It now turns out….in New York City actually!


Sometimes things take a most unexpected turn, and you find yourself in the most unexpected places. I am moving to New York City for three months starting in late March, to continue working on my research and writings for the Pakistan Justice project, speaking at various academic and other institutions on the East Coast, exploring further possibilities of the ideas we generated in the Columbia Journalism School’s BitbyBit hackathon and to begin work on a new photo project in the USA.

Let me say a few things about each just to elaborate.

I have over a year of work from Pakistan most of which remains unpublished. The current website for the project Law & Disorder: A People’s History of The Law in Pakistan was redesigned in early 2014 and this process continues. However, a large number of stories and testimonies remain unpublished, and of course portraits that remain unprocessed. The challenge as always has been the research that I need to do, and the writings that complement the individual testimonies. This has proven to be a difficult process, but certainly not an unexpected one. It is just taking time, and perhaps worst, taking thought….the latter being the great weakness of mine. But new portraits, testimonies and writings will continue to emerge in the coming weeks as I make use of my access to the libraries at Columbia and post new pieces.

Next, we are extending our panels and presentations to smaller, local academic institutions. After having spoken at the major college campuses there is a sense that the student bodies at places like Brooklyn College, Queens College, Fordham and other such institutions will engage with our work on the victims of the War on Terror in a more compelling and direct way. There has been a quiet acceptance of our presentations so far, but there has been a lack of direct involvement as the panels have largely been academic discussions and few if any of the students have come forward with ideas and/or suggestions for how to continue the arguments on campus. We think that speaking to student bodies who have in fact faced the post 9/11 America’s realities in a more direct fashion would elicit a different, and a stronger response. That being said, I will also be speaking and presenting the work at some major universities in Rhode Island and in Boston this summer. A close friend is also trying to see if I can come out to the University of California, Berkeley and present my work there.

Our three-day hackathon at Columbia Journalism School was exciting and inspiring. However, it was the discussions and meetings that I had afterwards that presented me with some of the most exciting possibilities. A former student of mine, Shannon Carroll, was in attendance and a conversation with her over coffee a few days later offered an interesting thought. Her work with new forms of documentary films and story-telling was fascinating to hear about and quite inspiring. I later shared some of the thoughts she provoked with the photographer Nina Berman and our conversations led to ideas that we are now both anxious to test and try out. I am hoping that by working closely with a designer and a technologist we can produce a prototype of what we have conceived. It should be quite exciting and we are already working through some designs.

Finally, a new photo project. Well, not entirely new, but an evolution of my Pakistan work, but as it applies to citizens and individuals in the USA. It emerges out of a mistake. I had mistakenly assumed that the legal practices inside prisons such as Bagram and Guantanamo were anomalies, and that the American Federal courts were a better, more just, set of institutions to try those we have accused and incarcerated. But I have come to realize that this is an absolute misunderstanding – the American courts have completely failed to carry out their duties and have in fact capitulated in the face of government pressure. The oft-cited claim of ‘over 400 terrorism cases convicted’ is less a marker of their delivery of justice, and more a reminder that ‘due process’ is not in fact a just process. The new work takes a page out of works such as Susan Terrio’s Judging Mohammed; Juvenile Delinquency, Immigration, and Exclusion at the Paris Palace of Justice – a brilliant ethnography of praxis of juvenile justice courts in France. Stay tuned as I will write more about this. I expect to complete the first phase of the project by June 30th.

As always, I am well aware of ambitions outstripping capabilities, but these coming weeks promise to be very exciting and different. Not the least because of the many new people I will be working with and who have already contributed important ideas. I want to acknowledge them all here: Shannon Carroll, for introducing me to new documentary forms that she has been working with at UnionDocs, including sharing with me her work on SouthSideStories, which was the seed for my own concept project I am exploring with the photographer Nina Berman. Geo Geller, the unique New York documentarian, who introduced me to the Hasidim of Ditmars Avenue and gave me a chance to speak to and learn from a very unique and radical group of people. Nina Berman, whose incredible intellectual and physical energy will be tough to match but inspiring to keep up with in the coming weeks. Kati London and Raz Schwartz who collaborated with me on BitbyBit and brought an entirely new set of ideas to things I was working on and I hope now will work with me in the coming weeks to product a prototype of sorts. Saadia Toor, Madiha Tahir and people like Faisal Hashmi who were such a core part of pushing me to do something about things I have previously only complained about. So now I am.

It should be a fabulous summer in the city.