Torture In Brooklyn…A Theatre Production

Darius Rejali, author of Torture and Democracy, appears opening night. Other speakers include Mark Danner, who wrote the Red Cross torture report with detailed description of Abu Zubaydah’s waterboarding;  lawyer Susan Burke, who brought suit against Blackwater on behalf of Iraqi civilians killed and injured in Nissor Square; journalist Donovan Webster, who accompanied Susan to Iraq to take testimony from innocent Iraqis tortured by other private contractors in Abu Ghraib;  Joshua Phillips, author of None of Us Were Like this Before, about the searing effects on American soldiers of their participation in torture; as well as principled lawyers who represented detainees in Guantánamo and other U.S. detention centers.

From the OSI Blog announcement

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This Post Is Not About The Burkini

Moustafa Bayoumi had an interesting Facebook post this morning that speaks to the histories of colonialism that may inform the recent French idiocies around the uses of the burkini at French beaches. The post is here:

I found it provocative and decided to engage with him figuratively. That I am currently designing some photo projects for 2017 that look at the continuing ‘rot’ of colonial and imperial rule and the ways it scars and distorts life, ecology and economy, his arguments were very interesting. However, though Bayoumi makes some good points, but I can’t help but feel that he overstates his case, perhaps even over determines it, by suggesting a rather idealized idea of ‘direct’ vs’ indirect’ colonial rule. This idea does not stand the test of history in any way.

So here is why. Details »

Helping Us Absorb The Shock Of Reality

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Raymond Williams work ‘Keywords’ is perhaps one of the great pioneering cultural studies text of our lifetime. There are not many works that can claim that. In it, Williams pointed out that the meaning and use of words is deeply influenced by and changes with our political, social and economic situations and needs. As Williams himself argued in the book:

“…[T]he air of massive impersonality which the Oxford Dictionary communicates is not so impersonal, so purely scholarly, or so free of active social and political values as might be supposed from its occasional use.”

Words matter. And how, when and who uses them matters profoundly. When it is a word used by Western media, one deeply implicated in upholding corporate, political and military interests, we should always keep Williams insight in mind. Hence, it is irresponsible, if not disingenuous, of any writing by a media critic or commentator when writing about the American / Western media (broadcast, print, digital, radio) to not acknowledge the existence of this political and corporate influence, and the ways in which it influences so much of what is shown and spoken about. It is also disingenuous not to acknowledged that using and manipulating the media today is a crucial goal of any political administration anywhere in the world. The reach and access of media is greater today than ever before, and its influence on opinions and ideas second only to the Church. Perhaps more so, but I do not wish to blaspheme. Hence, I am repeatedly dismayed at the persistent and consistent eraser by media critics and analysts of American and European journalism’s close relationship to political and corporate power. (Le Monde Diplomatique is an exception, reporting repeatedly on this close collaboration when it comes to French media.) So much has been written about this to be self-evident, but it is intentionally pushed aside in discussions about how news get produced, published, disseminated and discussed. From corporate and private ownership of major newspapers, to political influence and collusion with journalists and editors, we know well today how closely our media has become a propaganda machine.

So when I came across this essay titled “Should News Outlets Show Photographs of Terrorists?” by Fred Ritchen – a former photo editor at The New York Times and now a teacher at the International Center for Photography in New York, I was left confused by many of its positions. Details »

Still Speaking For The Others, But At Least Doing It Honestly

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I remember Ben Ehrenreich. He was the writer who wrote perhaps one of the best pieces about the Palestinian resistance struggle in the town of Bilin in the West Bank against Israel’s hideous and inhumane apartheid wall. He was also the guy I quoted in a piece I wrote on Western photojournalism’s obsessive Eurocentricism when it comes to reporting on Brown and Black societies. It was in the context of speaking about the need for ‘White’ interlocutors that I quoted Ehrenreich, and wrote:

“The West’s desperation for ‘white’ interlocutors and the silence of the other – was very strongly bought to the fore by Ben Ehrenreich of The New York Times, the writer of a powerful and rather unusual for the magazine, piece of reportage on the Palestinian resistance to Israeli military rule and occupation in the West Bank. The article, This Is Where The Third Intifada Will Start was a powerful piece and rare in the voices of the Palestinians it allowed to come through. In an interview he gave afterwards he was asked a very pertinent and powerful question which touched on this very issue – the constant representation of the other by an European – and his response was powerful and clear. The question that was posed to him was this:

Let’s talk about the Jewish narrator. In 2006 the Times published a very important essay by Tony Judt in support of Walt and Mearsheimer’s LRB piece on the Israel lobby, and Judt later said that they asked him to insert in there, I’m Jewish. Judt told the story because he knew that Jews were privileged, and that the Times needed to send this signal to its readers. As the NYRB does by publishing David Shulman when it’s critical of Israel, as the New Yorker does when David Remnick is the authority. As Mondoweiss does by stating, we’re a progressive Jewish site at root. As JVP does. It’s a racket, we’re all in on it, and my question is, When do Palestinians get to hold the microphone. Aren’t you and I to blame too? Because if they were holding the microphone, a basic human rights issue like the right to resist that is so core to your piece would have been noncontroversial many many years ago. As it is, Americans have to warm up to the idea, and a Jew has to bring them this news. Comment?

And Ehrenreich’s response was unequivocal and clear. He responded:

I’m glad you asked that question, and yeah, it’s super-problematic. It’s a specific instance of a bigger problem, that black and brown people’s stories can generally only be told in this society via the authority of a white narrator, that we–white people, in this case of Jewish ancestry–are tasked with the representation of black and brown and in this case Palestinian people, who in this dynamic are stuck in the passive role of being represented and are not allowed to interpret their own realities. So certainly we are complicit, and I don’t see any way out of that complicity except to use what privilege I have to tell stories that tear holes in the broader narratives which allow this arrangement to continue. And to do so with scrupulous attention to my own role in it, to the power differentials at play. (My emphasis)”

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Keep Your Eye On The Right Hand!

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European / Western wish for innocence, for purity of spirit, takes tens of millions of dollars to keep up. All sorts of bizarre, racist, programs have to be designed, and all sorts of institutions – scientific, civic, policing, political, social and cultural, are unleashed onto the unthinking citizenry, to seduce and numb them back to their place of quiet subservience and obedience. Here, the French yet again prove their determine war against truth and history. Just as before they spent tens of millions erasing their colonial legacy, their Algerian nightmare, their massacres on the streets, and their social and economic discrimination of a large percentage of their citizens, they are now aiming at any remembrance, or evidence, of the fact that France has been a nation at war in the Middle East, and West Africa, for over a decade now.

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A Rainbow Prohibition

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It is striking how in this entire piece about a lack of diversity in mainstream Western / European photojournalism, the idea ‘lack of representation’ is defined only as ethnic, nationalist, or gender. What is completely left out is politics. That is, the idea of a diversity of political views and perspectives that face, criticize, and dissent against the mainstream European / Western mainstream liberal discourse. And by not acknowledging the ‘manufacturing of consent’ element of mainstream Western media – a fact that has now been written about in countless books, articles and blog sites, it falls prey to simple, and yet again, ‘liberal’ ideas about what ‘diversity’ means and ought to be.

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You Talking To Me? Or Amnesia As A Choice

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This is one of the most beautifully produced pieces of Western propaganda I have seen in a long time. There is no doubt that MSNBC spent a lot of time, money and design effort, in collaboration with the ‘great’ Magnum Photo agency, to put this together. But there is also no doubt, that this entire body of work, with all its fancy graphics, its large-scale photographic presentations, its sophisticated digital presentation structure, is entirely meant to do three things:

– Create the impression that a flood of zombie-like brown skin ‘refugees’ are flocking to our clean, White shores for reasons that have nothing to do with our illegal wars, occupations and invasions, and consistent support for dictatorships (Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq for example)

– Create the impression that ‘Europe’ is under threat, and its ‘cultural’ values drowning and in danger of dilution from these ‘refugee’s who come from the ‘other world

– The pain and strain of the European / Western, as she grapples with her inner morality and humanity, and the economic pressures and demands of these ‘beggars’ and ‘usurpers’.

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A Toast To A Man To Remember

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Laughing From The Wrong Side

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It was a relief to finally read something that reminds us that comedy is not dissent. This piece by Sugarman echoes a critique I wrote some months ago – and for which I was summarily mocked, about John Oliver and his treatment of the issue of state surveillance of American citizens, and later, on his rather bizarre and right-wing interview of Snowden.

In the first piece I had argued that:

“Comedy denudes issues of urgency and the human will to act. It finds a way to make us laugh at torture, social deprivation, racism, war and murder. It makes acceptable what ought to be intolerable and seduced us into a place where we come to believe that describing and articulating something as a joke is an act. and it lets us feel that having laughed, we have somehow done and acted. for after all, we laughed st the fools and that sets us apart from them.

Comedy has become the anesthesia our capitalist societies are given so that we can accept the unacceptable. So that we can indulge in inaction while thinking we are acting. Comedy is the posture we adopt when critical thinking and critical engagement are lost.”

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Clueless Liberalism

France political and security responses are a good case study of how popular Islamophobia spreads in a nation. If the State acts in such a targeted, and sweeping fashion, and its spokes persons define so clearly and explicitly the ‘enemy’ they are going after, the citizenry can’t really be expected to remain immune from its constructions and framing of how to evaluate and judge a situation, and whom to blame for it. So when the state so publicly demonstrates its resolve, so to speak, and the ordinary, over-worked and under-engaged citizen watches all this, it isn’t all too surprising that the pathology spreads.

“Backed by the new powers, authorities have carried out about 3,400 raids on mosques, homes, and businesses with more than 300 people placed under house arrest.”

Of course, add to this the near daily media discourse and framing of wars in various countries where the construction of the ‘enemy’ is almost always on religious or cultural grounds, with all political and historical facts and legacies distorted and modified to create further evidence of ‘the enemies’ deviant and inhuman thought process and strategies.

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The Troubles With History

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Keep this paragraph in mind the next time you see a ‘great’ story about Honduras in National Geographic, or Time or The New York Times, because it will not be included in it:

“Instead of condemning the figures behind the uprising, suspending support to the illegitimate government of Zelaya’s successor, Roberto Micheletti, and demanding a restoration of the democratically elected Zelaya, Secretary Clinton decided to move on. In her memoir “Hard Choices,” Clinton wrote that after the coup, she went about hatching a plan with other leaders in the region “to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.” The United States pushed for elections, and in November 2009, despite a boycott by opposition leaders and international observers, elections were orchestrated by the same figures behind Zelaya’s ouster.

Since the coup, violence and assassinations, as well as persecutions of journalists and social justice advocates, have skyrocketed in Honduras. Last week’s high-profile murder of the Goldman prize-winning indigenous leader and environmental activist Berta Caceres is yet another tragic example of the abhorrent human rights record in Honduras under the government that came to power via the 2009 coup. Between 2010 and 2014, 101 environmental activists have been killed in Honduras, according to Global Witness. Clinton’s camp has said that allegations about her role in the 2009 coup are “nonsense.”

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