An image from Northern Iraq that I made back in 2005 while working on a story about the struggle of Iraq’s Assyrian Christian community, appears this week on the poster of a new film by Daniel Lombroso about the region’s oldest Christian community. Back in 2005 I had argued that the invasion and occupation of Iraq had bought no respite to a community that had been targeted under the Saddam Hussein regime, and that all pretense to the contrary, the so-called ‘liberation’ of Iraq was about to create even more miseries and difficulties for the very people we claimed we were there to ‘liberate’.
Our silence is hypocritical – we conflate bigotry with ‘free speech’ and celebrate ourselves, while refusing to fight the more uncomfortable, difficult and problematic acts of ‘free speech’ itself as in this case of the young British citizen. Free speech laws and rights are most in need of defense when speech is problematic and disturbing, not when speech easily joins a wide public discourse that is tinged with bigotry and self-congratulations. It takes no courage in Europe to humiliate and mock Muslims for example, because this is the easiest, most trite, and most acceptable form of fraudulent ‘free speech’ we know. It is merely an echo of widely held prejudice in our societies. Only cowards and hypocrites confuse it as something bold. It isn’t free speech if you are hurling abuse against the already demeaned, humiliated and reduced. It isn’t free speech if you are simply parroting the main stream. Our rights to genuine free speech are most obvious when something difficult is uttered about ourselves and our societies, something that stops us in our tracks, and reveals something sour in ourselves.
Paris. France. Charlie.
Of course, this has to be condemned. It is an outrage and cannot be allowed to go without the criminals being caught and prosecuted. Charlie Hebdo was a racist and bigoted rag that hid behind a false discourse of ‘free speech’ to selectively attack certain groups and certain speech. However, that cannot be a reason for such actions and our outrage at their bigotry can’t become a justification for violence. Not against publications, nor against communities either. Much as in response to the Ander’s Brevik’s attacks in Oslo, what is needed now is an effective criminal investigation, prosecution and indictment of the men who carried out this act. What has to be assiduously avoided is the use of this horrendous act for justifications for further wars, racism, anti-immigrant bigotry and humiliation that i fear will most likely be the reaction in a nation like France that is already drunk a vile and crass relationship with its ‘others’.
Contradicting my own recent post (see The Lure of The Ephemeral), our travels across South Asia investigating the prevalence of fistula amongst women in South Asia is being posted regularly on Instagram and Facebook. Its not your usual set of UN feeds, so enjoy it while it lasts. We are wrapping up our work here, and moving on to Pakistan soon.
A few friends and fellow photographers have stepped away from Instagram and other social media platforms for their work. In fact, I too have not posted on any social media platform for a while because of a nagging sense that by constantly feeding a structure of information dissemination that relied on the ‘likes’ of random strangers (a large number of whom seem to be prepubescent or barely adolescent boys and girls), i was being dragged away from a more considered, and measured way of working. There was this realization that at some point feeding the beast become more important than patiently producing the work, and that any and all measure of its success and its relevance becomes reduced to ‘# of followers’ or ‘likes’. In fact, I remember distinctly a couple of major editors criticizing my work in Pakistan for not being ‘accessible’ enough, and for being too difficult. They were concerned that I had no ‘social media’ strategy, and wondered what I was going to do to bring tens of thousands of followers to my site. The fact was that I wasn’t really even interested in that. In fact, there is a distinct intent in my works to be difficult, and demanding. I design these projects to be hard to view, and engage with. They are never meant for a vast audience, and I can’t even see the value of the audience of ‘social media’ that I am being told I need to pursue. Details »