How Not To Be A Pakistani Liberal

We have become accustomed to certain ways of seeing and speaking about the world. The Pakistani liberal – a caste that has been educated and nurtured on Western educational, political and cultural ideologies as absorbed during years abroad at college, or careers, and through popular Western visual and literary media (fiction, non-fiction books), offers a particularly stark lesson in how certain forms of speaking, expressing and justifying arguments remain unchanged by thought, critical inquiry or self-doubt. The thoughtless regurgitation of European universalism, exceptionalism, and social sophistication  – all of which mind you are as much myths as anything, is an excellent example of this.

I was reminded of this as I took a few minutes to watch this presentation by the celebrity liberal Professor Pervaiz Hoodbhoy, famous for his much lauded anti-nuclear proliferation arguments, and his relentless critique (justified and well argued) of the decimation of critical inquiry and genuine research at Pakistani universities. Professor Hoodbhoy has been an eloquent and powerful voice speaking out against the decline of educational standards. But Professor Hoodbhoy also represents that small elite in Pakistani society who have – whether by chance or by cultivation, become the principal translators of the political and social trends in the country for most foreign journalists, and visitors alike. As a result, he has often been able to speak and express views on matters as far reaching as geopolitics, domestic politics, the global war on terror, ‘Islamic’ radicalism and fundamentalism and more. There are in fact a handful of select Pakistanis – Ahmed Rashid, Mohsin Hamid and some others, who are invited to offer their opinions and views on a range of topics, and help the world, particularly the Euro-American world, make sense of the mystery that is Pakistan. So be it. These are intelligent, creative and sophisticated men (and some women), and deserve their audience and their role. For the most part.

And so, unsurprisingly, Professor Hoodbhoy was invited to give this talk, one of many I am sure, and I found it rather compelling in the vivid and obviously inadvertent way it reflected so many of the problematic foundations of Pakistani liberal arguments and justifications for their criticism. Though short, it is a good example of the ways in which post-colonial intellectuals and others, undermine their own credibility by hanging on to an fantastic and fantasy idea of The West, create false and misleading comparisons, and judge any and all social, political or other phenomenon that does not match its Western model is less or deviant. Or in need of ‘reform’.

And so, I decided to pen a letter to the esteemed professor (not a real letter, juts a simulated one of course. Who writes real letters these days?)

Dear Professor Hoodbhoy;

I would like to congratulate you on your wonderful Constitution. I am sorry that I am 250 years late, but some things cannot be avoided. They are so wonderful, these statements of your constitution that…but this I found outstanding: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Not all countries of the world have such marvelous constitutions [emphasis mine]. (Spoken at 3:48)

It was with great surprise to listen to your recent talk and learn that you are a great fan and admirer of the American constitution. I did not expect you to open you talk not only quoting Thomas Jefferson (We hold these truths to be….etc. etc.), but also using words such as ‘wonderful’ and ‘outstanding’ to describe it. It was particularly galling to then learn that you used these lines to not only set us the USA as a bastion of democratic liberty, equality and justice, and as a foil for your argument about Pakistan, and its failures to find liberty, equality and justice.

I would like to point out that the man you quoted was a slave owner, and a rapist of his slaves. I would like to point out that ‘men’ as referred in the American constitution, refers only to White males, and not the hundreds of thousands of African slaves, women, Chinese and others who were considered unworthy of such ‘equality, justice and liberty’. I would like to remind you that it was only yesterday that Martin Luther King Jr. was on the streets of this country still fighting – decades after the abolition of slavery, and decades into the Jim Crow laws, for a modicum of human equality in America. I would also like to point out to you that at this very moment, this nation who’s constitution you lovingly quoted and then held up as a measure of all this ‘equal’ and ‘just’ is: 1) a nation that has the world’s largest percentage of its population in prison, 2) the highest number of Black prisoners anywhere, 3) is seeing a rise in Islamophobic violence and racism, 4) has White supremacists in political power, 4) has, since 2003, attacked sever sovereign nations, all of them illegally),5) is an occupying colonial power in at least three of these nations (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya), 6) continues to use extra-judicial detention, rendition and torture practices in collaboration with other nation states like Egypt, 7) has deep seated practices of racism in its corporate and political sectors. And this is just the highlights.

Israel does not have a constitution. But that is because the secularists in Israel and the religious people couldn’t come to an agreement as to what should constitute the Constitutional document for Israel and so they have let things flow, effectively privileging the Jew over the non-Jew. (Spoken at 5:41)

I would also like to point out that your mealy-mouthed explanation of the Zionist project as something that ‘just happened to privilege the Jew over the non-Jew’ because the ‘secularist’ and the ‘religious’ could not ‘agree’ to a constitution, is perhaps one of the worst white-wash of Zionist colonial aims, agendas and objectives I have ever heard. It is as if the entire history of the creation of Israel as a project funded, armed and supported by colonial powers, and a powerful European Zionist collective, has become the racist, apartheid state that it is because of an ‘administrative’ mistake instead of the specifically colonial aim that it was. And remains. The Israeli refusal to enact a Constitution is at par with the nation’s refusal to define it’s border i.e that it is and has been since its official birth, a nation still in the making through conquest and ethnic cleansing. The Zionists and the settlers who defined its storm-troopers were determined to not define its legal, geographic and political limits, while clearly defining through discriminatory and segregationist practices, its exclusively Jewish character.

And that is a little sad, because humanity had made enormous gains at the time of the European Enlightenment. In fact, the authors of your constitution were men like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin…and they were inspired by men like Rousseau, like Diderot and they brought to the United States these wonderful ideas of equality, of fraternity, the ideals of the French Revolution, the ideals of the Enlightenment. (Spoken at 7:53)

And it is bizarre that you would – in this day and age of Lusardo and others, you would refer to the The Enlightenment. That you would refer to Rousseau, or Diderot as if they were universalists & universal humanists instead of the White supremacists with deeply racist conceptions of the world, and deep seated commitment to the higher worth of the European, and that the Enlightenment only applied to the White European. Domenico Lusardo’s brilliant Liberalism: A Counter History seems an essential read:

I am surprised that you have not noticed the close relationship with the Enlightenment and the emergence of ‘The Jewish Question’ – the instance when an European people are ‘Othered’ and separated from European society as ideas Aryan and Semitic races are concocted, or that Orientalism – the other side of the coin of Semitism, emerges at the same time, or that colonialism finally takes it big move outwards at precisely this same time. Perhaps Aamer Mufti’s Enlightenment in the Colony would be a helpful read:

This is The Enlightenment that accepted and accommodated the global African slave trade, the genocidal wars in Africa, South East Asia and Latin America, colonialism, eugenics, race theory, capitalist profit as an over-arching rationality, the mass slaughters of the ‘rational’ WW I and WW II. And so, I am surprised that you would continue to speak so reverentially of these White Europeans, never once stopping to understand that your reverence for them explains their indifference and denigration of you. For it is our greatest failure as post-colonials: an unquestioning and unthinking respect, veneration and exaggeration of all things Western, and a thoughtless refusal or inability (i am not sure which), to challenge and question the actual lived lineages and epistemologies of Western liberal myths and social pretensions.

And then, year before last I lost a very dear friend. She was in Karachi…the last time that I saw her was when we were together protesting against the head of the Red Mosque in Islamabad. We do not know why she was targeted. But she was somebody who believed that Valentine’s Day should be celebrated.

You are obviously speaking about Sabeen Mahmud, shot outside the T2F cafe in Karahi in 2015. Dr. Hoodhoy, whereas I understand your need to define her ‘secular’ credentials, and I also understand how desperate we are to demonstrate that we who can be related to, and can be mourned, must only be ‘secular’ in the Western sense of the word, I would like to point out that Valentine’s Day is a religious holiday, which originated as a Western Christian liturgical feast day honouring one or more early saints named Valentinus? To use this example of her ‘secular’ credentials – and yet again kowtow to Western sensibility, was quite pathetic to listen to. To offer it to Americans as a sign of a Pakistani who wanted to be ‘freer’ or ‘more modern’, is really a sad act of fawning and flattery. It is unnecessary. Dare I remind you, that the extra-judicial killing of any Pakistani citizen – whether secular, as you see them, or religious, or religiously fanatic, and whether at the hands of the Pakistani State (which has killed tens of thousands), or some demented religious idiot, are equally condemnable. I am sure you will disagree, but I insist on it. It is precisely these judgements of ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ lives that are made in the corridors of imperial power, and lives extinguished without care or concern for justice, humanity, civility, and equality, almost always excused on the grounds that the people killed were ‘terrorists’ aka Muslims of a bit-too-uncomfortable-Islamic leaning.

First, let me tell you what has changed in my part of the world. Because you see, as we look for the origins of ‘terrorism’ we have to see that the reasons are different in different places, but that there is also a commonality and that if one is to apportion guilt, then in fact, we are all at different levels guilty. So let me begin by telling you how ‘terrorism’ came to my country, and how extremism became the order of the day…It was 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and this was the time when three countries – Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United states joined together to create the first Global Jihad of history. (Spoken at 13:30)

This is not worthy of a high school class. This simplistic, comic book rendition of a complex political and imperial history is embarrassing to listen to. And i can see your fear: your fear of speaking truth to your American audience. It is a lie that the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet union was the first ‘global jihad’ aided and abetted by the Americans. In fact, it is a well known fact that the Americans had worked closely with fundamentalist Islamic political and militant groups from the 1950s onwards – in Indonesia (massacre of Chinese), in Egypt (collaborations and support for the Muslim Brotherhood against perceived Socialist leadership), in Pakistan in the 1950 (leading to Manto’s cynical letters to Uncle Sam) and far more. There are some really good histories to read about this if you are interested:

Ian Johnson’s ‘A Mosque in Munich’ or Robert Dreyfus’ ‘Devil’s Game: How The US Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam’ or Robert Vitalis ‘America’s Kingdom: Myth making on the Saudi Oil Frontier’ to name just a few. Or perhaps Steve Coll’s ‘Ghost Wars’ a book I am sure you have read, will help you remember again.

And yet you will not say it – you will hid the rise of this movement, its logistics and its funding, by blaming it on the Soviet invasion, thus avoiding saying ‘The Americans were at the core of this, and it reflected decades of American policy to support, arm and support fundamentalist Islamic militant groups against progressive / Communist voices in countries across the globe.’. Afghanistan was a culmination of something decades in the making. It was not the first. It was the largest indeed, the most sophisticated, sure, but it was not the first. It’s an ugly history, but it is American history and your American hosts need to hear it.

But lets be more specific: the rise of religious fundamentalism or ‘extremism’ in Pakistan is intrinsically connected to the killing, torturing, imprisoning or exiling progressive / Communist voices in Pakistan and leaving the national and political space open to religious fundamentalist voices. Saadia Toor’s ‘State of Islam’ would help you remember this recent history. We are in the dire condition that we are, because we killed the progressive the American’s so gleefully asked us to kill. As a praetorian guard state, Pakistan has been at the beck and call of American imperial interests since the 1950s. Why would you not just say that?

It is also extremely strange of you to claim that you do not understand the rise of ‘populism’ in America, or elsewhere. But would it not help you to just connect the neoliberal dots across the globe and realise, as Gramsci pointed out to you, that a charismatic figure emerges where the elite lose faith in existing political arrangements because they no longer serve their self-serving interests and move to completely transform them? You can speak about inequality, but you cannot speak about inequality without speaking about neoliberalism, about its sister of globalisation, and its father of capitalism. You can wonder why there is so much poverty in America, but you can only do so by remaining ignorant its very recent destruction of the welfare state, the erasure of public services and social protections, its labor rights and benefits.

I am also disappointed that you never made the connection between what you call ‘primitivism’ (when you speak about religious or national revivalism), without pointing out its intrinsic connection to the nation state, and nationalism. That you would ignore the close relationship between sectarianism and the nation state, and how minorities become targets because of the secular state. Aamer Mufti (“Enlightenment in the Colonies”), Saba Mahmood (“Religious Difference In A Secular Age”, Joseph Massad (“Islam in Liberalism”) are only some of the people who have written about all this.


And yet here you are referring to out-dated concepts such as ‘the selfish gene’, or about how the Enlightenment was about the equality of all (which it wasn’t – it was only and always about the equality of all White people. If you don’t believe me just read what Grotius, the man who wrote the principals of just war.)

This is a terribly out-dated speech, based on cliched ideas that have long been surrendered and discredited. We are Dr Hoodbhoy, at a moment of powerful decolonising push back – in academia, in journalism, in art and media, in popular culture and in national understanding. Sadly your entire speech trapped us back into old ideas. And yet, your entire speech was a celebration of Western exceptionalism and superiority. Quite unnecessary. Pakistan deserves much criticism, and there are serious issues to discuss about the country. But they certainly do not require an exercise in Western myth-making, something the West is very good at itself. In fact, I would argue that this desire to appease the West, to speak in its terms and frames of reference, to fall prey to the false promises of ‘modernist development’ or what has been called ‘the development imaginary’ – an imaginary that kills real imagination, justifies the slaughter of national citizens, and ensure the impoverishment of the majority (see Keguro Macharia explication of this phenomenon in his piece The Development Imaginary: Tracks*is a core reason why we are in the traps and messes that we as a nation are. Our inability to not only see the materialist and concrete sources of our predicament, our inability to speak to the forces that limit our possibilities to think. And nothing limits it more than false ideas of Western exceptionalism and fantastic achievement. In fact, a more sober assessment of the failures of Western civilisation (racism, colonialism, massive environmental damage as a result of unchecked consumerism and capitalism industrialisation, genocidal wars, despotism that they call ‘democracy’, discriminatory laws, cruel incarceration practices, violent and brutal policing and control, unchecked destruction of the natural habitat, war making and slaughter, misogyny and more) would go far to helping us see the struggles that are inevitable in all societies and that none offer a more unique or better way forward. Certainly none offers the fantastic ideals that they claim to offer.

We are at a critical decolonising moment in history. It was a moment we missed at the time of our independence, and in the retreat of colonialist forces. Then, as your friend Eqbal Ahmed often argued, and as Franz Fanon originally reminded us, we fell prey to the ideas and prejudices of the very masters we had ejected, reducing out ideals of freedom to an elite power grab of existing political, economic and social privileges under the banner of national liberation. But the past is not the past, but is as another American once said, always still with us. To get a grasp of Pakistan, to make sense of its current struggles and predicaments, we need to speak not just honestly about the reasons for it, but also about the powerful forces that influence it. Indeed, we are much to blame for what has befallen us, but we are not alone on this dire dance floor. We have a partner, if not many partners, and we are dancing a blood stained waltz who’s movements cannot be separated from the orchestra that accompanies it.

Sincerely

Asim Rafiqui

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Photographs Are No Longer Enough

So, here is a Masterclass in photojournalism, particularly for European photojournalists producing works on immigration, refugees and Africa. It is a Masterclass in how not to work as a photographer / photojournalist working on stories of immigration, refugees and the European fear of 'the Other'.

This article – written by some hack writer and with an epistemology embedded deep inside the brain trust of NGO-think – is perhaps the single finest learning tool I have come across in a very long time. And I am not just saying that.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/05/saving-senegal-sons-vanishing-european-seas-170530065009710.html

This is an article about immigrants, about Africa and her poverty, about 'women's empowerment', about European assistance to help African women 'develop' and become 'empowered', about populist ideas of 'humanity' and what not. It is a cliche-ridden piece around which one could construct an entire Graduate School seminar.

And here is why this is a Masterclass.

Point One: The perspective, and POV of the piece of 'the human'. Specifically, it is the individual. This is typical of how typical photojournalists want to work – you focus on an empathetic subject, you find a 'good victim', and you place yourself as the mediator / medium through which their stories will be bought to the White European world. Mind you, this latter point is critical – so many 'concerned' photographers are entirely beholden to the view that the core audience, the critical agency of action and ideas, lies in the European markets. Of course, they are inadvertently acknowledging that their idea of 'agency' happens to be the paying pages of an European publication. They have no interest in the agency of the very people they are documenting. They are 'giving voice to the voiceless', and hence silencing the local communities and erasing their agency. These photojournalists come to serve what Allan Sekula has called 'liberal ideology's false humanism, while denying the fact that information too has been mobilised.' (Steichen At War, by Allan Sekula). The individual as the starting point permits a downgrading of the structural, and also absolves the photojournalist from broader inquiry, and from making critical connections between economics, and politics, and how these create realities within which people operate and surive and thrive. Or die.

Two: An European NGO is highlighted as entering the fray, and helping 'the women'. Its always the women. The White man's generosity and concern, his love of 'the women' move to have him act to help these hapless mothers. So the NGO – we are told that "Yayi has just returned from Morocco, where she received an award from a Swiss NGO, Crans-Montana Forum, for her work in the community." But what is this organisation that we are talking about? That is not looked at. But a simple search of their website reveals it to be a forum and 'action group' comprised of the views and perspectives of some the most rigid, fanatical, fascist, imperialist and neoliberal European political leaders of the last 40 yeas! The Crans-Montana Forum boasts that it is “Committed to a more Humane and Impartial World” and encourages international cooperation and overall growth." i.e. embedded in this faux humanist language is that fascist word 'growth'. The forum boasts participation and 'encouragement' from such 'luminaries' as Peres, Holbrook, Chernomyrdin, Rabin, A. Juppe, and many many more – a veritable list of powerful, elite, political and establishment figures who. This forum apparently gave a few 'dimes' to Yahi. But here is the catch…

Three: Right there, all over the article, is simple and direct evidence of how the causes of the loss of Senegal's sons lie firmly in the trade policies that the EU has 'won' from collaborative Senegalese governments. That is, the reason why millions are leaving Senegal and heading to European shores – shores that are now highly militarised and brutal, is because of Europe's desperate hunger for fish, and the trade arrangements that have destroyed the livelihoods of millions. These unjust, unequal and insane trade agreements, ones that the EU can impose onto weaker nations, are the single largest driver of immigrants heading towards the very militarised borders where they eventually are imprisoned, tortured, brutalised or killed. Its right there in the article e.g.

"According to the World Bank, only one in five people work full time in Senegal and 20 percent of the country's five million labour force is jobless.

"There is no work for young people any more. You can imagine how they see things. They say: our sea has been sold," says Yayi referring to overfishing practised by industrial trawlers from Europe, China and Japan.

Although President Macky Sall criticised these practices when he came to power in 2012 and briefly put a stop to it, new fishing agreements have been signed between the Senegalese government and the EU for the 2014-2019 period.

It enables the EU to fish for 14,000 tonnes of fish a year in Senegalese waters in exchange for 15 million euros ($16.75 million) in compensation."

These criminally unjust and exploitative trade deals are destroying local economies and undermining local governance. And if you think this is a 'sovereign' arrangement between a Senegalese government and the EU, then you are again wrong. Deeply indebted states like Senegal are beholden to International Financial Institutions and unable to make critical social and political policy decisions without prioritising the interests of the lenders. This is a simple fact that has been documented repeated by the likes of Wendy Brown, Saskia Sassen, Joseph Steiglitz and even Jeffery Sachs who has come around to seeing the connections after many decades faltering around in racist 'development model' theories.

So,

Four: The very NGOs that give tiny handouts to selected 'good Senegalese' individuals, are also the forum made up of the power elite that maintain and sustain global capitalism, global trade arrangements, global economic ideologies and the movement of global profits and raw resources (fish, in this case), entirely towards Europe. Anyone claiming that 'colonialism' is dead ignores the fact that colonialism wasn't just about military of administrative control. It was also very much about economic networks, social control, ideologies and power arrangements. Much of those arrangements have survived the test of 'independence', as documented well by the likes of Laura Ann Stolar and others.

It is now the height of irresponsibility and frankly racist disregard that photojournalists can continue to produce 'human' stories about immigrants and refugees, but never be moved to speak out against the policies of their own countries – whether it is war, or trade or other, that are creating these massive waves of people fleeing death and starvation. It is the height of cowardice that photojournalists are unable to connect the dots, desperate as they are to sell their shoddy wares to shoddy publications – publications that are a core part of the nationalist and corporate capitalist infrastructure and have an interest in hiding these connections, while standing on podiums speaking lyrically about 'human suffering' and 'justice'. It is inexplicable that these vividly obvious inter-connections are not the focus of more projects, more writings and more photographs by photojournalists, who still seem to insist on waiting on the 'death side' of the story to make their banal pictures.

Institutions like World Press Photo, and other European 'journalism' groups, seem to encourage these simplistic and limited narratives by awarded these simplistic and limited narratives. Not just that, but publications like the New York Times, and major photo agencies like Magnum, collaborate in the obfuscation of these issues by producing 'fabulous' multi-media pieces that use a language and framing that hides these connections, that refuse to face our agency in this suffering, and worse, refuse to hold our political leaders accountable for our continued role in the suffering of the millions. We seem to think that they are 'starving' and 'fleeing' from 'there' because we are all so beautiful and everyone wants to come live in our pretty garden cities. And yet we fail to see that the garden is grown over the blood of the very people we are not imprisoning, torturing and killing.

This is a Masterclass in photojournalism. No, it isn't about how your images should look more like those of Alex Majoli or Steve McCurry. It is about how you need to learn to think, and to make connections. It is about how you need to reject these narratives that create 'empathy' and work through 'pathos'. It is about producing works that do not fit the pages of a mainstream publications, that do not succumb to the false seductions of photo awards. Today, we are no longer absolved from our responsibility as citizens and as responsible individuals. These connections, these deprivations, our role in global suffering and as the main cause of human suffering, is right there for all to see. It is shocking to me that European photojournalists continue to work as if they are apart, in a bubble, unrelated to very horrors they head out to document.

This little, useless article, is a brilliant study on how we are encouraged to frame suffering, and how are told to make invisible the causes. The same people who are the beneficiaries of unjust trade and repressive economic arrangements, are the ones giving out crumbs to suffering 'African's while garlanding themselves as 'humanitarian' and 'concerned' labels.

The trillions in profits and wealth that flow to Europe, and the hundreds of millions of deaths and displacements that are imposed on Africa and other regions, are intimately connected. To pretend not to speak about this, to pretend that it does not exist, to practice a concerned craft in ignorance, to encourage that ignorance for the sake of a photo essay publication, or a chance to 'dance' with a photo editor, is shameful and frankly, beneath contempt.

These are not new revelations. In 2005 Le Monde Diplomatique wrote the following about European trade agreements and so-called 'climate refugees' in Bangladesh:

"THE hamlet of Baro Ari in the Khulna region of southwest Bangladesh is lost in the reaches of the Ganges. It is difficult to find, and yet globalisation has already arrived there, along with its unique market opportunity, shrimps and prawns. Local bigwigs opened the dykes of polders in 2000, flooding with salt water land that belonged to poor farmers. With the connivance of a corrupt police force, they then transformed the drowned land into lucrative crustacean farms."

(http://kit.mondediplo.com/spip.php?article4228)

Our work isn't just photographs. Our work speaks to truths that cost people lives. Our work isn't just a career. It has consequences for the living because our work creates the narratives that can justify war, collude in death, or resist it. Too many young photojournalists and most all 'famous' photojournalists seem not to understand how they and their works can be easily 'weaponised', and gleefully gloat and brag about their images despite the political and military exploitation of theses images to serve death and destruction.

This article is a Masterclass. Read it again. See how it is done. See how we must, at all costs, start to do it differently.

I Am Not A Racist, Though I Am In Agreement With Them


This may be how our new racists speak – veiling their bigoted, essentialist xenophobia behind a carefully crafted language that displaces their racism onto unnamed others, while subtly agreeing with then. As in this terrifyingly national and ‘clash of civilisation’ qualifying paragraphs:
“Today’s Western nationalists argue, also plausibly, that many European distinctives are unlikely to survive if nation-states are weak, mass immigration constant, Christianity and Judaism replaced by indifferentism and Islam, and young elites educated as global citizens without knowing their own home.

This nationalist argument comes in racist forms, but it need not be the white nationalism that Trump’s liberal critics read into his speech. It can just be a species of conservatism, which prefers to conduct cultural exchange carefully and forge new societies slowly, lest stability suffer, memory fail and important things be lost.”

…”conduct cultural exchange carefully”… indeed, one wishes the europeans had thought of that when they raped and pillaged their way across the world to becoming slave traders, colonisers and genocidiares!

or when they pillaged their way across afghanistan, iraq, libya, somalia, vietnam, to name just a few.

strangely, a few darkies at our doors from nations we rape provoke these insipid op-eds, while the millions of darkies we slaughter and murder, whose homes and lives we rent asunder, seem not to pique our concern. 

careful cultural exchange is a lovely concern. 

this modern day racism is now smack in the pages of The New York Times. we should not be surprised given this paper’s long history of Islamophobic bigotry and anti-Black equality positions over the decades. It isn’t an overt racism, which is what makes it complex to see – it is, like this Op/Ed, veiled behind sweeping essentialism and caricatures that deny the hybridity of our actual lives, that utilises Orientalist and racist presumptions and generalisations voiced in polite and ‘managerial’ language of ‘progress’ and ‘tolerance’ and ‘balance’ and ‘moderation’.

Read this piece again, but shred the moderation embodied in it. It is a crassly nationalist, xenophobic scream that uses the worst of cultural essentialism, birth rate bigotry and anti-immigrant hate but does it with supreme politeness.

The New York Times – its editors continue to demonstrate their moral emptiness, their intellectual shallowness and their ethical indifference. From hiring racist, climate-change deniers, to retaining war monger pundits, to shilling their pages to Christian fundamentalist White Supremacist, this is not a paper of record, but increasingly a rag of ridiculousness!

Radical Reductionists And Rabid Revisionists 


There are people out there who think that Islamophobia is limited to the likes of rednecks and lunatics. And yet, what they ignore is that fundamentally obvious way in which publications like The New York Times are front and center in the manufacturing, prioritising and highlighting of narratives, and narrative frames, that feed the Islamphobia of Americans. 

This is the mainstream, read by most, national newspaper of record. This is their idea of a ‘radicalisation’ that matters: not the nationalist, imperialist radicalisation that mobilises tens of millions of American citizens to support in the order of trillions of dollars the wars that kills and ruin millions around the world. No, that isn’t ‘radicalisation’.

But, taking pages right out of the brochures of the worst Islamphobes, and from the discredit theorising of racist military and intelligence community hacks, the publications finds enough space in its ‘treasured’ pages to allow this sort of rubbish to appear. Could someone making millions of the CVE programs in the USA have written a better copy:

“In Rasheed’s case, there was his altered appearance and his decision to attend a different mosque. With hindsight, I should have questioned more his distancing of himself from his usual social group — and, possibly, the watchful eye of his father. Naïvely, perhaps, I had passed off the changes in Rasheed as his exploring and forming an identity away from his parents. It was the biggest mistake and regret of my life. But ask any parent of teenagers: Would you have done better?”

This paragraph is straight out of the PowerPoint presentations many Islamophobes have been making at FBI, CIA, NYPD and other training programs, and for which they have come under severe criticism for their sloppy constructions, racist presumptions and entire made-up and unverifiable claims. And yet, here they are again. In the New York Times – that publication of the liberal class apparently.

I pity this woman. Her son’s tragedy – a very British tragedy mind you, has not allowed her to question her government’s vile policies of war and mayhem. She is unable to face the crass and disgusting campaigns of mass murder, slaughter and rape that the UK gleefully participates in and then gloats about. She, concerned about her children and other children who sit and watch rivers of bloods streaming out the borders of nations we destroy, cannot put two bits of clues together to ask and understand who really killed her son and drove him to go fight for those dying under British bombs.

Perhaps she has chosen cowardice over courage to cope with her loss. For it is cowardice to remain silent at the crimes of your government, and at the crimes against humanity it has supported and performed in the last 15-20 years. And it is cowardice (or fear) that is the essential characteristic of newspapers like The New York Times, who have peddled in racist depictions and discussions about all things Islam / Muslims for decades, while casting themselves as ‘liberal’. Trump and his White Supremacist goons can’t even hope to achieve the level of racist idiocy this newspaper manages to print every week!

Gucci For Government

You have to marvel at the thick headedness of the writers, editors and commentators at The New York Times. Even now, in the midst of a deepening economic crisis, growing economic, social and political inequality, raging racist social and political realities, a deepening crisis of the state, an all out attack against the last bastions of social welfare protections for citizens, the near complete corporatisation of most every facet of public life and concern, they still find the time to vomit out garbage.

This is a New York Times ‘fashion critic’ – what the fuck is that? trying her hand at politics. I suppose in a day and age when Ivanka Trump can attend meetings at the G20, why not, you would say. Indeed, you would have a good point. After all, even Chelsea Clinton – this most vacuous and privileged of individuals, made a few million dollars as a pundit on national television. 

Regardless, it is amusing to read what I am sure will soon be revealed to be a parody piece perhaps accidentally published a few months too late after April Fools day.

“Clearly a political party is not a fashion company. And the stakes, for all of us, are much higher in the voting booth than in the fitting room. But before everyone takes umbrage at the idea of ever connecting the two or conflating what is often stereotyped as superficial with what is considered substantive, it’s worth remembering what caused the epiphany on both the high street and the haute street: the advent of the educated consumer.

Isn’t that what we want for the electorate, too?”

Clearly…a political party is not a fashion company. Or, should we remind Ms. Friedman, that a political party is also not a profit making corporate enterprise beholden to shareholder value, but ideally a representative of will of the people who participate in it to serve and provide for their interests and their protections. A political party is also not a marketing gimmick, judged merely by its ‘messaging’ or PR campaigns, or brand, but by its ability to represent the citizenry from the smallest town to the largest urban centre. A political party is not a product company, offering a range of colors and styles, or price points and service levels, to meet the needs of various ‘consumers’, but a social organisation that operates as the core of a public democracy, and that represents and negotiates the interests of a vast and diverse set of citizens to whom the party, and the state itself, are beholden and in the service of.

Of course, Ms Friedman’s distorted and ignorant writings are unsurprising given the way she opens her account which quotes one Professor of Economics, and then goes on to suggest that Corbyn, Macron and Trump are merely different brands, and not in fact, the complex reflection of long socio-political histories of three very different and distinct national and political trajectories. No, they are merely 3 options ‘chosen’ by the ‘free consumer’. Or, as she says:

“In all the explanations of voter behaviour that have been floated over the past few months, the one that I can’t quite get out of my mind is a recent comment from Tony Travers, a professor of government at the London School of Economics, who told The New York Times that “people are switching loyalties, not tribally, but like consumers.”

He was talking about the British election last month and the defection of so many presumed Conservative voters to the rumpled promise of Jeremy Corbyn, but he could just as easily have been talking about the French election and rise of that shiny new brand otherwise known as Emmanuel Macron. Or even the 2016 election in the United States. After all, on each occasion, voters shopped around before committing — or deciding to stay home.”

Erased are the decades of social humiliation and suffering of the vast majority of British citizens under Conservative and New Labour governments. Gone is the unemployment line, the crumbling healthcare, the abandonment of welfare programs for single mothers, the elderly, the sick, the homeless etc, gone is the rising inequality, and the gloating of the bankers over the hungry bodies of the miners, gone are the specific policies and priorities of governments beholden to capital and capitalist, and indifferent to citizens. No, the people ‘merely’ bought a product when they voted, not voices a protest or express and demand for social and economic change. For the likes of Ms. Friedman, Corbyn is merely product ‘at the point of delivery’, when in fact, everything he talked about fundamentally would mean a dismantling of Gucci, and the parceling out of its rubbish products to the many over the few! People chose a politics and infact, refused the branding. The French – not so much. But that is a different issue. Macron is a Gucci ‘manager’ if there ever was one!

The inanity and emptiness of a sentence like ‘…voters shopped around before committing – or deciding to stay home’ is barely worthy of a mention. But I will make one point – the suggestion that citizens are today nothing more than consumers, is the ultimate neoliberal fantasy and false claim. It is little more than the final cul-de-sac into which our new, elite, liberal class has found itself trapped. Stuart Hall captured the mindset and world view of this barbaric class in a series of essays he wrote about New Labour and the rise of neoliberal ‘managerial’ government in the UK, which involves…

”’…the marketisation of the state’s governing and administrative practices, the transformation of public service individuals into ‘entrepreneurial subjects’ and the adaptation of the machinery of the state to the ‘mission’ of ‘entrepreneurial governance’. Central to this reconstruction of governance and the state is the enthusiastic adoption of a ‘Public Choice’ approach to the public sector. This ‘shift[s] the balance of incentives from input to delivery and…in the 1980s led to the contracting out of services, the spread of internal markets and outright privatisation. It is the main source of the drive to reconstitute citizens as consumers” (‘New Labours Double Shuffle’, Stuart Hall)

…and furthermore, as far as the citizen is concerned, our liberal neoliberal ideology…

“…inculcate in the population at large a new habitus; making into a new kind of common sense habits and practices which the new ‘free market’ consumer focused conception of ‘governance’ requires. This approach is effective well outside the machinery of the state. Slowly but surely, everybody – even if kicking and screaming to the end – becomes his/her own kind of ‘manager’. The market and market criteria becomes entrenched as the modus operandi of ‘governance’ and institutional life. Media commentators (Ms Friedman, take note!) and the press know no other language with which to address public issues….the role of the State is not to support the less fortunate or powerful in a society which ‘naturally’ produces huge inequalities of wealth, power and opportunity, but to hep individuals themselves to provide for all their social needs – health, education, environmental, travel, housing, parenting, security in unemployment, pensions in old age etc….” (‘New Labours Double Shuffle’, Stuart Hall)

Only if the entire idea of a republic, of a democracy is now finally dead, that we can actually read such pieces by such ill-equipped and ill-informed and ignorant individuals, and not gasp in horror. It is fundamentally shocking to see how quickly a slight degree of bourgeois comfort has allowed most to jettison their commitment to a public democracy, and public interest. It is surprising to read such entirely wrong essays in our newspaper of note – perhaps not. But it is a stark reminder that the crass and naked capitalism and neoliberal assault on most all our public services that we are currently witnessing, isn’t just an anomaly because of Trump, but at the core of the ideology espoused by the most influential and widely read newspaper in the country. That is, it is mainstream thought.

I bet most people who read this tripe never thought twice about what they were being told. I bet they did in fact think that selecting politicians today is merely an exercise in branding, and not one in politics. I think that Ms Friedman is yet another example of how disconnected, isolated and disdainful our media has become of the citizenry, and of our democracy. Choking on their millions, rent stupid by their mindless consumption and self-righteousness, these commentators have lost all sense of the reality of our lived struggles. Is it any surprise that they never saw the apocalypse coming?

What can’t Gucci teach the democrats? Quite simply: a commitment to public service – to education, to health, to our environment, to consumer protections, to welfare programs to protect the single mothers, the elderly, the homeless, to return to a politics where the state acts as a balance between the few who will always gain under a capitalist system, and the many who will lose, and ensure the resources and wealth is managed to offer the most with more, and create opportunities for those who have much to overcome and yet have much to give. that is, to act in the interest of the people, of the public, and not merely in the interest of profit and rate of return. Ms Friedman needs to shut the hell up, or perhaps, step out of her 5th Avenue Brownstone, and pay attention to the details of how her beautiful Gucci-ridden life is actually enabled.

Manzoor Hussein – Elder Brother of Executed Juvenile Prisoner Shafqat Hussain

 

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Mother of Executed Juvenile Prisoner Shafqat Hussain

Shafqat Ali’s mother.

You can learn more about Shafqat Hussain’s case here.

Sumeira Hussain – Elder Sister of Executed Juvenile Prisoner Shafqat Hussain

 

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Short Documentary Film – #2 – Executed Juvenile Death Row Prisoner Shafqat Hussain

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How Not To Be A Pakistani Liberal

We have become accustomed to certain ways of seeing and speaking about the world. The Pakistani liberal – a caste that has been educated and nurtured on Western educational, political and cultural ideologies as absorbed during years abroad at college, or careers, and through popular Western visual and literary media (fiction, non-fiction books), offers a particularly stark lesson in how certain forms of speaking, expressing and justifying arguments remain unchanged by thought, critical inquiry or self-doubt. The thoughtless regurgitation of European universalism, exceptionalism, and social sophistication  – all of which mind you are as much myths as anything, is an excellent example of this.

I was reminded of this as I took a few minutes to watch this presentation by the celebrity liberal Professor Pervaiz Hoodbhoy, famous for his much lauded anti-nuclear proliferation arguments, and his relentless critique (justified and well argued) of the decimation of critical inquiry and genuine research at Pakistani universities. Professor Hoodbhoy has been an eloquent and powerful voice speaking out against the decline of educational standards. But Professor Hoodbhoy also represents that small elite in Pakistani society who have – whether by chance or by cultivation, become the principal translators of the political and social trends in the country for most foreign journalists, and visitors alike. As a result, he has often been able to speak and express views on matters as far reaching as geopolitics, domestic politics, the global war on terror, ‘Islamic’ radicalism and fundamentalism and more. There are in fact a handful of select Pakistanis – Ahmed Rashid, Mohsin Hamid and some others, who are invited to offer their opinions and views on a range of topics, and help the world, particularly the Euro-American world, make sense of the mystery that is Pakistan. So be it. These are intelligent, creative and sophisticated men (and some women), and deserve their audience and their role. For the most part.

And so, unsurprisingly, Professor Hoodbhoy was invited to give this talk, one of many I am sure, and I found it rather compelling in the vivid and obviously inadvertent way it reflected so many of the problematic foundations of Pakistani liberal arguments and justifications for their criticism. Though short, it is a good example of the ways in which post-colonial intellectuals and others, undermine their own credibility by hanging on to an fantastic and fantasy idea of The West, create false and misleading comparisons, and judge any and all social, political or other phenomenon that does not match its Western model is less or deviant. Or in need of ‘reform’.

And so, I decided to pen a letter to the esteemed professor (not a real letter, juts a simulated one of course. Who writes real letters these days?) Details »

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.  Details »

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