Waiting For An American Knight In Liberal Armor

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Farahnaz Ispahani and Nina Shea try to speak about Pakistan, but get it entirely wrong. Their blinkered history, their a-historical depiction of the genuine problem that they identify is sad and embarrassing to read. And nothing was more embarrassing to read than their conclusion that states:

The United States should make an unapologetic defense of free speech in every appropriate forum and work to roll back this subversive secular law. We should lend moral support to the majority of Pakistanis who are struggling to retain a semblance of a democratic and pluralist society and peace in the region. To the world’s detriment, the administration underestimated the Islamic State. The damage will be all the greater if we continue to ignore the danger from Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

Instead of tearing this gibberish, hypocritical, ahistorical and frankly completely nonsensical suggestion that somehow the USA is a voice for free speech, or worst, not implicated in the religious madness that has infected Pakistan through its repeated and decades long support for every fanatical dictator that ever spit on the country, let me quote Eqbal Ahmed instead to reveal the true nature of America’s hand in Pakistan:

There is an increasingly perceptible gap between our need for social transformation and America’s insistence on stability, between our impatience for change and American’s obsession with order, our move towards revolution and America’s belief in the plausibility of achieving reforms under the robber barons of the ‘third world’, our longing for absolute national sovereignty and America’s preference for pliable allies, our desires to see our national soil free of foreign occupation and America’s alleged need for military bases.

(Eqbal Ahmed in a dialogue with Samuel Huntington, from No More Vietnams: War and the Future of American Policy)

We are in the morass that we are – including the hideous foisting of these insane blasphemy laws, the Hudood Ordinances thanks to one of America’s great allies in the war against communism: Zia Ul-Haq, and then later, in the war against ‘terror’ as in General Musharraf. The rise of religious fundamental madness is a consequence of the sickening and continuing collusion between Saudi Arabia and the USA, and Pakistan’s tragedy of being caught in the middle of these well-endowed goons. The laws we are now suffering under emerge in a historical and political context that has everything to do with America’s wars in the region. They were forced upon the country by goons and madmen that the Americans funded to the order of tens of billions of dollars. Just as today in Egypt the Americans are breaking bread with mass murderers from the army, the Americans have repeatedly given solace and succor to Pakistani military megalomaniacs and religio-fundamentalist madmen. As Saudi Arabia remains one of America’s closest allies in the region, and one of the most influential cultural and financial influences in Pakistan, is it sheer idiocy to never once mention any of this at all!

For Shea and Ispahani to write a huge article and never once mention the political-economic realities of imperialism and American exceptionalism that have stained the culture, society and future of Pakistan, is truly an act of intellectual cowardice or ignorance. They chose it, or they are simply too ignorant to know it.

And I will not even say anything about the fact that it was at the behest of the Americans that a massive pogrom was carried out against progressive and left voices in Pakistan as the country was pulled into America’s determination to eradicate ‘communism’ and make the world safe for ‘democracy’ which in the USA is spelt ‘c-a-p-i-t-a-l-i-s-m’

Its pathetic to see that these women – one from an American think tank, and another a so-called parliamentarian, have absolutely no grasp of history or facts but are determined culturalists and top-of-the-orientalist-class type intellectuals who spend most of their time erasing inter-connections and complexities and creating simplistic comic books realities. Perhaps that is the key to career and financial success in the USA – never speak out, never speak the truth, never point back, never challenge the West about its realities but instead simply repeat its own myths. These Pakistanis seem to be waiting for the American knight in liberal armor.

Pakistan cannot extricate itself from the morass of social backwardness – including a growing social and cultural acceptance of violence, whether state sanctioned or private, unless it extricates itself from its role as the hand-maiden of American imperial interests in the region. The country and its paranoid elite minority have conflated their interests with the interests of the United States, and economically, politically and culturally sodomized the Pakistani citizen every chance they have been given. To write a piece that reveals the many ways in which Pakistani laws – particularly Hudood ordinance laws, have been put to deviant use by politicians, and bureaucrats and never to speak about how religion, religious differences, and minorities are fodder in the political ambitions of venal leaders, is to not only be anti-intellectual, but to be dishonest. Sectarianism is always about politics, never about religion. Or rarely if ever about religion.

The question these writers fail to ask is very simple: who allows these acts to continue, and who is given protection and impunity. It isn’t that these laws exist on paper, for there are many laws on the books that are ignored and / or simply considered unimportant. But certain actions, and certain laws are used and exploited. In Pakistan, blasphemy laws are more often than not used to win political or land-grab battles in local communities. They are often as much about real-estate, or vote-gathering, than about religion or belief. And the degree to which they are used by political groups when faced with political challenges and a restless citizenry – as the situation exists now, and as it did under a number of American- supported military dictators, they are a means to distract and to seduce the popular into mindless and useless acts and sense of belongs. The two writers need to go back to the drawing board. Or at least to school.

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From “Headmen” To “Hitmen”–A People Brutalised Yet Again

Another photographer turns up at another manufactured ‘traditional’ geography, and produces another set of racist, reductive and entirely fake set of images. I don’t mean ‘fake’ in the way that most photographer’s get all concerned about. I mean ‘fake’ in a much more serious way, one that reduces people to social, political and historical caricatures and makes them into concocted objects for class titillation and voyeurism. And this American magazine–mired deep in the heart of American imperialism, its violence and its brutality–publishes the images and accompanies them with what can only be described as one of the most incredibly ahistorical, obfuscatory and infantile articles I have read outside of stuff frequently published by Time Magazine and/or The New York Times.

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Thomas Sankara’s Restless Children

The project is now complete. Although, we may never really complete the telling of this remarkable story. You can see the project by clicking on this link here, or on the image below.

Eyes Of Aliyah–Deport, Deprive, Extradite Initiative By Nisha Kapoor

I have publicly and on this forum very explicitly argued against the strange ‘disappearance’ of black/brown bodies that are the actual targets and victims of our ‘liberal’ state policies of surveillance, entrapment, drone assassinations, renditions and indefinite detention. I recently argued:

“Western visual journalism, and visual artists, have erased the actual victims of the criminal policies of the imperial state. Instead, most all have chosen to produce a large array of projects examining drone attacks, surveillance, detentions and other practices, through the use of digital abstractions, analogous environments, still life work or just simply the fascinating and enticing safety of datagrams and charts. Even a quick look at recent exhibitions focusing on the ‘war on terror’ or wars in general, have invited works that use digital representations of war, or focus on the technologies of war. An extreme case of this deflection are recent projects on drone warfare that not only avoid the actual brown/black bodies that are the targets of deadly drone attacks, but are not even produced anywhere near the geographies and social ecologies where drone attacks continue to happen! Yet, these works have found tremendous popularity, though i remain confused what kinds of conversations or debates they provoke given that the voices of the families of those who have been killed, are not only entirely missing, but people who can raised the difficult questions about the lies and propaganda that are used to justify the killings, are also entirely missing.”

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Public Release of “The Sinner”

This is my first feature length documentary film and we–Justice Project Pakistan, with the guiding support of Sarah BelalRimmel Mohydin and others at Justice Project Pakistan, are finally releasing it.

And we are doing it first in Pakistan.

The film takes us into the world of capital punishment in Pakistan through the life of one man; Jan Masi. Jan Masi worked as an execution for nearly 30 years, and claims to have executed over 1800 people. He started his work in the enthusiastic pursuit of revenge for the execution of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

This isn’t a typical documentary film. No talking heads. No linear story-telling. No polemics or moral grand standing. No righteous exclamations against capital punishment. Instead, Jan Masi, his life, his scars, his fears and despair, act as metaphors for the meaning of capital punishment in Pakistan, and the consequences it has on the broader Pakistani society.

Sudhir Patwardhan

Sudhir Patwardhan.

Can you discover ‘an influence’ after the fact?

What do you call someone who seems to embody your eye, your sensibility, and yet you had never seen his / her work, and yet, when you now see it, you see the ‘influence’…the similarities?

Is he confronting the same questions? Is he seeing this incredibly complex and multi-layered world with the same desire to depict it as close to that complexity as possible?

I was taken aback. The aesthetic pursuit is so familiar. It is as if he is a step ahead of me. He is a step ahead of me.

I am going through these images–gorgeous, striking, unique, and no, I refuse to give you some ‘European’ reference to understand them in any way. They are Patwardhan’s and his alone. But I want to make them as photographs.

They are the photographs I would make if in Mumbai. It is beautiful stuff. It makes me want to go and make photographs.

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Make It Right For Palestine, November 4, 2017

Be there. Hyde Park. Speaker’s Corner. London. 12:00 noon. 4th November, 2017.

The Polis Project…Is Up And Running

If you can’t join them, then just do it on your own.

We launched a new collective focused on research, reportage and resistance. The specific goals and objectives are being developed as we speak, but the idea is a simple one: to collect under one banner a group of individuals from different fields – artists, writers, academics, photographers, intellectuals, poets and others, who are consistently working against the grain. In this time of collective conformity, and a media sycophancy to power and extremism, some of us felt the need to create a small space where people are still determined to refuse the agendas of political power, debilitating capitalism, nationalist extremism and neoliberal idiocy, and remain fools in their hearts, and idealists in their souls.

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Short Doc: “As If A Nightmare”;The Story Of Former Bagram Prisoner Abdul Haleem Saifullah


We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

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Short Doc: “Prisoner 1432” – The Story of Former Bagram Prisoner Amanatullah Ali


We are commemorating 9/11 this week, but by remembering the ‘other’ victims of that event that few chose to remember. These are the brown bodies that rarely make it into visual media projects, that since 9/11, have chosen to hide behind digital representations, data charts, and other visual forms that do a lot, but never permit us to see or hear the brown and black people who actually suffer the consequences of drone attacks, sweeping surveillance, targeted entrapment, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture and other forms of inhumanity that today liberal minds seem to be able to easily justify.

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10 Things To Consider…

I recommend that photographers, photojournalists, documentary photographers remember these wise words by Tania Canas, RISE Arts Director / Member – I am copying and pasting it here. As brown and black bodies are stripped of their clothing, as brown and black children are dehumanised to mere misery, as brown and black women are reduced to simply victims, as ghettos and brothels and refugee camps and slums become the ‘paint by number’ formula for White photographer’s career and publishing success, it becomes increasingly important that those of us on the receiving end of White ‘largesse’ begin to build obstacles, speak back, and refuse / reject these ‘representations’ and their reductive, violent and brutal narrative frames. We have lost too much, and are in danger of whatever little we have left as humans and as histories, if we permit this process to continue.

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