A Photographer Confronts His World
A massive new project to create a ‘canon’ of the Iraq was in the works and recently published with much fanfare. It received support from The National Endowment for the Arts—“in coordination with all four branches of the Armed Forces and the Department of Defense,” the Veterans Administration, the Library of Congress, the Southern Arts Federation, The Writer’s Center, Random House Books, and the Boeing Corporation….
Even now, even after all the evidence in front of us, even after over a decade of lies, obfuscation, and narrative narcissism – the fundamental nature of most any writing coming out of the West about the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia – there are people who attempt to defend the embed model of journalism. Details »
True that the people were forcibly evicted, and it is true that official histories have been re-written to write them out of memory and documentation. But where did they go? And why have we ‘disappeared’ their histories, voices and experiences?
The Palestinian diaspora – a mirror to the one that once was the proud heritage of the Jewish people – spreads from Latin America, to the Middle East, and South East Asia. And though there are no multi-million dollar, corporate sponsored, celebrations, memorials, museum, or vigils that commemorate, the Nakba lives within millions of people. The Palestinian diaspora is perhaps one of the strongest and least known in the world today.
I am often asked why Israel, and why not spend more time worrying about some other crisis and conflict. This question is always only asked by apologists for Israel. And though there are many reasons for why Israel first, there are a few that are very obvious. First, it is the Palestinians who have worked hard, day and night, to make it an issue for the world’s conscience and concern. I can list dozens of intellectuals, writers, artists, activists, politicians, and others who have tirelessly spoken out about their dispossession and suffering and convinced, through evidence and reason, the just nature of their struggle. I think of Darwish, Said, Abu-Lughud(s), Suleiman, Bishara, Haddad, Ashrawi, Habibi, Bargouti, Abunimah, H Sharabi, Shamas, Nusseibeh, Khalidi, Karmi, and so many more. And so many friends who echoed their arguments – Ahmed, Zinn, Barsamian, Chomsky, Judt, and others….So the Palestinians have earned the concern of the world, and they have spent decades arguing it in any and every way possible. The other reasons are obvious: this is an American funded military occupation and repression, this is a remnant of an era of colonial arrogance and brutality we are trying to close, this is a metaphor for the continued repression and erasure of people’s histories who are still trying to discover that ‘dawn’ Faiz so eloquently spoke about.
Palestine is not a place, nor a people. It is an ideal that embodies within it the struggles for hundreds of millions of people around the world, and it captures the anger, disappointments, frustrations and determinations of most all of the post-colonial world whose dreams of emancipation today lie mostly in ruins. As goes Palestine, thus goes most of the rest of the still-struggling world.
I have written about this documentary before. In a post called The Greatest Denial – Israel And The Erasure of The Past, The Present And Any Future, pointing out that:
The refusal to speak, teach, discuss or even recognise the Nakbah as it is referred to by the Palestinians, remains the single more important obstacle to any chance of hope in the region. This refusal underpins the disdain and violent disregard with which the occupied Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are treated – their rights, their grievances and their very humanity, disregarded as relevant or even equivalent. It underpins the now infamous conviction that this was ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’ so that the Zionist enterprise need not have to confront the injustices – injustices that were well-known to the founders of the enterprise, it was being constructed on. In fact, the refusal to teach or acknowledge the Nakbah is tied to this need to see this land as empty and without people.
The fraud of the peace-process – one that has enriched war criminals such as Tony Blair – is consistently given life when it appears that the Palestinians may begin to take matters into their own hands. The purveyors of this fake peace process – like the diseased war criminal and mass murdered Tony Blair and his money making scams that have murdered hundreds of thousands, continue to sell us a dead horse that today can’t even be taken seriously as a corpse. At least not by those who have the most to lose. We are today returning to the realisation that this battle will have to be fought – in the streets, in the corridors of power, and in the minds and hearts of the tens of millions of Europeans and Americans who fund this occupation, who collude in its violence and brutality, and who chose to pretend that it is Israel that is in fact under threat, and not accept the reality that since 1948, and for some years earlier, a hapless, helpless people have had everything stolen from them and continue to lose more each and every day. The battle for history is the battle for lives when it comes to this conflict. To repeat it, again and again and again, is critical.
Hamid Dabashi makes an argument that should have been made much earlier. So indeed, why are all the incredible voices emerging from South Asia, China, Africa and elsewhere always and consistently missing from any discussion about philosophy and society?
As Dabashi argues:
Why is European philosophy “philosophy”, but African philosophy ethnophilosophy, the way Indian music is ethnomusic – an ethnographic logic that is based on the very same reasoning that if you were to go to the New York Museum of Natural History (popularised in Shawn Levy’s Night at the Museum ), you only see animals and non-white peoples and their cultures featured inside glass cages, but no cage is in sight for white people and their cultures – they just get to stroll through the isles and enjoy the power and ability of looking at taxidermic Yaks, cave dwellers, elephants, Eskimos, buffalo, Native Americans, etc, all in a single winding row…..
The question of Eurocentricism is now entirely blase. Of course Europeans are Eurocentric and see the world from their vantage point, and why should they not? They are the inheritors of multiple (now defunct) empires and they still carry within them the phantom hubris of those empires and they think their particular philosophy is “philosophy” and their particular thinking is “thinking”, and everything else is – as the great European philosopher Immanuel Levinas was wont of saying – “dancing”.
Anyone who has read a modicum of writers from Asia and Africa will remain stunned at the ignorance of European thought. It is an ignorance that also colors and taints so much of journalist and photojournalistic works where entire generations of thinkers – philosophers, historians, intellectuals, writers, poets, activists and what have you, are completely missing. Its as if these regions and those people simply do not think, write, argue, debate, challenge, inform, and illuminate. It is as if we here have nothing to learn from them there. Or dare I say, as if we here may only be able to get it right by listening to those others there. Details »
Occupy Wall Street.
For many, even those here in the very city that gave birth to it, it is now but a distant memory. Even those ‘hangers on’ I met celebrating it in fashionable bars and events in Williamsburg and DUMBO, have moved onto other fashionable causes. I remember distinctly that none of those who were actually living out in the tents and on the pavements, the ones who were risking their bodies and their futures facing the brutality of the New York police, seemed to be at these events. It was mostly Prada-wearing editors from fancy ‘editorial’ publications and publishers of books trying to make a living off the movement that was made up mostly of idealists, dreamers, and desperate people from all walks of America’s life. Today people talk about OWS and wash down their cynical words with a smirk if not a laugh. It is spoken about as if it was, for a brief moment, a game some misguided people played, and then simply walked away – something nothing more than a summer festival where a few young kids had a great time, pretended to stand against ‘the system’ and then had to return to their homes and to their day jobs.
A surprising erasure.
Peter Van Burin is an intelligent man, a loud dissident, and a consist critic of post-9/11 American and its pathologies and failures. Yet, it was a bit disappointing and surprising to read a piece about the decline of the idea of civil liberties and the BIl of Rights that never once touches on the criminalisation of the political speech of American Muslims, the mass, pre-emptive and clearly ethnically focused surveillance of their communities, the hundreds of cases of FBI entrapment of Muslims in fake ‘terrorism’ cases, the bribing and black-mailing of Muslims to eavesdrop and ‘snitch’ on their friends, the tens of thousands of Muslims ensnared in immigration and deportation sweeps and more.
Not a word is mentioned about these injustices and about that fact that Bill of Rights was immediately curtailed for any and all Muslims, and that the Constitution itself had been reduced to a meaningless piece of paper for Muslims in America within seconds of the towers coming down. And it was all done on the fundamentally racist premise that the attacker were of Muslim background, and hence were a reflection of the evil pathology of all Muslims. Van Buren’s piece reads as if the danger has yet to arrive. But is here, and has been experienced by thousands in American for over 14 years. Its just that those Americans happen to be the ‘unseen’ immigrants and minorities, the ones we once called ‘model minorities’ because they quietly and gratefully fitted themselves into our capitalist hunger for cheap and affordable foreign labor.
Our collective American consciousness seems to as yet still not have room to account for the other. We still imagine, and speak, as if what matters, and what will define our priorities, are the gated-communities of the middle / upper class American, particularly if they are White. It is as if we speak about a world that television and movies show us. It is as if we can see past the complexity and diversity that exists on our very streets and in our daily interactions, but then simply ignore them into non-existence once we begin to write to our imagined audience which seems to be largely a privileged one.
But perhaps if the Americans remain oblivious to the destruction of their rights, it is because most of the privileged class fundamentally believes that these curtailments of rights are not for them, or their kind. That just like drone attacks, the surveillance, the infiltration, the entrapment, the abuse, the detentions, the tortures, are reserved for a darker breed of American. Perhaps they understand the reality of the separate judicial system, and feel unconcerned.
I suspect so.
My memory of Kenya when I was young…it was a beautiful time, Kenya was growing, things were happening well…And suddenly there is new culture of humanitarianism…[and]…it was saying that the project of independence is over…for us, it was a very painful thing to witness ourselves on We Are The World…as if we need to be taken care of….and now, we have a new [set] of missionaries [here]…
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