You Talking To Me? Or Amnesia As A Choice

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 08.07.47This 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’.

The silence of photojournalism, and the ease with which photographer’s works become tools of propaganda has always been one of the most troublesome issues for me. I find so many Magnum Photo photographers (correction: and those from other major agencies like NOOR, VII etc.) allowing their images to be part of overtly propagandist projects that skew our understanding of the world and use the images to do so. And whereas I realize that photographers can’t often speak back, what I find dismaying is that they do not speak out at all – whether on blogs, or seminars or talks, they never reveal the ways which they lost control of their works, or found them being used in ways they had not intended, or against their own understanding of the situation.

But, coming back to this MSNBC blitzkrieg of super design and information sophistication, what is striking is that at no point throughout this visual feast, do we ever learn that:

– An illegal invasion of Iraq perpetuated the first set of massive refugee flows, a war that continues today in a nation that is riven with violence, destruction and madness

– That Afghanistan after its ‘liberation’ have festered into a narco-state with thousands dying in that ongoing war and fleeing the madmen, warlords, war criminals that European and American money funds and supports

– That an illegal assault (NATO, USA) on Libya that soon followed created chaos and mayhem in the region.

–  That wars are being funded and supported in Yemen and in Syria

– That billions have been spent by NATO, France, USA, SA and others to extend the madness in Syria.

– Nothing about Chad, or Mali where French forces have waged war

There is nothing. No mention of how we perpetuate war with weapons, with economics, and with policies. No connection between the millions fleeing and dying across the globe, but instead, a complete white wash of our role in the chaos we unleashed under our bombers and ‘surgical strikes’, and with the funding of brutal criminals that continue to wine and dine with our leaders (Netanyahu, Sisi, any Saudi state goon and more), and continue to come and visit our fine cities.

All of this is absent. Here is the text the explains Syria as MSNBC sees it:

They [the refugees] turn away from ISIS in Iraq, civil war in Syria, and religious violence throughout the Middle East and North Africa. What they face in exchange is a wall of public anxiety, virulent populism and the threat of closed borders for thousands of miles.

Seriously? The refugee crisis began with ISIS? There is a civil war in Syria (strange, why are Russian, American, French, Iranian and Lebanese forces present there then, and where is all the money, weapons and ‘advisor’ coming from?), and religious violence? That last one – the Middle East is always about ‘religious’ war, never about our wars, was so specious and egregious that it made me weep. This is all so completely wrong and entirely ahistorical. It is so laughable a cleansing of history, that one wonders if anyone at MSNBC has even read a newspaper, let alone any books. Wait, this is MSNBC, so that question is moot!

But this is written to erase our citizen’s guilt, and to recreate us as ‘victims’ of injustices and humanitarian crisis that is occurring elsewhere. This is the classic ‘human rights’ approach, where causality, context, history and politics are erased entirely, and we only see the pathology of the body, the victim, the individual. It allows us – we whose nations carry out the wars, and the invasions, who elect the leaders who gloat about bombing campaigns and mass murder – to feel that we are ‘good’ people doing ‘good’ things. But we are not: we are the very evil that we believe exists out there. We just can’t face it.

MSNBC helps us hide it. Here is their take on what happened in Libya:

To tell the story of Libya’s escalating migration crisis, one must weave together the threads of instability left behind by a toppled dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, and the power vacuum filled by rivaling factions vying to take his place. The chaos allowed smuggling networks to thrive, suddenly opening up a lucrative market designed to profit off trading humans like other goods and commodities.

Wait, what? First, Libya has been a migration pathway for decades and this has nothing to do with the illegal, and entirely inhumane, assault by US / NATO forces on a sovereign nation. Anyone at Magnum can pull out or Raymond Depardon images that show you migrants in Libya, and that was back in the 1970s. This migration roots too have history. But ‘threads of instability’ is how MSNBC white wash the Western attack on Libya, and the cold blooded murder of its leader. As Hilary Clinton so disgustingly, in true war-criminal fashion, gloated ‘ We came. We saw. He died’. Guffaw. Guffaw.

MSNBC white washed that last 16 years of Western wars in the region, and repaints the entire situation as a flood of people arriving at good Europe’s door for reasons that are entirely alien and unrelated to Western political policies, war strategies, corporate greed, political goals, geo-political rivalries and more. None of these issues are allowed to stain what is a fluff piece of bullshit online journalism, supported by vivid images that help blind us to the lies we are fed here. But there is no doubt, it is lies that we are being fed here, and this is not news or journalism, but propaganda of the purest, most sophisticated form that permits Western citizens to continue to believe that no matter how many people we murder, nations we destroy, lives we cripple, and souls we consume, we are never to blame, nor did we ever have anything to do with the debris that washes up on our shores. And the only way to maintain this schizoid, mentally deranged state of awareness, is to be fed this sort of trash journalism and these sort of sophisticated and ‘awe inspiring’ graphics and visuals. Virtual reality helmets coming to your door real soon!


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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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