was taken aback! It was the last thing I had expected to hear – Urdu, Pakistan’s national language – spoken here in the heart of a Gaza refugee camp.

This was back in 2004.  Since then I have met a number of people in Rafah who speak a little Urdu and love to practice it whenever they meet me.

Many Palestinians had been allowed to travel to Pakistan after the Olso accords.  Policemen, doctors, physical therapists, accountants, engineers and others spend a few years in the country and learned a little of the language there.  They had been welcomed there, appreciated the support that they saw in the country for their struggle, and obviously felt at home there.

At a local physical rehabilitation center there was even a small club of Urdu speakers to which I of course was immediately made a member.

And again, on this recent trip, I continue to receive warm welcomes from people when I tell them that I am originally a Kashmiri from Pakistan.  There is a relaxing of attitude, a clear and obvious sense of camaraderie, a dissolving of some of the distance that exists between a foreign photographer and a Palestinian from Gaza. There is a look of recognition and gestures that suggest that they believe that I recognize something of me in them too.  And their struggle and their predicaments here in Gaza.

That since I am a Kashmiri, another region struggling for its identity and liberty, and a Pakistani, a country that has argued for the rights of the Palestinians, and of a Muslim background, that I to some degree understand who they are and what they are.

I can’t say that I actually offer all this to the Palestinians.  But I know that I love to speak Urdu in Gaza for the simple reason that it is the only place in the world where I can call myself just Pakistani – not Kashmiri/Pakistani/American/Swede etc. and not have it become a fact that taints you in the eyes of the other.

Perhaps the Palestinians like to speak it because it reminds them of a time of hope when the new possibilities offered by the Oslo Accords were to be prepared for in Pakistan.  Today none of those possibilities exist as the accords have been betrayed.

But the language they heard as they dreamed their dreams in a far away land is perhaps the only reminder of that special time so long past and the excitement and joys that had accompanied it.

I love to speak Urdu in Gaza.

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From “Headmen” To “Hitmen”–A People Brutalised Yet Again

Another photographer turns up at another manufactured ‘traditional’ geography, and produces another set of racist, reductive and entirely fake set of images. I don’t mean ‘fake’ in the way that most photographer’s get all concerned about. I mean ‘fake’ in a much more serious way, one that reduces people to social, political and historical caricatures and makes them into concocted objects for class titillation and voyeurism. And this American magazine–mired deep in the heart of American imperialism, its violence and its brutality–publishes the images and accompanies them with what can only be described as one of the most incredibly ahistorical, obfuscatory and infantile articles I have read outside of stuff frequently published by Time Magazine and/or The New York Times.

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Thomas Sankara’s Restless Children

The project is now complete. Although, we may never really complete the telling of this remarkable story. You can see the project by clicking on this link here, or on the image below.


Eyes Of Aliyah–Deport, Deprive, Extradite Initiative By Nisha Kapoor

I have publicly and on this forum very explicitly argued against the strange ‘disappearance’ of black/brown bodies that are the actual targets and victims of our ‘liberal’ state policies of surveillance, entrapment, drone assassinations, renditions and indefinite detention. I recently argued:

“Western visual journalism, and visual artists, have erased the actual victims of the criminal policies of the imperial state. Instead, most all have chosen to produce a large array of projects examining drone attacks, surveillance, detentions and other practices, through the use of digital abstractions, analogous environments, still life work or just simply the fascinating and enticing safety of datagrams and charts. Even a quick look at recent exhibitions focusing on the ‘war on terror’ or wars in general, have invited works that use digital representations of war, or focus on the technologies of war. An extreme case of this deflection are recent projects on drone warfare that not only avoid the actual brown/black bodies that are the targets of deadly drone attacks, but are not even produced anywhere near the geographies and social ecologies where drone attacks continue to happen! Yet, these works have found tremendous popularity, though i remain confused what kinds of conversations or debates they provoke given that the voices of the families of those who have been killed, are not only entirely missing, but people who can raised the difficult questions about the lies and propaganda that are used to justify the killings, are also entirely missing.”

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Public Release of “The Sinner”

This is my first feature length documentary film and we–Justice Project Pakistan, with the guiding support of Sarah BelalRimmel Mohydin and others at Justice Project Pakistan, are finally releasing it.

And we are doing it first in Pakistan.

The film takes us into the world of capital punishment in Pakistan through the life of one man; Jan Masi. Jan Masi worked as an execution for nearly 30 years, and claims to have executed over 1800 people. He started his work in the enthusiastic pursuit of revenge for the execution of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

This isn’t a typical documentary film. No talking heads. No linear story-telling. No polemics or moral grand standing. No righteous exclamations against capital punishment. Instead, Jan Masi, his life, his scars, his fears and despair, act as metaphors for the meaning of capital punishment in Pakistan, and the consequences it has on the broader Pakistani society.

Sudhir Patwardhan

Sudhir Patwardhan.

Can you discover ‘an influence’ after the fact?

What do you call someone who seems to embody your eye, your sensibility, and yet you had never seen his / her work, and yet, when you now see it, you see the ‘influence’…the similarities?

Is he confronting the same questions? Is he seeing this incredibly complex and multi-layered world with the same desire to depict it as close to that complexity as possible?

I was taken aback. The aesthetic pursuit is so familiar. It is as if he is a step ahead of me. He is a step ahead of me.

I am going through these images–gorgeous, striking, unique, and no, I refuse to give you some ‘European’ reference to understand them in any way. They are Patwardhan’s and his alone. But I want to make them as photographs.

They are the photographs I would make if in Mumbai. It is beautiful stuff. It makes me want to go and make photographs.

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Make It Right For Palestine, November 4, 2017

Be there. Hyde Park. Speaker’s Corner. London. 12:00 noon. 4th November, 2017.

The Polis Project…Is Up And Running

If you can’t join them, then just do it on your own.

We launched a new collective focused on research, reportage and resistance. The specific goals and objectives are being developed as we speak, but the idea is a simple one: to collect under one banner a group of individuals from different fields – artists, writers, academics, photographers, intellectuals, poets and others, who are consistently working against the grain. In this time of collective conformity, and a media sycophancy to power and extremism, some of us felt the need to create a small space where people are still determined to refuse the agendas of political power, debilitating capitalism, nationalist extremism and neoliberal idiocy, and remain fools in their hearts, and idealists in their souls.

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Short Doc: “As If A Nightmare”;The Story Of Former Bagram Prisoner Abdul Haleem Saifullah

 

We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

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Short Doc: “Prisoner 1432” – The Story of Former Bagram Prisoner Amanatullah Ali

 

We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

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10 Things To Consider…

I recommend that photographers, photojournalists, documentary photographers remember these wise words by Tania Canas, RISE Arts Director / Member – I am copying and pasting it here. As brown and black bodies are stripped of their clothing, as brown and black children are dehumanised to mere misery, as brown and black women are reduced to simply victims, as ghettos and brothels and refugee camps and slums become the ‘paint by number’ formula for White photographer’s career and publishing success, it becomes increasingly important that those of us on the receiving end of White ‘largesse’ begin to build obstacles, speak back, and refuse / reject these ‘representations’ and their reductive, violent and brutal narrative frames. We have lost too much, and are in danger of whatever little we have left as humans and as histories, if we permit this process to continue.

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