I have been told that I risk losing friends who no longer wish to speak to me, but rather just read these Musings & Confusions posts as they encapsulate so many of the things I have been speaking and discussing during the week. So be it. Human company can be quite a burden. So there.
Listen to the funny, intelligent and dissenting voice of Professor Deepa Kumar whose book Islamophobia & The Politics Of Empire I have just finished reading. She speaks about the political nature of Islamophobia and its an important talk. It is an unspoken and perhaps worst, unacknowledged bias that underpins so much of today’s ‘liberal’ discourse in the United States and Europe. Here she is speaking about this phenomenon that is tainting so much of public, political, and secular debate today:
The influence of Edward Said is visible in her work. Which of course only makes it more interesting. Her book is an excellent primer for anyone trying to get a handle on how Islamophobia has been playing out in our modern democracies.
Another work that I have been reading is Junaid Rana’s perhaps more academic exploration of how globalization and neo-liberalism are the bedfellows of labor migration and the creation of the racial ‘Muslim’ and ‘terrorist’. Its a bit of a pedantic read, but has moments of brilliance that are still worth looking at it.
In an interview with the fantastic Jadalliyah magazine, Rana pointed out that:
Although my book is a response to the events of 9/11, it does not argue that everything began there. In fact, much of my argument builds on the historical research of other scholars to provide the range of how something like the concept of race became associated with Muslims and Islam. More specific to my study, I argue that there are certain groups that face far greater vulnerability to exploitation and oppression because of how social hierarchies shift in the global economy. This means that those who we might see in the lower tiers of the service sector of the global economy, those who we might call a globalized working class, are usually targeted as a problem that must be fixed rather than as a necessary component of globalization under neoliberal capitalism. So in the US War on Terror, when it was mainly immigrants and the working poor that were removed from their homes and communities and put into deportation proceedings, the logic of this new racial order was exacerbated by the vulnerability of these populations.
I do recommend both works. Rana’s is more theoretical and at times can become a bit boring. But nevertheless, it offers a new way of understanding what has happened to the Muslim community in the USA in the post-9/11 America, a reality that has gone largely unreported and unchallenged by our political and media mavens.
Magnum Photos – an agency that today lives more off its brand name than of its innovative, challenging, and creative photographic works – wants to monetize its social media followers. No problem. You can see the MBA types at this now corporate obsessed agency thinking of ways to get cash from somewhere to keep its bottom line deep and rich. Fair enough. But this British Journal of Photography article is a very obfuscating – it hides the purely financial intent of the agency management behind a sweet language of ‘audience’ and ‘community’ when in fact all that Magnum wants to do is monetize its ‘followers’ of 800,000 into hard cash. The article makes for amusing reading as the Magnum representative begins by mouthing cliches about something he calls ‘Web 2.0’ – I think he believes that what he reads in Wired or Fast Company is true and real! – and talking about how this is all some sort of ‘fan sleep over’. But just look at these statements which are so laughably 1990s that he may as well be dancing the macarena!
We have to use technology to our advantage, and Web 2.0 is an opportunity.
Or this gem, which reminds you that these people actually have little or no interest in anything other than being technocratic managers:
In the past, it was a business model based on the leverage of rights to the business-to-business world. We were selling rights to that B2B world
Seriously….does he even remember that he represents an agency of photographers? And does he realise that it is precisely this sort of ‘corporate executive’ thinking that has this entire industry in the mess that it is? I guess not. Its all about making money from any where we can, the continued commodification of the works of artists. But of course, all this is hidden behind sweet words like:
We want to turn these bloggers into a community….They will belong to a sort of ‘Friends of Magnum’ group and will have access to a series of benefits. Some of them will be physical, others virtual.
Sweet. So touching The fact that they already are a community actively using Magnum images for free to share for personal use or cross-link, is not enough of a community. We want a community, and we want them to pay because otherwise:
We are going to write to the bloggers and say: ‘Listen, you are illegally using our images. We know it’s not for commercial purposes, but it’s still illegal. If you want to clean your position, you just have to participate in this Magnum membership.
That is, we are going to send out cease-and-desist notices to ‘our community’ and demand that they start to pay for online sharing as well. All that sweet talk of ‘building a dialogue’ – backed by legal threats and harassment – is a way to veil what is really going on here. I have nothing against the business intent ,but the condescension, the presumption of stupidity of the audience, the underpins the ‘business savvy’ language of people like Moggi is simply offensive if not outright laughable. I don’t know why honesty and clarity can’t be the operative word. Why not just come out and say it – hey, we have 800,000 followers, and we want to change them into subscribers. Our content is unique, it is valuable and like many other media outlets that are not placing paywalls, we believe that we can develop a smart pricing model that will appeal to a range of different online user types, while allowing us to gain financial capital crucial to the operations of our agency. Photography and photojournalism are expensive, and require investment in time infrastructure and logistics and we believe our followers understand and support this. We are asking them to collaborate and to help us continue to create the amazing works that our photographers do. End of discussion. But of course not. Like any corporate hack, hiding behind fancy words, or outright lies, seems to be the knee-jerk reaction of such people. Tiresome.
To say nothing about the fact that the BJP has become a clearing house for the most unexamined, unquestioned, and stenographic writings about the state of the photography industry ever. Their writers should do something more than merely pass on such corporate propaganda pieces and perhaps help their readers parse through the fancy language and understand what is really going on here.
The French continue to celebrate their bigotry. And yes, it is a sweeping generalisation of an entire nation and people and now that you have read it and realise how ludicrous its sounds, then perhaps you can understand it when such generalisations are used against the country’s Arab and Muslim populations. Racial profiling in France is standard operating procedure, but the brilliant judges in the French Supreme Court think that it is just fine and necessary.
The racism that infests the courts of France was well document and explored by anthropologist Susan Terrio in her fantastic book ‘Judging Mohammed’.
In a review of the work writers Clare Ryan and Patrick Schmidt pointed out:
Terrio is fiercely critical of the French juvenile court’s move toward punitive reform and the corresponding cultural attack on children of immigrants, painting a portrait of a strict divide between the white, middle to upper-middle class, majority female court personnel and the poor, typically male, African and Asian population of juvenile “delinquents” who are overwhelmingly the constituents of the court system. Lacking a meaningful adversarial process, court actors – even those that emphasize rehabilitation – participate in a process that labels youth as guilty and denigrates them and their families. As she later notes, “Throughout France the courts are run by mainstream French professionals who prosecute and try those of immigrant and foreign ancestry. The implicit message is that the juvenile courts are not ‘for’ the French except in the relatively rare cases where those from the mainstream population end up at trial”
Pity the nation.
This just made me smile – this is Colette from Answered Prayers – Capote’s unfinished work:
“Her painted eyelids lifted and lowered like the slowly beating wings of a great blue eagle. “But that,” she said, “is the one thing none of us can ever be: a grown-up person. If you mean a spirit clothed in the sack and ash of wisdom alone? Free of all mischief, envy and malice and greed and guilt? Impossible … Of course, men can have grown-up moments, a noble few scattered here and there, and of these, obviously death is the most important. Death certainly sends that smutty little boy scuttling and leaves what’s left of us simply an object, lifeless but pure … To be durable and perfect, to be in fact grown-up, is to be an object, an altar, the figure in a stained-glass window: cherishable stuff. But really, it is so much better to sneeze and feel human.”
I am sneezing. This series is a fun read and I recommend it:
I rarely read the New York Times India Ink blog – its filled with the most ridiculous tripe about India – but every now and then it still can surprise me with a well written and intelligent piece. The brilliant Manan Ahmad gets a chance and it is a good one where he writes:
After The Associated Press reported earlier in the year that the New York Police Department was engaging in widespread surveillance of mosques, playgrounds, and eateries frequented by Muslims, the New York Post ran a cartoon by Sean Delonas depicting hook-nosed, big-bearded, turbaned Muslims with bombs strapped on their bodies, calling The Associated Press to complain about surveillance.
The hate directed against Muslims lies at the heart of the assault against Mr. Singh. His Sikh religious identity, visually marked with his uncut beard and the uncut hair wrapped underneath a tightly wound headscarf, constitutes the bigoted sketch of a Muslim. “Rag head,” “towel head,” “Hadji,” and “Osama” may be the verbal equivalents, but the visual manifestation of this hate speech remains remarkably consistent.In the public discourse, the question of Islamophobia is considered either too diffuse or geographically elsewhere. It is diffuse in the sense that Islamophobia is given to contain factual roots of misconduct by Muslims, which determine a fair and judicious surveillance of their actions and motives.
The most insidious racism is of course that of the so-called ‘liberal’ and ‘cosmopolitan’ urbane, new york-type class – those who confuse the fact that they can eat with chop sticks as evidence of their open-mindedness and their ‘worldliness’. Too often I have had to sit with people otherwise ‘civilized’ and hear the most bigoted, reductive, and frankly hateful tripe being uttered against all things Islam / Muslim / Arab. The idea that Islam / violence / Muslim / terrorism are all synonyms for each other is not a parasite in so many, and never so much as in those proclaiming to be liberal and modern!
In the category of ‘I can’t believe that these events are still taking place’, comes the latest Asia Society Afghani-women’s rights circus.
Where does one even begin? The exploitation of the language of human rights, and in particular, the exploitation of women to serve the interests of imperialism, and America’s wars is the true war crime here. And yet, even in 2013, even as all the fact lie before us, even as we realize the venal, violent, brutal nature of not just the American military occupation, but the mass murderers, rapists, criminals, thugs and war criminals we foisted onto something called the ‘Afghan government’, many of whom have continued to carry out their brutal practices against any and all including the very women we seem to wish to shed tears over, there are people still pretending that this ever was about an Afghan woman. Perhaps a refresher course on what the American presence in Afghanistan has actually achieved here would be a useful read – here is Ann Jones writing in Le Monde Diplomatique, pointing out:
In Afghanistan, too, as the end of a longer war supposedly draws near, the rate at which civilians are being killed has actually picked up, and the numbers of women and children among the civilian dead have risen dramatically. This week, as the Nation magazine devotes a special issue to a comprehensive study of the civilian death toll in Afghanistan — the painstaking work of Bob Dreyfuss and Nick Turse — the pace of civilian death seems only to be gaining momentum as if in some morbid race to the finish.
Apparently not all women are equal in the eyes of our liberal mavens sipping wine and cheese at the Asia Society.
Or perhaps a simple reminder that as our drones murder women and children, we cannot stick our heads in the sand, ignore our collusion with imperial wars, and convince ourselves of our moral righteousness so that we can simply sleep better at night. A recent article in The Nation provides shocking evidence of the callous and sloppy way in which drone attacks are actually carried out. Nick Turse’s article reveals the horribly vain, careless and frankly trigger-happy nature of what passes for ‘precision’ attacks
On February 21, 2010, Hellfire missiles from US helicopters streamed down on a convoy filled with militants—military-age males armed with rifles—near Shahidi Hassas, in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan Province. The band of insurgents was preparing to attack a small US force that was conducting a village raid with Afghan security forces. But the Americans had monitored their cellphone calls and knew all about their plans. A Predator drone had been surveilling their every move for hours and sending video feed to a base in Nevada. Air Force personnel there and at other facilities viewed the footage and helped coordinate the helicopter assault that blasted the caravan before it could attack the Americans.
As many as twenty-seven Taliban were killed in the strike, in addition to the twelve injured. Except they weren’t Taliban—or insurgents of any kind. There was no evidence they had been talking on the phone about attacking the Americans, and they weren’t converging on the site of the US operation. They weren’t all military age, and they weren’t even all men.
They were women, and children. Anyone at the Asia Society gathering want to talk about their rights? The fact is that you cannot simply cleave your ‘morality’ to see only the women who fit your self-aggrandizing narrative, or your self-serving war needs, or continue to lie to yourself that our presence in Afghanistan has any care or consideration for women’s rights. Maybe an Afghani woman can remind you – Malalai Joya, once celebrated in our corridors of humanism, then denied a visa to the USA because she dared criticise us – here is her statement:
Our people are deeply fed up. They have organized many anti-U.S. protests in the past months and if the occupation continues, the resistance will only grow. More than eight years of occupation have made life bleak, and we are tired of being pawns in the U.S. and NATO’s game for control of Central Asia.We can no longer bear the killing of our pregnant mothers, the killing of our teenagers and young children, the killing of so many Afghan men and women. We can no longer bear these “accidents” and these “apologies” for the deaths of the innocent. We salute the anti-war movements in the NATO countries. Here, we will struggle to our last breath to stop this war that is tearing apart our beloved Afghanistan.
Obviously she – an Afghani woman – will not be at the Asia Society event.Or how about the women of RAWA – once the darlings of the New York socialite and convenience-based moral righteousness circuit and who too were once invited to our champagne dinners, but then shut out – I don’t see them really seeing American’s as their protectors. As a recent statement argues:
It has been twelve years since the US started its ‘war on terror’ with claims of securing ‘women’s rights’, ‘human rights’, ‘justice’ and ‘stability’ in Afghanistan; and that too by relying on fundamentalists such as Sayyaf, Qanouni, Fahim, Khalili, Abdullah, Mohaqiq, Atta, Ismail, Khuram, Almas, Rabbani, Dostum, Sherzoy, Farooq Wardak, Arghandiwal, and others, who are misogynist in nature and the most brutal and corrupt creatures in the world. In this period of occupation by more than forty plunderer countries and dominance of vicious fundamentalists, contrary to the claims of the bogus propaganda by the Western media, Afghan women have not been able to achieve even the most basic rights. Rather, their sufferings and hardships have been treacherously misused for promoting the colonial policies of the US and West.
Oh, but yes, we are not talking about these women, and women’s groups, who are protesting against the brutality of the American occupation. No, we will gather our own carefully selected women, the ones docile and subservient enough to accept our trinkets, our faux-feminism, our lies about their liberty, and our easily broken promises. Those are the ones whose liberty we will fight for. These other Afghani women – and those dying in drone attacks. military operations, night raids, bombardments, or at the hands of the new Afghani militia – well, those we just can’t be bothered with right now.
I have written about this exploitation of Afghani women before – for example, see my posts here and here about the incredibly hideous use Time Magazine made of Afghani women to sell us the slaughter called Operation Enduring Freedom. Enduring indeed!
There are dozens of doyens celebrating the explosion of photo books as an indicator that photography is not dead. what they will not tell you is that this explosion is largely being funded by the photographers themselves! many photo books are vanity projects with photographers forking over tens of thousands of dollars to a publisher. others who are successful and famous photographers – like Richards below, turn to crowd funding. some months ago Joachim Ladefoged too was searching for money because he could not find an editor. the boom is not really one. the internet hasn’t changed much of our reality, regardless of what our self appointed futurists like Mayes/Ritchen may argue. the gatekeepers remain, the middlemen are strong but now the web does offer more avenues for the ego. maybe that is the lasting revolution. Here is one of the great documentary photographer’s of our time telling us the reaction to a work that address important social issues:
…in 2010, after approaching something like seven publishers, I had no choice but to self-publish War Is Personal, my book which chronicles the human consequences of the Iraq war. So I’m not new to the idea of self-publishing. And because this book is one that encompasses issues of race, poverty, and aging, it’s one that would not be wholly embraced in a business sense by traditional publishers. After being unceremoniously turned down by two publishers that I’ve worked with in the past (who most likely don’t see a profit in it) and after being asked by a couple of others to provide as much as eighty percent of the production costs, I decided to go it alone again.
I think that this is perhaps an indication of the tremendous failure of courage, thought and imagination that the photojournalism’s industry’s response to the changes in the media landscape have shown. Most all of them have run into the conveniently lucrative arms of corporations and technology product companies, espousing the most banal and unthought through clichés about the ‘revolution’ of digital technology. Frankly, its easy to speak about ‘the future’, and do so by speaking about the obvious. It’s easy to say that its all revolutionary, that it’s all going to change, that tomorrow we will be all traveling in flying cars, and vacationing on the moon. This is the brainless stuff of cheesy pundits, and its easily found in some ten-year old copy of Popular Mechanics.
What is hard, what requires intellectual courage and imaginative courage, is to challenge media generated, advertising copy inspired ideas about ‘the future’ and defend social, public, civic, political and business values that generate knowledge, truth and that provide a public service. None of our mavens have spoken out in the defence of the need to protect journalism and photojournalism and staked their careers on it. Our ‘best’ photojournalists have fled into fashion and products, while publicly claiming that they are not ‘journalists’ and that they never wanted to be. Others are busy working with defence contractors on week days while espousing human rights on week ends. There are no principles, there are no values. Its just all about making money. And then people like Richards are left begging around for cash because publishers too have bought into this model that the responsible, the social, the civic, the critical, the human, the concerned, the real, does not sell. Its pathetic.
I am grateful that the publishers of magazines like Harper’s and XXI in France, have at least begun to speak out. Has anyone in the photojournalism industry had the courage to say what John R MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s Magazine has said:
But I’m still offended by the whole Internet pretension of universality, freedom, and democracy. An even more radical critic than I, Patrick de St. Exupery, (publisher of XXI) insists that the Internet, whether paid or unpaid, doesn’t just reduce the value of writing; it destroys value. This may stem from a whole generation growing up never learning to distinguish between a blog and an edited, thought-out piece of writing. But it also might be that the promoters of the Internet publishing model really hate writing and writers – that to justify their bottomless obsession with Web magic, they need to destroy the ideological competition. That is, me and my French allies.
Or point out that:
…the early Internet publishing promoters had brainwashed my employees into believing that we should not even resist their wondrous new photocopier – that on the contrary we should join them in a mass Potlatch ceremony that would result in a virtuous circle of wealth creation beneficial to all. I invoke potlatch – the gift-giving ritual of certain Northwest Indian tribes – because the Internet salesmen claimed, in sly mimicry of the indigenous tribesmen, that they were actually engaged in a redistribution of wealth that would result in reciprocal gift giving in the form of huge amounts of paid advertising.
I said this was nonsense – that their neo-potlatchism was business suicide for magazines and newspapers and career suicide for writers. Information wants to be free? So does food. But farmers aren’t as stupid as certain publishers, journalists and ad salesmen.
It is nonsense. And amazing photographers like Richards and so many others are suffering and struggling to produce important works because of the collusion of so many with corporations and the lies they have fed us about the Internet, its meaning and its possibilities.
Our recent panel discussion at the Open Society Institute is now online. You can hear a recording our debate – one that got rather contentious towards the end – here. I am grateful to the Open Society Fellowship team for their support in putting this together and for supporting us by giving us the time and space to make the arguments that we did.
Many at OSF were disturbed by the fact that we came to speak on behalf of the men detained at Bagram the week of 9/11 commemorations. Some people thought that it was in bad taste. I am constantly dismayed at such reactions, and the bigotry and narcissism that underpin them. It is as if our speaking out against injustices that were carried out in the name of another injustice someone denigrate the original one. Nothing we said, or intended, takes away from the tragedy and horror of 9/11. In fact, what we are arguing takes the crucial lessons from the 9/11 atrocity – that the killing of the innocent, the subjection of others to senseless and mindless violence, that the resort to war and murder, are not a solution to anything and that in fact it is through the pursuit of just policies and respect that we can move forward and reduce our divisions.
It is shameful that there are people so morally insecure, so intellectually small, that they cannot accept the horrors and sufferings that have been unjustly inflicted on to others. The silence, and the insistence on silence that such people use, justifies the unjust acts of their government. It is sad that their only lesson from 9/11 is that only their own tragedies can be commemorated and do so in ‘purity’. A true commemoration would be a vocal and public voice against all atrocities, killings and unjust suffering of others that are being inflicted in the name of these ‘clashes’.
We are proud, as the Americans all three of the panelists were, to speak on behalf of the men unjustly imprisoned in Bagram during the week of 9/11. For us it is the most fitting of lessons from the tragedy that befell New York that September, and it inspires us to keep on with our fight.