Don’t Look Back

You could say that this piece is about the present, and about the city as experienced by the photographer today. You could argue that one need not always resort to historical realities, or trace the threads of memory when the focus is in the here and now. But, the past is not dead. It’s not even past.  If I can quote a son of the South.

This is how you white-wash (so to say!) America’s cruel, brutal, racist history – write an entire piece about a Southern town, one that still celebrates its ‘civil war’ history, one that was once the center of Georgia’s cotton trade a.k.a. slave plantations and at the heart of America’s cotton trade – so powerfully, and painfully described in Walter Johnson’s River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom, and never once mention any of this definitive and critical history.  Details »

Scratching At My Skin

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“I have been stereotyped: my life and lived experiences negated by photo editors in the USA in particular. I am nothing but my ethnicity, a man from my country of my birth 42 years ago. My name marks me as a ‘Muslim’, my ethnicity marks me as a ‘South Asian’, my birth marks me for work within the confines of the geography of the country of my birth. My birth on an unexceptional day in Karachi nearly 42 years ago was of greater interest and relevance than the nearly 18 years I spent studying, working, learning, and becoming in the United States of America (a country of which I am a citizen). I am the ‘Pakistani’ photographer and never allowed to be anything else, or asked to be elsewhere.”

I wrote this back in 2009. It came after my frustration at being told by a Time Magazine editor that she had no interest in giving me assignments in the USA (where I was based and traveling through), because I had no ‘competitive advantage’ in the USA. In Pakistan, where I had last lived over twenty years ago, I spoke the language and knew the culture. But when I reminded her that I also knew the American language, and had in fact lived in the USA for over twenty years, she wasn’t impressed. I never worked for the editor again.

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The Long Arms Of Islamohysteria™

The [New York Times] article attempts to provide insight into how modern-day racists negotiate the contemporary racial terrain. But this is hard to do, given that the Times along with other establishment media outlets are a crucial part of that terrain.

Take the article’s observations about America’s shifting racial scapegoats. Confessore writes:

“While open racism against blacks remains among the most powerful taboos in American politics, Americans feel more free expressing worries about illegal immigrants and dislike of Islam, survey research shows.”

But why is it that white Americans feel more free to express Islamophobia and xenophobia than anti-black bigotry? Surely this has much to do with the fact that in recent years powerful media outlets have done much to legitimize the former biases.

FAIR Blog, “NYT Looks at the Political Exploitation of White Supremacism–but Not Too Hard”, July 14, 2016

To say that the New York Times these days is into Islamohysteria™ would not be an under-statement. Islamohysteria™ is a little known area of academic study, but one that has a long pedigree and reams of evidence. It is the habit of taking a handful of statements by officials, intelligence operatives, neo-conservative pundits and government provided ‘defectors’ and ‘informers’, and producing articles that use words like ‘global’, ‘nuclear’, ‘mushroom cloud’ and more. The New York Times has offered a masterclass in manufacturing Islamohysteria™, relentlessly publishing poorly investigated, anonymous and state / intelligence sourced articles that pretend to be journalism, but are really little more than stenography.

And where  once the likes of Judith Miller would run around the globe interviewing officials, defectors and intelligence operatives, and simply regurgitate their claims and statements as facts, and then construct wild and fantastic fantasies of global domination and nuclear annihilation by our enemies, we seem to have found a new set of recruits that are experts at the same game. There was Carlotta Gall of course, and David Sanger of the infamous ‘nuclear triggers for Osama Bin Ladin’ lie, Mark Mazzetti with his insider notes sent directly to the CIA to reveal what his colleague was about to file, or the shameless way New York Times Michael Gordon met with the State Department to ask for their help to ‘vet’ the Iraq Logs or completely bury them that were about to be published. There is a long, long history of sordid collusion with powerful state and intelligence actors here to 1) spread lies, 2) concoct evidence, 3) spread fear ad hysteria, and 4) manufacture enemies particularly ‘Islamic’ one. Details »

Helping Us Absorb The Shock Of Reality

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Raymond Williams work ‘Keywords’ is perhaps one of the great pioneering cultural studies text of our lifetime. There are not many works that can claim that. In it, Williams pointed out that the meaning and use of words is deeply influenced by and changes with our political, social and economic situations and needs. As Williams himself argued in the book:

“…[T]he air of massive impersonality which the Oxford Dictionary communicates is not so impersonal, so purely scholarly, or so free of active social and political values as might be supposed from its occasional use.”

Words matter. And how, when and who uses them matters profoundly. When it is a word used by Western media, one deeply implicated in upholding corporate, political and military interests, we should always keep Williams insight in mind. Hence, it is irresponsible, if not disingenuous, of any writing by a media critic or commentator when writing about the American / Western media (broadcast, print, digital, radio) to not acknowledge the existence of this political and corporate influence, and the ways in which it influences so much of what is shown and spoken about. It is also disingenuous not to acknowledged that using and manipulating the media today is a crucial goal of any political administration anywhere in the world. The reach and access of media is greater today than ever before, and its influence on opinions and ideas second only to the Church. Perhaps more so, but I do not wish to blaspheme. Hence, I am repeatedly dismayed at the persistent and consistent eraser by media critics and analysts of American and European journalism’s close relationship to political and corporate power. (Le Monde Diplomatique is an exception, reporting repeatedly on this close collaboration when it comes to French media.) So much has been written about this to be self-evident, but it is intentionally pushed aside in discussions about how news get produced, published, disseminated and discussed. From corporate and private ownership of major newspapers, to political influence and collusion with journalists and editors, we know well today how closely our media has become a propaganda machine.

So when I came across this essay titled “Should News Outlets Show Photographs of Terrorists?” by Fred Ritchen – a former photo editor at The New York Times and now a teacher at the International Center for Photography in New York, I was left confused by many of its positions. Details »

Still Speaking For The Others, But At Least Doing It Honestly

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I remember Ben Ehrenreich. He was the writer who wrote perhaps one of the best pieces about the Palestinian resistance struggle in the town of Bilin in the West Bank against Israel’s hideous and inhumane apartheid wall. He was also the guy I quoted in a piece I wrote on Western photojournalism’s obsessive Eurocentricism when it comes to reporting on Brown and Black societies. It was in the context of speaking about the need for ‘White’ interlocutors that I quoted Ehrenreich, and wrote:

“The West’s desperation for ‘white’ interlocutors and the silence of the other – was very strongly bought to the fore by Ben Ehrenreich of The New York Times, the writer of a powerful and rather unusual for the magazine, piece of reportage on the Palestinian resistance to Israeli military rule and occupation in the West Bank. The article, This Is Where The Third Intifada Will Start was a powerful piece and rare in the voices of the Palestinians it allowed to come through. In an interview he gave afterwards he was asked a very pertinent and powerful question which touched on this very issue – the constant representation of the other by an European – and his response was powerful and clear. The question that was posed to him was this:

Let’s talk about the Jewish narrator. In 2006 the Times published a very important essay by Tony Judt in support of Walt and Mearsheimer’s LRB piece on the Israel lobby, and Judt later said that they asked him to insert in there, I’m Jewish. Judt told the story because he knew that Jews were privileged, and that the Times needed to send this signal to its readers. As the NYRB does by publishing David Shulman when it’s critical of Israel, as the New Yorker does when David Remnick is the authority. As Mondoweiss does by stating, we’re a progressive Jewish site at root. As JVP does. It’s a racket, we’re all in on it, and my question is, When do Palestinians get to hold the microphone. Aren’t you and I to blame too? Because if they were holding the microphone, a basic human rights issue like the right to resist that is so core to your piece would have been noncontroversial many many years ago. As it is, Americans have to warm up to the idea, and a Jew has to bring them this news. Comment?

And Ehrenreich’s response was unequivocal and clear. He responded:

I’m glad you asked that question, and yeah, it’s super-problematic. It’s a specific instance of a bigger problem, that black and brown people’s stories can generally only be told in this society via the authority of a white narrator, that we–white people, in this case of Jewish ancestry–are tasked with the representation of black and brown and in this case Palestinian people, who in this dynamic are stuck in the passive role of being represented and are not allowed to interpret their own realities. So certainly we are complicit, and I don’t see any way out of that complicity except to use what privilege I have to tell stories that tear holes in the broader narratives which allow this arrangement to continue. And to do so with scrupulous attention to my own role in it, to the power differentials at play. (My emphasis)”

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A Rainbow Prohibition

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It is striking how in this entire piece about a lack of diversity in mainstream Western / European photojournalism, the idea ‘lack of representation’ is defined only as ethnic, nationalist, or gender. What is completely left out is politics. That is, the idea of a diversity of political views and perspectives that face, criticize, and dissent against the mainstream European / Western mainstream liberal discourse. And by not acknowledging the ‘manufacturing of consent’ element of mainstream Western media – a fact that has now been written about in countless books, articles and blog sites, it falls prey to simple, and yet again, ‘liberal’ ideas about what ‘diversity’ means and ought to be.

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Clueless Liberalism

France political and security responses are a good case study of how popular Islamophobia spreads in a nation. If the State acts in such a targeted, and sweeping fashion, and its spokes persons define so clearly and explicitly the ‘enemy’ they are going after, the citizenry can’t really be expected to remain immune from its constructions and framing of how to evaluate and judge a situation, and whom to blame for it. So when the state so publicly demonstrates its resolve, so to speak, and the ordinary, over-worked and under-engaged citizen watches all this, it isn’t all too surprising that the pathology spreads.

“Backed by the new powers, authorities have carried out about 3,400 raids on mosques, homes, and businesses with more than 300 people placed under house arrest.”

Of course, add to this the near daily media discourse and framing of wars in various countries where the construction of the ‘enemy’ is almost always on religious or cultural grounds, with all political and historical facts and legacies distorted and modified to create further evidence of ‘the enemies’ deviant and inhuman thought process and strategies.

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The Troubles With History

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Keep this paragraph in mind the next time you see a ‘great’ story about Honduras in National Geographic, or Time or The New York Times, because it will not be included in it:

“Instead of condemning the figures behind the uprising, suspending support to the illegitimate government of Zelaya’s successor, Roberto Micheletti, and demanding a restoration of the democratically elected Zelaya, Secretary Clinton decided to move on. In her memoir “Hard Choices,” Clinton wrote that after the coup, she went about hatching a plan with other leaders in the region “to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.” The United States pushed for elections, and in November 2009, despite a boycott by opposition leaders and international observers, elections were orchestrated by the same figures behind Zelaya’s ouster.

Since the coup, violence and assassinations, as well as persecutions of journalists and social justice advocates, have skyrocketed in Honduras. Last week’s high-profile murder of the Goldman prize-winning indigenous leader and environmental activist Berta Caceres is yet another tragic example of the abhorrent human rights record in Honduras under the government that came to power via the 2009 coup. Between 2010 and 2014, 101 environmental activists have been killed in Honduras, according to Global Witness. Clinton’s camp has said that allegations about her role in the 2009 coup are “nonsense.”

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Are We Winning Yet?

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It was just a little over a month ago that ‘important’ journalists were telling us that ‘Pakistan is winning the War against Terrorism’? There was this:

against which I had argued, among other points:

This narrative of ‘good’ mass murder (our Army’s) vs. ‘bad’ mass murder can’t fly. To even use the phrase ‘war on terror’ is a problem because it imposes a foreign framework of thought on what are regional – politically, historically, conflagrations and require local resolutions. You can’t kill a people’s discontent, you can’t repress political voices. Egypt tried this and has failed. The Army is not winning anything other than a war to coerce media messages – such as this piece clearly published in an American mag to satisfy our American patrons, but anyone who works on the ground knows and sees a people’s anger. It is this anger that requires this repressive apparatus against media and criticism. Our journalist are killed or quit and the army launches a massive PR campaign. Anyone who has spent a day in Quetta, or tried to speak to people anywhere near the FATA areas, knows about the massive human rights and common moral and ethical violations that are the footprint of our ‘brave’ military and its generals. What is taking place is mass murder of Pakistani citizens by its own military establishment, which uses selectively murdered ‘bad’ religious types to veil its other larger acts of criminality and violence. From Swat to Baluchistan, what is being sown will soon be reaped.”

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Erasures Of Habit

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Estrin writes an entire piece about ‘domestic violence’ i.e. violence of men against women, without ever once touching, suggesting, implying or overtly labeling this predominantly Christian, and vehemently Christian nation, for having a barbaric, backward, misogynist and anti-modern religion! Here, suddenly, it is ‘patriarchy’ that is to fault, as if ‘patriarchy’ isn’t indicted in faith and its hierarchies of power, interpretation and sanction!

No investigation of the passages of the Bible? No excavation of obscure and ancient quotes of Priests to justify? No bizarre and ahistorical constructions of social history that find an act from the 1st century AD Christian community and draw a straight line from there, to today? No suggestion that Christians and Christianity is incompatible with he tenets of modernity? No calls for a Reformation among the Armenians? No outrage at the ‘horror that women suffer’ under the tutelage of the Bible?

Odd.

Here are all the fashionable categories that the West loves to apply to the exotic ‘other’ – “honor killings”, “dowry death”, and what not, could be found, but of course are never suggested. Here, the faith becomes invisible, and suddenly ‘cultural’ structures are being sought, and of course, Christian realities entirely erased. The double standards are amusing to see. Inderpal Grewal’s fabulous essay ‘Outsourcing Patriarchy: Feminist Encounters: Transnational Mediations and the Crime of ‘Honor Killings’  could have been written in response to this piece alone. Or, you can also read a post I wrote earlier about this habit of manufacturing a ‘unique’ ‘Muslim/Islamic’ criminality here.

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