Not Our Men

I came across this piece in the news today, and once again, what immediately struck me was the fact that the piece was speaking about close male relative violence agains women, and yet never once does the writer refer to these acts of violence as an ‘honour killing’? In fact, no quotes or statements from a representative of an international NGO, or a feminist or even a ‘concerned’ artist, is offered to suggest that there is a unique pathology among Spanish men that is pushing them to attack and kill their women because of an insult to their ‘honour’ or their patriarchy as their pathology. 

In fact, this habit of displacing patriarchy to the ‘Muslim’, has generated wealth and fame for many in South Asia, so much so that any and all attempts to remind people of the Orientalist lineages of the term, and the racial nature of its application, are often met with disdain and mockery. But the fact remains that there is a massive industry – from NGOs, to artists to writers, pandering to the Orientalist and racist categorisation of crimes against women by Muslim men as ‘honour killings’, while remaining quiet or dismissive of attaching the same label to other regions of the globe where close-relative based violence against women remains large and growing. It is an industry facilitated by easy media narratives, and by easy framing of Arabs and Muslims are uniquely misogynist – something one sees in the discourse and discussions of so many expatriate and ‘recently arrived’ college academic / researchers who within days are confident about ‘explaining’ the looks, cat-calls and flirting of Arab men as cultural deviance and violent misogyny. For as long as they are the Arab men they are not interested in meeting of course.

As Inderpal Grewal has argued – in her paper ‘Outsourcing Patriarchy’, that the use of this term, and the campaigns that rise up around it (including pressure on governments to create laws against it), happens

… through gendered orientalisms, cognizant of the tensions in ‘global feminist’ project’s use of the idea of masculinity to analyse some areas of the world (see Sinha 1999) and patriarchy to describe others (Pulkki- nen 2009). Some cultures are understood solely through patriarchy while others are seen to have outgrown it. This reflects a belief that Tuija Pulkinnen (2009) recognizes in scholars as diverse as Carole Patemen and Jacques Derrida that modernity involves a move from ‘undemocratic patriarchy to democratic brotherhood’…the concept of patriarchy has been outsourced from the USA and Europe to do its messy work elsewhere. Such outsourcing requires that many in the USA believe that patriarchy no longer exists, or that if it does, it is limited to zones that are believed to be anachronistic to the rest of the country. Outsourcing as metaphor indexes the partici-pation of corporate and transnational media in this process, and the value and profits that are extracted from such narratives of difference and a ‘patriarchy elsewhere’.

In particular, she identifies how ideas of ‘the modern’ and ‘the unchanging’ – a hang over from Orientalist depictions of Arab / Muslim societies, continues to inform this issue:

Thus ‘modern man’ is not motivated by something called ‘honour’, and patriarchal violence becomes, by definition, behaviour of the ‘other’ and the violence of the ‘self’ society is understood as random or otherwise motivated (Fabian 2002).

This is especially true in anthropological work on the Middle East (e.g. Mernissi 1982; Warnock 1990). Even feminist work seems concerned with how patriarchy serves as a cause of ‘honour killings’, but not with how crimes come to be understood as ‘honour killings’. For example, Lama Abu- Odeh (2000) argues that the notion of purity organizes honour society and that violence is seen as protection in such contexts. Diane King (2008) suggests that patrilineage and reproductive sovereignty is an explanation of honour killings in Kurdistan. In these analyses, the term ‘honour’ seems to have become sutured to a ‘crime of culture’.

In this work, honour is not used in any other way than to refer to or explain a crime, although it more suggests the cause of the crime. In this way, ‘honour killings’ refer not simply to a cause of death, but also to the cause as the work of a patriarchy. The term ‘honour killing’ enables the articulation of this patriarchy in some sites, locations and communities but not in others – the term sticks to a crime by certain bodies against other bodies. It seems to have little explanatory value for societies seen as ‘western’ but a great deal of meaning is produced if the concept is yoked to Middle East or South Asian bodies and groups.

Or I have argued in an earlier post on The Spinning Head (see:…/25/our-honor-but-their-passion/)

We are today seeing many people being celebrated for their stand against ‘honor crimes’, but these people are guilty of over-determining this category, and of creating something that otherwise does not exist. That is, of manufacturing a ‘unique pathology’ associated with an Orientalist reading of our societies that suggests that an unusual, specific, unique reason for violence against women is to be found in places Muslims / Islamic. It manufactures an entire industry – from NGOs to popular cultural works, the embeds these distinctions, and erases our shared realities with other societies and worlds. By echoing the prejudice, they confirm and affirm prejudices, and isolate it from broader realities. It also distracts us from taking meaningful action against these crimes, and acts of violence, compelling NGO workers and do-gooder upper-class liberals, to search for answers in religion, or poverty, or culture while erasing the need to question and unravel socioeconomic structures (issues of property and land ownership, inheritance, reallocation, etc.) that the elite are themselves are a part of, benefit from, and that create this space for violence against women, the need to ‘control’ them or pass them around as commercial tokens.

In fact, even a brief perusal of recent stories reveals how stories of violence against women in other parts of the world are framed – as ‘crimes of passion’ or simply as ‘domestic violence’. Note how ‘domestic’ violence avoids placing the concept of honour on the men of the house – husband, father, son for as long as they are not Arab or Muslim. This was how O.J. Simpson’s murder of his wife – an act of jealous rage and resentment, was framed too. But never as an ‘honour killing’, because they are ‘modern’ men, while the Arabs are unchangingly medieval and locked in their ‘anti-modern’ outlook defined by something called Islam and their culture. Here is a ‘crime of passion’ explanation:

Here is another example of a terrifyingly misogynist society that yet again – perhaps because of its complete and absolute surrender to the capitalist mode of life, entirely gets a pass.

There are no calls, or campaigns at the United Nations, or at any international human rights NGO or even photojournalists collectives or art organisations, speaking and demanding that we ‘speak out’ against violence against women in Europe and the USA. Or Japan. This despite the growing levels of violence that women in countries facing severe economic and social fragmentation. There are out outraged voices at celebrity events, or any Hollywood starlet determined to ‘save them from their men’. Now why is that?

We need to look at the structural and historical roots of this violence – a pathology that affects every nation around the globe, and that is instigated by a host of reasons. And yet, simple and simplifying discourses around violence against women in Muslim countries – particularly in South Asia, continue to be framed around racial categories and understandings, and too many in South Asia – writers, journalists, film makers, photographers, NGO workers etc. thrive off this racist discourse.

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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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