‘Going Muslim’ At Fort Hood Or How Rabid Simplicities Masquerading As Insight Just Sell More Magazines

It did not take long for overtly racist explanations to be offered. Before facts come fantasy, and before truth comes tabloid opinions masquerading as insight. And it arrived not in some radical, fringe magazine but in the pages of the international magazine Forbes by one of their regular contributors. (I of course ignore the determined Islamophobia of outlets like Fox News.)

Tunku Varadarajan wrote a piece for Forbes magazine on 11th November 2009, title Going Muslim where he argued that:

“Going postal” is a piquant American phrase that describes the phenomenon of violent rage in which a worker–archetypically a postal worker–“snaps” and guns down his colleagues.

As the enormity of the actions of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan sinks in, we must ask whether we are confronting a new phenomenon of violent rage, one we might dub–disconcertingly–“Going Muslim.” This phrase would describe the turn of events where a seemingly integrated Muslim-American–a friendly donut vendor in New York, say, or an officer in the U.S. Army at Fort Hood–discards his apparent integration into American society and elects to vindicate his religion in an act of messianic violence against his fellow Americans. This would appear to be what happened in the case of Maj. Hasan.

Mr. Varadarajan is no clown – he is in fact a a professor at NYU’s Stern Business School and a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, and an executive editor for opinions at Forbes. Clearly a man of some learning and yet able to offer us this fine insight:

This is part of a larger–and too-hot-to-touch–American problem, which is the privileging of religion, and its frequent exemption from rules of normal discourse. Muslims may be more extreme because their religion is founded on bellicose conquest, a contempt for infidels and an obligation for piety that is more extensive than in other schemes.

Moving on to ask us a crucial question of whether:

But can the American swagger persist if many Americans come genuinely to view Muslims as Fifth Columnists? The integration compact depends on a broad trust that the immigrant’s desire to be American can happily co-exist with his other forms of racial/cultural/religious identity. Once that trust doesn’t exist, America faces a problem in need of urgent resolution.

One doesn’t quite know where to begin to respond to what is without a doubt an overtly racist diatribe that takes the actions of an individual and paints it as that of a collectivity. That is after all the ideal description of racism: (noun) the belief that all members of a group posses characteristics or abilities (or pathologies) specific to that group. But then again, the learned professor is not alone in this and arrives as the inheritor of centuries of orientalist thought that can never quite reconcile itself to the individuality of the people it labels as Muslims. And he is not alone in America, or elsewhere.

But the learned professor raises specific points which I would like to examine perhaps a little more closely.

He says in this very article that ‘they’ [the Muslims] are more extreme because ‘their’ religion is …founded on bellicose conquest, a contempt for infidels and an obligation for piety that is more extensive than in other schemes.

Only sheer hubris combined with willful amnesia can allow this gentleman to offer us this explanation. Hubris as he sits as a citizen of a nation that is at this very moment in violent and repressive conquest of at least two once sovereign nations, and whose army has repeatedly insisted on a sheer contempt for the infidels it has found there and encouraged its soldiers to piety the likes of which can only make the foundations of our Republic weaker. The hundreds of thousands that have died since 2001 under the guns and arrogance of an overtly Christian/Evangelical administration that also led us to become instigators of war crimes, violators of international law and perpetrators of mass murder perhaps may not agree that it is Islam that is intrinsically programmed to encourage mass violence, conquest and/or piety.

(For those with short memories, see Micklethwait/Wooldridge’s The Right Nation, or Chris Hedges’ American Fascists or Michelle Goldberg’s Kingdom Coming or any number of others books on this issue)

I don’t think I have to elaborate on our occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, so I will move to the next point – Islam’s unique contempt for infidels and its piety. Really? Is it that unique? Lets see.

In a fabulous piece written by the relentless Jeff Sharlet for Harpers Magazine title “Jesus Killed Mohammed: The Crusade For A Christian Military”, he points out that:

When Barack Obama moved into the Oval Office in January, he inherited a military not just drained by a two-front war overseas but fighting a third battle on the home front, a subtle civil war over its own soul. On one side are the majority of military personnel, professionals who regardless of their faith or lack thereof simply want to get their jobs done; on the other is a small but powerful movement of Christian soldiers concentrated in the officer corps.

What men such as these have fomented is a quiet coup within the armed forces: not of generals encroaching on civilian rule but of religious authority displacing the military’s once staunchly secular code. Not a conspiracy but a cultural transformation, achieved gradually through promotions and prayer meetings, with personal faith replacing protocol according to the best intentions of commanders who conflate God with country. They see themselves not as subversives but as spiritual warriors—“ambassadors for Christ in uniform,” according to Officers’ Christian Fellowship; “government paid missionaries,” according to Campus Crusade’s Military Ministry.

This is perhaps one of the scariest pieces of journalism I have read, reminding us of the infiltration of Christian fundamentalist ideology infesting the armed forces and its consequences for our operations abroad. Perhaps the learned professor would do well to read his words, including:

Within the fundamentalist front in the officer corps, the best organized group is Officers’ Christian Fellowship, with 15,000 members active at 80 percent of military bases and an annual growth rate, in recent years, of 3 percent. Founded during World War II, OCF was for most of its history concerned mainly with the spiritual lives of those who sought it out, but since 9/11 it has moved in a more militant direction. According to the group’s current executive director, retired Air Force Lieutenant General Bruce L. Fister, the “global war on terror”—to which Obama has committed 17,000 new troops in Afghanistan—is “a spiritual battle of the highest magnitude.” As jihad has come to connote violence, so spiritual war has moved closer to actual conflict, “continually confronting an implacable, powerful foe who hates us and eagerly seeks to destroy us,” declares “The Source of Combat Readiness,” an OCF Scripture study prepared on the eve of the Iraq War.

As we look across to our Israeli allies, we ironically (or perhaps not) find in fact the same problem there! In a scathing piece written by Christopher Hitchens called An Army of Extremists for Slate Magazine, he pointed out that:

Recent reports of atrocities committed by Israeli soldiers in the course of the intervention in Gaza have described the incitement of conscripts and reservists by military rabbis who characterized the battle as a holy war for the expulsion of non-Jews from Jewish land. The secular Israeli academic Dany Zamir, who first brought the testimony of shocked Israeli soldiers to light, has been quoted as if the influence of such extremist clerical teachings was something new. This is not the case.

And should one have thought that this was simply a rare exception, he goes on to remind us that:

Possibly you remember Dr. Baruch Goldstein, the man who in February 1994 unslung his weapon and killed more than two dozen worshippers at the mosque in Hebron. He had been a physician in the Israeli army and had first attracted attention by saying that he would refuse to treat non-Jews on the Sabbath. …[I]n the March 22 New York Times about the preachments of the Israeli army’s latest chief rabbi, a West Bank settler named Avichai Rontzski who also holds the rank of brigadier general. He has “said that the main reason for a Jewish doctor to treat a non-Jew on the Sabbath … is to avoid exposing Diaspora Jews to hatred.” Those of us who follow these things recognize that statement as one of the leading indicators of a truly determined racist and fundamentalist. Yet it comes not this time in the garb of a homicidal lone-wolf nut bag but in the full uniform and accoutrement of a general and a high priest.

And we can even look outside of the ‘immediate’ military structure, and find piety and a religious zeal for conquest raising its ugly head. In an article written by Jeremy Scahill titled Blackwater Founder Implicated in Murder we learn that:

A former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for the company have made a series of explosive allegations in sworn statements filed on August 3 in federal court in Virginia.The two men claim that the company’s owner, Erik Prince, may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. The former employee also alleges that Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,” and that Prince’s companies “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life.”

In fact, the allegations read as follows:

To that end, Mr. Prince intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis. Many of these men used call signs based on the Knights of the Templar, the warriors who fought the Crusades.

Mr. Prince operated his companies in a manner that encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life. For example, Mr. Prince’s executives would openly speak about going over to Iraq to “lay Hajiis out on cardboard.” Going to Iraq to shoot and kill Iraqis was viewed as a sport or game. Mr. Prince’s employees openly and consistently used racist and derogatory terms for Iraqis and other Arabs, such as “ragheads” or “hajiis.”

Again, perhaps the learned professor would like to peruse this material if for no other reason than to understand that zealotry, piety, and a desire for conquest is never the exclusive purvey of any one spiritual delusion, but reflects the world views of practically all of them.

But in particular, at this moment in time and history, at this juncture of modernity, if there is a rapid, rapacious, powerful and in fact in execution spiritual movement of conquest and a drive for excessive piety, it is more so in the hands of some of the most powerful military nations in the world. And none of them can claim an Islamic collective mindset.

I will say something about the learned professor’s incredibly racist mistake in assuming that the shooter was an immigrant – as he says The integration compact depends on a broad trust that the immigrant’s desire to be American can happily co-exist with his other forms of racial/cultural/religious identity. But in fact Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is as pure an American as they come; born, raised, educated and trained in the United States of America. He wasn’t an immigrant professor, he was an American.

And he was an American inside a deeply Christianized, racist military structure that has become comfortable speaking about and of the Arab world and Muslims in the most derogatory, demeaning and racist terms. It has become so because its wars are against a people it sees as a mass, a mob, a group, a collective – A-rabs, Muslims, ragheads, hajjis. The latter term is used openly and gleerfully in even such mainstream Hollywood films such as Stop-Loss. (I am sure there are more, but Hollywood is not something I watch with interest or regularity.)

The army has has become so because it is the war that it is fighting and it is here that we refuse to ask the hard question; how much of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s rage was against his fellow soldiers and the atmosphere at the base itself that allowed for a constant and unchecked language of hate and ridicule against an entire religion, people, culture and way of life? Were there, perhaps, white supremacists on the loose? Well, we will never know of course.

But I am sure that the learned professor doesn’t know either. What is dismaying is that he does not have the awareness to ask, but has instead chosen to give public vent to what can only be a deeply personal hatred against all Muslims claiming that it is only political correctness that is forcing America, and her Army, from taking the necessary, collective/racial profiling, actions that it should. He is angry that America suffers from a …privileging of religion, and its frequent exemption from rules of normal discourse.

Lets be clear, the learned professor is not complaining about America’s privileging of all religions, for after all it is not the insanity of the Christian Evangelicals that has bought him to this realization, but that the country is not collectively targeting Muslims! We have to remember that the same learned professor has been an outspoken advocate of racial profiling of Muslims in America,

But dear professor, viewing a crime as the act of an individual and not because of a pathology indigenous to an entire collectivity is less about being politically correct and more about being just and not being a racist. In fact, the determination to not reduce this to yet another all-too-easy Islam bashing exercise is a testament to America’s determination to return to the ways of the law and legality, and to move its society back to a point where it speaks not with generic hatred of an imaginary collectivity but with genuine desire to offer both justice and rights for individuals who commit crimes. It is one of the very set of values we always speak about and insist are what we are killing in places around the world for!

And it is a battle that we as American citizens have had to fight hard – to move past the infantile and retrograde desire to hate ‘all of them’ for the actions of a few, to lynch them for their color for example, and move towards the point where we can see individuals and individual responsibility and make them not only the recipients of retribution, but also the motivation for our respect for fundamental liberties and rights.

I do not know what led Maj. Hasan to do what he did. I can’t even begin to understand his motivations, and certainly not his actions. I remain dismayed to learn that he chose to justify his murders on the basis of his spiritual beliefs. Just as I have been dismayed to learn about Jewish extremists gloating about their murders on the basis of their beliefs, or Christian fanatics e.g. those in the US military I speak about earlier explaining their bloody rampages because of their ‘loving god’. Maybe he was just a mentally disturbed and ill person, as a recent NPR piece claims to have uncovered. Maybe he lost his way. I don’t know. I don’t claim to have an answer here.

My interest here is to question our learned professor. And wonder how we have arrived at a moment in time when such blatantly racist statements can make it to the pages of one of our most respected magazines, and then find hundreds who rush to defend his bigotry? Our continued insistence on seeing Muslims as a collective whole, tied at the psychological and moral level into one large blob, is quite flabbergasting and ultimately confusing.

Like a taint, a disease, a scar or a deformation, anyone, man, woman or child, even vaguely or deeply implicated by having been born, raised, educated, traveled to, interested in, curious about things Muslim has his entire identity and all its various other facets subsumed and erased by the label of being Muslim. And once that is established, the individual is safely dropped back into a mob, where only mob acts that are predictable and programmatic based on an formalized, systematized, idealized and perfectly synchronized response to instructions in text books or from the mouths of religious leaders can occur. LIke robots in a massive spiritual assembly line, anything that reeks of Islam can be expected to behave like a swarm, mindlessly following the dictates of their religious books, devoid of individuality, individual morality, judgment, discernment and comprehension.

I am diseased.

There have been calls to sanction the learned professor. I don’t support these calls. I think it would be better to debate him. He has a right to speak, and we would be right to dissuade him off his delusions rather than sanction him to where he would simply continue his nonsense.

UPDATE: A recent article in The Boston Review, titled God, The Army & PTSD by Tara McKelvey raises a number of important questions about the increasing use of Christian religious/spiritual material at military institutions, including the pop-psych mumbo-jumbo of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life by Pastor Rick Warren, to treat soldiers suffering from PTSD and other psychiatric problems. For example, it points out that:

When a 2006 Government Accountability Office report raised questions about whether soldiers were getting the psychiatric help they needed, an assistant secretary of defense disputed the report’s findings, pointing to the fact that soldiers were being referred to chaplains. During this time contracts for veterans’ services were increasingly parceled out to leaders of faith-based organizations rather than to secular ones, even though veterans’ advocates opposed any bias toward faith-based treatment and argued that replacing empirically proven, nonsectarian programs with faith-based ones was a mistake.

As one commentator points out in the responses to this piece:

Major Hasan would have been familiar with the conditions described in this essay. As psychiatrist at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center for the last five years he would have both treated patients for PTSD and have been familiar with the preference for faith based treatments described in this article.

We hear from Major Hasan’s family that he complained about religious harassment during his tenure at Walter Reed but we do not know specifics. It is reasonable to believe that his patients suffering from PTSD might not have liked being treated by a Muslim and almost certainly heard specific opinions about Islam and Muslims from those patients. The inevitable investigation into Major Hasan’s career will reveal the dynamic of those patient interactions.

This is, again, about asking human questions about a human, criminal act so that we may know meaningful and actionable facts and truths about such heinous acts. I raised this point in the main essay (see below) some weeks ago. Searching for the psychology of ‘Muslims’, as the learned Tunku Varadarajan wants to do, or exploring the pages of a religious text, while erasing daily and ordinary social, political and lived reality of an individual is a false, and frankly, racist approach. It seems to be particularly reserved for anyone who can be labeled ‘Muslim’. That word – ‘Muslim’ has now come to take on the meaning of a special species – devoid of individuality and history and to be seen only as a mob, mass, collectivity, blob and spiritually programmed pathology.

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The Most Dangerous Nation

The obsession with things ‘Islamic fundamentalist’ and ‘Al Qaeda” has been turned into a veritable multi-billion dollar industry and this despite the very little concrete and independently verified evidence to suppor the many claims of underground ‘Islamic/Al Qaeda’ cells and networks. Details »

New York City Experiments

I arrive in New York in a few days to try out a new experiment. It has been a few years in the making, and it has taken a few months of find funding for it. But now it is ready to be performed. The Polis Project‘s first Un/Do-Photography workshop will start in New  York on November 13th, 2019. And it represents the latest version of a practice of photographic teaching that I have been working on since 2013 when I first tried a new pedagogic practice at CounterFoto in Dhaka, Bangladesh. These workshops are unique because they are less about the practice, craft and mechanics of operating photography technology and primarily about deconstructing social, political and economic assumptions and myths that underlie so much of today’s mainstream photojournalism and photography practice. The Polis Project Un/Do-Photography workshops specifically engage the students on questions of Eurocentrism, imperialism/colonialism, capitalism, commodity fetishism, femo/homo-nationalism, the ‘gaze’ and power, the myths of Western liberalism, technology utopianism, humanitarian racism among other topics. Our goal, unlike any other workshop out there, is to produce critically aware, and intellectually outspoken photographers producing complex, multimedia projects that refuse the easy comforts of mainstream corporate owned media, and pursue complex projects that challenge us to see deeper and clearly. 

 

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The First Un / Do-Photography Workshop Announced

We at The Polis Project are conducting our first ‘Decolonise Photography’ workshop in New York, from 19th to 23rd November, 2019.

You can learn more about them by going to the link shown above, or here

The workshops are open to all. And they are completely free. 

Over the course of five intensive days of presentations, seminars, discussion groups and project design sessions, participants will be encouraged to think about some of the most critical questions facing our communities. Less a workshop about aesthetics or the technology of the camera, this workshop instead concentrates on developing ways of thinking, researching and designing complex and multi-layer projects that reveal social, political, economic, corporate and other structural factors that create inequality, injustice, repression and violence. In sum, we will work to design and develop visual media projects that do justice to the lived realities, struggles and collective resistance of our most marginalised and silenced communities. 

Join us.

American The Beautiful And The Dreams of Pakistani Liberals

We have become accustomed to certain ways of seeing and speaking about the world. The Pakistani liberal – a caste that has been educated and nurtured on Western educational, political and cultural ideologies absorbed during years abroad at college, or careers, and through popular Western visual and literary media (fiction, non-fiction books), offers a particularly stark lesson in how certain forms of speaking, expressing and justifying arguments remain unchanged by thought, critical inquiry or self-doubt. The thoughtless regurgitation of American / European universalism, exceptionalism, and social sophistication  – all of which mind you are as much myths as anything, is an excellent example of this.

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A Man In The Sun

This is an essay without reason. It emerges as a result of recent discussions with a friend and colleague about decolonialisation–what it means, how does it apply to various areas of human knowledge, and what can it mean for photography. Actually, this essay without reason emerges as a result of discussions at The Polis Project as we design a “Decolonise Photography” workshop series. Our discussions have led us to think about what new and different ways of seeing and doing could emerge in a documentary and photographic practice that recognises that “…the target of epistemic de-colonisation is the hidden complicity between the rhetoric of modernity and the logic of coloniality,” and is based on a need to learn to “unlearn” [See Walter Mignolo, Delinking: The Rhetoric of Modernity, the Logic of Coloniality and the Grammar of De-Coloniality, Cultural Studies, Volume 21, 2007].

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msnbc

How Not To Critique A Photographer

Image Manipulation: A Manipulated And Confusing Debate

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Photojournalists are once again being asked to offer perspectives and opinions on the apparently growing problem of image manipulation, staging and ‘truth’ in photography. The New York Times Lens Blog ran a piece a few days ago inviting a group of highly experienced photojournalists to speak about the issue. I say ‘apparent’ because there is obviously no objective way of measuring the suspicion that photographers today are more guilty of manipulating their images than photojournalists in the past. It may be a lot easier to carry out post-processing manipulations in Photoshop today, but that hardly confirms the fact that photographers did not do this in the past.

Anyone who has closely studied the works of one of the greatest photojournalists ever, Eugene Smith, would know well that image manipulation and staging were critical parts of his method. A number of his most famous and iconic images were either staged, had elements removed and added to them, or heavily processed in the darkroom to a degree that the final image had no resemblance to the negative. It has been argued that Eugene Smith got away with all this because he was Eugene Smith. As Cosgrove argues:

The sort of tinkering Smith engaged in with that one, iconic Schweitzer photograph might be frowned upon today. Any contemporary photojournalist who admitted to such behaviour would probably be excoriated by his or her peers, as well as by the general public.

W. Eugene Smith, on the other hand, has largely escaped such censure for one reason, and one reason only: he was W. Eugene Smith, and for better or worse, when it comes to aesthetics — and even, to some extent, when it comes to ethics — genius has always played by, and been judged by, a different set of rules than those that govern the rest of us.

One of the icons of the craft, and most likely, many more, engaged in what we would call ‘authorship’ – the right of the photographer to tell a story. In fact, of all the photographers invited to offer their opinion in this New York Times Lens Blog discussion, on Donald Weber gets right down to it, and demands that the photographer’s authorship be considered as something real, meaningful and important. He argues that:

Today, there are no limits, so our struggle is to liberate our reliance on technical capabilities and place our faith in the voice of the story and the author.

There can be no one way of doing anything, and a code of ethics should not hinder the aims of photography. In fact, it must work to liberate the story from stultifying confines, and help the photojournalist to engage an audience. How do we begin the transformation?

Weber can see that what is being argued and demanded can only lead to the erasure of the photographer as a voice, a point-of-voice and a creative. What is being asked is that photojournalists reduce themselves to simply button pushers on location, attempting to capture to the nearest degree possible, all the colour values, situational reality, and immediately unfolding event, as it happened at the moment of pressing the shutter. That their only role is recording the obvious, and that they are closest to the ‘truth’ when they are entirely absent intellectually, creatively, and visibly i.e. not influencing the situation around them. Such a posture of course is the mythical and imagined ideal of photojournalism. I call it mythical because most of the people who argue for it ignore the fundamental fact that even what is being recorded / documented / photographed, is based on human choice, prioritisation and opinion. That is, you cannot erase the human from behind the machine. Who asked the photographer to be at the location? Why did the photographer press the shutter when she did? What compelled her to aim it towards a certain group vs. another group? Why was even that particular unfolding situation important? In the end, authorship imposes itself on any form of documentary and editorial work.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

What I want to point out here in this post is the fact that these discussions, opinions, statements and arguments, lack a structure and a discipline. Photographers are speaking about a number of different things, and referring to a number of different situations and problems and calling all of them ‘manipulation. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, the entire discussion ignores or avoids perhaps one of the most important influences that leads to manipulations and staging – the role of the editor in setting expectations and the struggle to delivery work to those expectations.

We can get a grasp of the different arenas of manipulation if we look at the entire production chain of photojournalism. We have to do this because photographers, and photojournalism work, is part of a chain of activities, and does not stand alone, and apart. To understand the way it is produced, and the issues of manipulation or staging that may be adopted at times, we have to place it in its industry and see the photographers and their responses from this wider perspective.There are four key and distinct forms of image manipulation that we have to deal with, and often argue about. It is critical to be clear which of these forms are the focus of our concern, and to make sure that we are not conflating one form with the other.

Why is this important? Well, first, because these are interrelated and influence each other. For example, a certain form of post-processing manipulation e.g. darkness a bombardment cloud, or cropping an edge of an image to make it more relevant to the editor, can be driven by a photographers need to make the image fit the editorial mandate.

At a very high level, a rather simple framework would allow us to define it as follows:

  1. The Issue Itself: Here I include editorial selection of stories to cover, stories to not cover, perspectives to show, and those to ignore, what to highlight and what to downplay. photojournalists do not work independent of editorial direction and discussion. many work alongside writers and closely with editors who advise them on what they are looking for. with growing influence of corporate and advertising money, and collaborations with the government, this area is a critical arena of manipulation and determines what photojournalists cover and what they ignore.
  2. Execution: Here I am referring to photographers staging and arranging photos, influencing the situation to get a photo they need, hiring people to perform a situation and then claim it for real, goading or encouraging people at the scene to create a situation that will get them the picture, or placing or setting up situations or objects to get the necessary images.
  3. Post-Processing: This is the most obvious – the use of post-processing image tools to conduct image editing, colour correction, erasing / adding of elements and so on.
  4. Publishing / Editing: This is the process where once the work in the field is done, editors and writers and photographers begin the process of editing, selecting, arranging, captioning, layouts and placements inside articles such that their meaning and idea is defined and determined.

Our discussions to date, as reflected again in this recent New York Times dialogue, focus on Execution and Post-Processing arenas. Editorial and Publishing manipulations are rarely if ever discussed. Stanley Greene talks mostly about 2 & 3. So does Santiago Lyon, McNally talks largely about 2, so does Sim Chi Yin and Darcy Padilla. In fact, categories 2 and 3 are the ones most everyone will talk about and discuss, to the exclusion of 1 and 4. Everyone argues that what is missing is some sort of bizarre ‘ethical’ standard, an honor code among professionals that would apparently go a long way towards reducing these ‘breaches. This is very much like the argument against doping in sports – it focuses on the athletes, demands greater ‘ethical’ standards, but ignores the fundamental market and profit pressures that are placed on the individuals and teams, and which often compel people to do whatever it takes to win. And which often provide the chemists, doctors, physiotherapists and other technicians to help enable the doping. Because winning is all that really matters in the end and in photography, getting the image is all that matters and to do this requires the involvement and collaboration of many people. Not the least, that of the editor.

It is only if we broaden the discussion that we can begin to understand not just why photojournalists may make unethical choices, but also what the impact and relevance of these choices are. It is critical to discuss the entire cycle because editorial demands, expectations, discussions, and decisions, play a powerful role in what a photographer does on the ground, and how s/he goes about getting the images that are necessary. I am not suggesting that editors compel photographers to manipulate – though that has been known to happen, but what I am arguing is that photographers face pressure and can be influenced by these pressures to manipulate things.

And there are times when that pressure comes from the growing demands of 24/7 media, the high stakes game of advertisement dollars and the need to be ‘first to the scene’, and the cut-throat nature of the craft where just ‘getting the picture’ is the only demand – ethical or otherwise, being placed on the photojournalist. These pressures come before the photographer even steps into the field, and we have to consider their role in how photographers end up working. We are in a world where more of us are being asked to do more, for less – less time, less money, less publishing space, and less voice. With more and more competition – from professionals and amateurs, and fewer and fewer assignments that allow a photographer the time and patience to produce necessary work, we should not be surprised that people will cut corner, make adjustments, set things up, just simply to get the job done. This is not a justification for manipulation, but simply to point out that we should not be so ‘shocked’ and certainly not be naive about the fact that the industry has increasingly veered towards

In fact, it is with some amusement that I read Michele McNally’s rather thoughtlessly offered comment – given that the New York Times has always used embedded photojournalism which is definitely perhaps one of the most egregious examples of Execution Manipulation, and passed it off as ‘truth’, that:

There are many societies where photographers work without accepted ethical guidelines, but with a long history of producing propaganda disguised as “news.”

Indeed, it would appear that the USA is right there among these ‘societies’ though I suspect she is not referring to her own country, or even to her own publication which has repeatedly crossed ‘ethical’ guidelines in its coverage of America’s wars, or Israel’s occupation and even its cheerleading of the build up to the invasion of Iraq. But we will not get into all that in this post as I have frequently written on that issue in previous posts. By not being aware of the complete cycle of photojournalism, McNally not only ignores her publication’s own ethical breaches, but she entirely leaves out the role of editors in creating these breaches in the first place.

What is striking about the framework outlined above is this: that it is easy for people to understand the necessity of choices and points-of-view when it comes to Issue Selection and Publishing / Editing, but not when it comes to Execution and Post-Processing. But given that a

My Struggles With Masculinity

It’s fascinating to see the return of so many mid- 18th century Orientalist troupes and obsessions : this bizarre and needling determination to categorize and then – as if the categories created are genuine and natural, to analyze. The French are of course persistent and unrepentant Orientalists, and the more educated the worse. And so this gaze that first categorizes – ‘Arab masculinity’, and then pretends to analyze it.

What is ‘Arab masculinity’? Need we ask? Dare we ask where this object of study even comes from? Is it even real? Is there a unique Arab conception and manifestation of ‘masculinity’? Do a dozen stylized, fashion-shoot type set-up images of men who happen to be Arab provide enough material to explain not only the category, but its real existence? Do these men live in cages, isolated from the world and its influences? Do they experience whatever we may think are pure ‘Arab’ experiences, and not any spilling across geographical, intellectual, cultural, emotional and physical boundaries? An ‘Arab’ is an ‘Arab’ is an ‘Arab’, and damn is s/he is anything but a pure representation of an easily isolated and studied species.

And what of the claim of reversals ie the female looking at the male as a change from the male gaze on the female? Is this even a thing? Is this not a discursive distraction from the fundamental question of power which yet again is not addressed directly? The Orientalist gaze was a possessive gaze, and a dispossessing one. It possessed the power to represent, and define, and dispossessed the subject of voice and history.

And so, when Marianne Roux of On Orient describes this work as:

“Mectoub is fascinating because of this unveiling, made possible because the photographer is both female and a foreigner. It plunges us deep into our representations and overturns them. Scarlett Coten holds up these copies for us to see, Homo Orientalis specimens of the new generation, in an unfiltered way, just as they are.”

…one is left feeling a little quesy at the crassly familiar phrasing and erasing. The use of words such as ‘unveiling’ or ‘Homo Orientalis’ are in amateurish poor taste, but the suggestion ‘in an unfiltered way…’ a profoundly troubling reminder of classical Orientalisms conviction of simply offering facts unaffected by power, politics, prejudice or personal ambition.

Arab masculinity. African masculinity. (I wrote about this in an earlier post:

http://www.asimrafiqui.com/…/rethinking-africa-or-how-not-…/

Gender. We construct categories but then forget that we constructed them. Foucault can scream till hell freezes over, but in a decade where Orientalism’s reductive and debilitating simplicities are back in style, I must say that I am not surprised that this body of work is taken unquestioningly seriously, but am also disappointed that it is.

We need to question Coten’s constructions, despite the claims to overturn representations, and see the ways in which they belong to a long tradition of colonial photography that wants to capture individuals, sans individual histories and social, cultural, intellectual and psychological interconnections, and offer them up as general representations of a unique, manufactured category. Today more than ever – with travel, education, the internet, magazines, television and big-screen media, social media and more, it is untenable to argue or justify the existence of isolated and insulated social ‘categories’.

In a world that is as integrated, inter-connected, and intermingled as it ever was, where influences from around the globe and the digital globe, from travel, from readings, from relationships, from education and knowledge, from experiences that transcend a local culture or geography and then influence the construction of the self, ideas of identity, style, voice, intellectual development and even emotional expressions, its near impossible to speak of ‘Arab masculinity’. But of course, when it comes to ‘Arab’ – as the Orientalists once did and now as we are once again reaching for these debilitating categories and reductive generalizations, these ideas are being given new currency by European institutions if not European / Western photographers. If it’s not the ‘hijab’, or ‘women’s liberation’ or other some such tiresome and idiotic arena of focus, it’s simply a continuation of the use of gender and sexuality to cage and label. It is an act of cultural and intellectual violence to castrate these subjects from their many relationships and broad influences, and pen them into a construction that suggests that they represent something entirely ‘Arab’ – whatever that is, and something entirely ‘masculine’, whatever that is too.

Note: Hester Keijser reminded me that I need to differentiate the way this project was depicted by the Oskar Barnack Award committee and the goals and intentions of the photographer. She is correct to point out that institutions can run away with the work and give it an entirely new voice. She also pointed out that Coten herself has a difficult and complex relationship with this work, one that she continues to work through. I respect the photographer’s perspective and would love to have a discussion. My comments above are based on the public statements about this work, both from the Oskar Barnack announcement and from Coten’s own website. I look forward to, and hope, that Coten will some day pen a concise and clear argument, where she isn’t  afraid to express her process but also her doubts and self-questioning, as we all do about the works we pursue. The convention of ‘bombast’ and ‘confidence’ required of photographers, where they speak of their works without ever revealing their own struggles and self-questioning, has to end.

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