Fear The Pushtun Bogeyman Or Scaring Children As An Imperialist Habit

Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Engaging the Muslim World. He has a regular column at Salon.com. and writes the Informed Comment blog.

He has now written what I think is the first piece that connects modern day American imperialist paranoia in Afghanistan to 19th century British imperialist paranoia in Afghanistan. In a piece called Armageddon On Top Of The World: Not! he reminds us that:

What most observers don’t realize is that the doomsday rhetoric about this region at the top of the world is hardly new. It’s at least 100 years old. During their campaigns in the northwest in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, British officers, journalists and editorialists sounded much like American strategists, analysts, and pundits of the present moment. They construed the Pashtun tribesmen who inhabited Waziristan as the new Normans, a dire menace to London that threatened to overturn the British Empire.

He goes on to remind us that:

In fact, few intelligence predictions could have less chance of coming true. In the 2008 parliamentary election, the Pakistani public voted in centrist parties, some of them secular, virtually ignoring the Muslim fundamentalist parties. Today in Pakistan, there are about 24 million Pashtuns, a linguistic ethnic group that speaks Pashto. Another 13 million live across the British-drawn “Durand Line,” the border — mostly unacknowledged by Pashtuns — between Pakistan and southern Afghanistan. Most Taliban derive from this group, but the vast majority of Pashtuns are not Taliban and do not much care for the Muslim radicals.

Lets repeat that statement once again: Most Pushtuns are not ‘Taliban’ nor ‘Islamic Radicals’. That there are fringe lunatics with guns and an overbloated rhetoric of armegeddon that is given undue and unjustified attention by scabarous and weak minded journalists and photographers is a crucial issue we prefer not to discuss.

It would be the equivalent of an Al Jazeera reporter insisting on covering the USA only from the eyes and from the hot-air rhetoric of militia groups in montana and nebraska, or the lunatic-fringe christian evangelical congregations in Florida!

The fact remains that bandying about the bogeyman makes for easy journalism, easy photography and easy sales. Fear sells. We know this well. The unfortunately an entire people, the Pushtuns, have been demonized, humiliatated, murdered, displaced and criminalized.

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Mir Abbas Khan returns to his home destroyed by Pakistani Army bulldozers and helicopter gunfire. Near Kalooshah, South Waziristan

In 2004 I was in Waziristan, and spent a month there with the tribes that were being lassoed into Pakistan’s desperate attempts to appease the American war-gods. The story eventually appeared in print in Mother Jones magazine. Titled Frontier Justice its most prescient part was the conclusion that writer Malcolm Garcia wrote – based on an interview I had done inside Waziristan:

Consider … Mir Abbas Khan, in the photo on the opposite page. Look at his eyes, his ruined home, and back to his eyes—full of fear and hurt, but mostly rage.

Indeed, consider Mir Abbas Khan’s face and his eyes….and his rage. An innocent Waziri, Ahmedzai tribesman whose entire life was torn to shreds because he happened to be in the path of American and Pakistan military power games. This is in 2004 and Malcom and I argued back then – an argument that got me in trouble with Homeland Security the one time they picked me up at Miami Airport for a 3 hour intense questioning, that it is inhuman, immoral, illegal and a clear violation of their human rights and rights to justice to kill them with impunity and from thousands of feet in the air.

The Pushtuns are not ‘a tribe’, or ‘a mass’, they are individuals and these individuals, their lives, their families are what we are crushing and killing in the blood-laden fields of South Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan. We have made animals out of them, reducing them to mere objects that we kills, see in the distance and attempt to blow away. Our embedded photographers continue this trend, showing the Pushtuns as alien to us, distant from our humanity, their passions, emotions, sufferings, and humiliations unknown and unfelt by us.

“Asim”, his eyes looked at me pleading, ‘”is it not possible for you to imagine that we too can act only because we are human?”, I was with Waziri madrassa students in Peshawar in 2008, as they were trying to explain to me how life for them and their families had become a living hell since 2003 as the Afghan conflict began to spill over.”Sometimes we too, knowing that it is against our laws, our beliefs and our Koran, act because we are just human beings!”. His face tightened as if about to implode “I want to kill because I may have seen my brothers body parts torn all over a room – I want to kill not because I am a fanatic, but becuase I am a brother” He looked at ‘Is that no possible for us?” I had no answer for him. We sat there in the silence, a dark madrassa dorm room, about 20 other students sitting around me, and just thought about what we had just heard.

We are precipitating a genocidal campaign against an entire people because we can’t be bothered to see them as human beings.

This war, which perhaps we once tolerated and remained quiet about, has lost its mooring, and we have lost our moral compass.  It, like Iraq, is a dishonorable war, that is being fought dishonorably and will bring nothing but dishonor to those who plan it and fight it.

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Thomas Sankara’s Restless Children

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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Photographs Are No Longer Enough

So, here is a Masterclass in photojournalism, particularly for European photojournalists producing works on immigration, refugees and Africa. It is a Masterclass in how not to work as a photographer / photojournalist working on stories of immigration, refugees and the European fear of 'the Other'.

This article – written by some hack writer and with an epistemology embedded deep inside the brain trust of NGO-think – is perhaps the single finest learning tool I have come across in a very long time. And I am not just saying that.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/05/saving-senegal-sons-vanishing-european-seas-170530065009710.html

This is an article about immigrants, about Africa and her poverty, about 'women's empowerment', about European assistance to help African women 'develop' and become 'empowered', about populist ideas of 'humanity' and what not. It is a cliche-ridden piece around which one could construct an entire Graduate School seminar.

And here is why this is a Masterclass.

Point One: The perspective, and POV of the piece of 'the human'. Specifically, it is the individual. This is typical of how typical photojournalists want to work – you focus on an empathetic subject, you find a 'good victim', and you place yourself as the mediator / medium through which their stories will be bought to the White European world. Mind you, this latter point is critical – so many 'concerned' photographers are entirely beholden to the view that the core audience, the critical agency of action and ideas, lies in the European markets. Of course, they are inadvertently acknowledging that their idea of 'agency' happens to be the paying pages of an European publication. They have no interest in the agency of the very people they are documenting. They are 'giving voice to the voiceless', and hence silencing the local communities and erasing their agency. These photojournalists come to serve what Allan Sekula has called 'liberal ideology's false humanism, while denying the fact that information too has been mobilised.' (Steichen At War, by Allan Sekula). The individual as the starting point permits a downgrading of the structural, and also absolves the photojournalist from broader inquiry, and from making critical connections between economics, and politics, and how these create realities within which people operate and surive and thrive. Or die.

Two: An European NGO is highlighted as entering the fray, and helping 'the women'. Its always the women. The White man's generosity and concern, his love of 'the women' move to have him act to help these hapless mothers. So the NGO – we are told that "Yayi has just returned from Morocco, where she received an award from a Swiss NGO, Crans-Montana Forum, for her work in the community." But what is this organisation that we are talking about? That is not looked at. But a simple search of their website reveals it to be a forum and 'action group' comprised of the views and perspectives of some the most rigid, fanatical, fascist, imperialist and neoliberal European political leaders of the last 40 yeas! The Crans-Montana Forum boasts that it is “Committed to a more Humane and Impartial World” and encourages international cooperation and overall growth." i.e. embedded in this faux humanist language is that fascist word 'growth'. The forum boasts participation and 'encouragement' from such 'luminaries' as Peres, Holbrook, Chernomyrdin, Rabin, A. Juppe, and many many more – a veritable list of powerful, elite, political and establishment figures who. This forum apparently gave a few 'dimes' to Yahi. But here is the catch…

Three: Right there, all over the article, is simple and direct evidence of how the causes of the loss of Senegal's sons lie firmly in the trade policies that the EU has 'won' from collaborative Senegalese governments. That is, the reason why millions are leaving Senegal and heading to European shores – shores that are now highly militarised and brutal, is because of Europe's desperate hunger for fish, and the trade arrangements that have destroyed the livelihoods of millions. These unjust, unequal and insane trade agreements, ones that the EU can impose onto weaker nations, are the single largest driver of immigrants heading towards the very militarised borders where they eventually are imprisoned, tortured, brutalised or killed. Its right there in the article e.g.

"According to the World Bank, only one in five people work full time in Senegal and 20 percent of the country's five million labour force is jobless.

"There is no work for young people any more. You can imagine how they see things. They say: our sea has been sold," says Yayi referring to overfishing practised by industrial trawlers from Europe, China and Japan.

Although President Macky Sall criticised these practices when he came to power in 2012 and briefly put a stop to it, new fishing agreements have been signed between the Senegalese government and the EU for the 2014-2019 period.

It enables the EU to fish for 14,000 tonnes of fish a year in Senegalese waters in exchange for 15 million euros ($16.75 million) in compensation."

These criminally unjust and exploitative trade deals are destroying local economies and undermining local governance. And if you think this is a 'sovereign' arrangement between a Senegalese government and the EU, then you are again wrong. Deeply indebted states like Senegal are beholden to International Financial Institutions and unable to make critical social and political policy decisions without prioritising the interests of the lenders. This is a simple fact that has been documented repeated by the likes of Wendy Brown, Saskia Sassen, Joseph Steiglitz and even Jeffery Sachs who has come around to seeing the connections after many decades faltering around in racist 'development model' theories.

So,

Four: The very NGOs that give tiny handouts to selected 'good Senegalese' individuals, are also the forum made up of the power elite that maintain and sustain global capitalism, global trade arrangements, global economic ideologies and the movement of global profits and raw resources (fish, in this case), entirely towards Europe. Anyone claiming that 'colonialism' is dead ignores the fact that colonialism wasn't just about military of administrative control. It was also very much about economic networks, social control, ideologies and power arrangements. Much of those arrangements have survived the test of 'independence', as documented well by the likes of Laura Ann Stolar and others.

It is now the height of irresponsibility and frankly racist disregard that photojournalists can continue to produce 'human' stories about immigrants and refugees, but never be moved to speak out against the policies of their own countries – whether it is war, or trade or other, that are creating these massive waves of people fleeing death and starvation. It is the height of cowardice that photojournalists are unable to connect the dots, desperate as they are to sell their shoddy wares to shoddy publications – publications that are a core part of the nationalist and corporate capitalist infrastructure and have an interest in hiding these connections, while standing on podiums speaking lyrically about 'human suffering' and 'justice'. It is inexplicable that these vividly obvious inter-connections are not the focus of more projects, more writings and more photographs by photojournalists, who still seem to insist on waiting on the 'death side' of the story to make their banal pictures.

Institutions like World Press Photo, and other European 'journalism' groups, seem to encourage these simplistic and limited narratives by awarded these simplistic and limited narratives. Not just that, but publications like the New York Times, and major photo agencies like Magnum, collaborate in the obfuscation of these issues by producing 'fabulous' multi-media pieces that use a language and framing that hides these connections, that refuse to face our agency in this suffering, and worse, refuse to hold our political leaders accountable for our continued role in the suffering of the millions. We seem to think that they are 'starving' and 'fleeing' from 'there' because we are all so beautiful and everyone wants to come live in our pretty garden cities. And yet we fail to see that the garden is grown over the blood of the very people we are not imprisoning, torturing and killing.

This is a Masterclass in photojournalism. No, it isn't about how your images should look more like those of Alex Majoli or Steve McCurry. It is about how you need to learn to think, and to make connections. It is about how you need to reject these narratives that create 'empathy' and work through 'pathos'. It is about producing works that do not fit the pages of a mainstream publications, that do not succumb to the false seductions of photo awards. Today, we are no longer absolved from our responsibility as citizens and as responsible individuals. These connections, these deprivations, our role in global suffering and as the main cause of human suffering, is right there for all to see. It is shocking to me that European photojournalists continue to work as if they are apart, in a bubble, unrelated to very horrors they head out to document.

This little, useless article, is a brilliant study on how we are encouraged to frame suffering, and how are told to make invisible the causes. The same people who are the beneficiaries of unjust trade and repressive economic arrangements, are the ones giving out crumbs to suffering 'African's while garlanding themselves as 'humanitarian' and 'concerned' labels.

The trillions in profits and wealth that flow to Europe, and the hundreds of millions of deaths and displacements that are imposed on Africa and other regions, are intimately connected. To pretend not to speak about this, to pretend that it does not exist, to practice a concerned craft in ignorance, to encourage that ignorance for the sake of a photo essay publication, or a chance to 'dance' with a photo editor, is shameful and frankly, beneath contempt.

These are not new revelations. In 2005 Le Monde Diplomatique wrote the following about European trade agreements and so-called 'climate refugees' in Bangladesh:

"THE hamlet of Baro Ari in the Khulna region of southwest Bangladesh is lost in the reaches of the Ganges. It is difficult to find, and yet globalisation has already arrived there, along with its unique market opportunity, shrimps and prawns. Local bigwigs opened the dykes of polders in 2000, flooding with salt water land that belonged to poor farmers. With the connivance of a corrupt police force, they then transformed the drowned land into lucrative crustacean farms."

(http://kit.mondediplo.com/spip.php?article4228)

Our work isn't just photographs. Our work speaks to truths that cost people lives. Our work isn't just a career. It has consequences for the living because our work creates the narratives that can justify war, collude in death, or resist it. Too many young photojournalists and most all 'famous' photojournalists seem not to understand how they and their works can be easily 'weaponised', and gleefully gloat and brag about their images despite the political and military exploitation of theses images to serve death and destruction.

This article is a Masterclass. Read it again. See how it is done. See how we must, at all costs, start to do it differently.

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