The Idea Of India…Finally

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A Stubborn Refusal

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My continued disdain dismissal of most all photojournalists working on ‘immigration’ stories begins with this simple fact outlined in this excellent article titled The Story Behind The Stories, where author Rodney Benson argues that:

The complexity of the international causes of migration cannot be easily expressed as a melodrama. And mentioning them is ideologically sensitive: it suggests there could be something wrong about an economic system that most politicians — and journalists — take for granted. From the early 1970s to the mid-2000s — a time of neoliberal globalisation and bloody conflicts in Central America manipulated by the US — immigration stories that mentioned international causes fell from 30% to 12% in leading US papers. To their credit, French newspapers in the 2000s, just as in the 1970s, mentioned the global angle in 33% of their immigration news stories, mostly because of the greater prominence of anti-globalisation sentiment in French intellectual and political culture. Yet, too often, both French and US media fail to give the full picture on immigration. Their focus on emotion, and on individual stories, diverts attention from the fundamental political issues, and leaves the way open for the simplistic “solutions” advocated by the far right.

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All The People That Are Fit To Print

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This was weird. The reviewer is in awe of her – power, celebrity, scion, hereditary fame, activism, beauty, western composure, oriental aesthetic, class privilege and dynastic worth.

“It’s no wonder she has consistently denied any interest in going into politics. Still, at age 32, Bhutto is more of a celebrity than most first-time fiction writers. Born in Kabul, raised in Damascus, educated in New York and London, she now lives in Karachi. She has over 850,000 followers on Twitter, where her page begins with a quote from Vladimir Nabokov that reads, “My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.”

Wow.

The perfect product of the Western imagination of how the Wogs will grow up to be civilised like us. And yet, the book review, when the writer does get past fawning over her and starts to read her work, suggests a trite, cliched, pretentious work. It may not be, but that is the impression left from reading the critical review part of this hagiography. Details »

Joao Pina Speaks And Sets The Record Straight

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It is rare to have a photographer speak back to you. I can’t say how thrilled I was to receive a carefully written email from the Argentinian Portuguese (thank you Ziyah Gafic!) photographer Joao Pina some months ago in response to my criticism of The New York Times Lens Blog piece about his project CONDOR.  The original piece, titled Exposing The Legacy Of Operation Condor, which appeared on June 24, 2014, in fact very obviously elided the deep American collaboration and support (financial, intelligence, political and possibly even in weaponry), for the operations that shattered the political and civic resistance landscape in a number of Latin American countries.

In my original piece I had argued that:

An important photo project, but if you are going to speak about Operation Condor, you cannot, and must not, remain silent about the American collaboration and acquiescence in the campaign. It is important to remember that six nations were involved in this campaign, and they were American allies, not the least of which was Pinochet’s Chile. The US was well aware of the mass disappearances and killings that were taking place, and it did not merely stand aside, but also provided technical and other assistance to our allies while it was all taking place.

adding further that:

Photojournalists have to confront history and speak honestly. It is not enough to simply make strong photographs. It is not enough to compartmentalise history into conveniently acceptable and polite packages. I don’t know if Pina will say more in his own words and in his own pages, but I hope that he will see that the New York Times is not the place to offer the complete story of Operation Condor.

And in fact, Joao Pina has said a lot more, and very explicitly too. I learned this through an email I received from Joao Pina some weeks after I wrote my criticism, where he very carefully and with great civility, set me straight on the matter. Details »

How To Read In France

I question (a) its (Western liberal discourse’s) assumption that ‘religion’ is the major threat to the principles of tolerance and democracy; (b) its part in constructing “an Islamic enemy”; (c) its privileging of the fate of literary authors (and media persons) as against other victims of cruelty; (d) its sacralization of the principles of Freedom of Speech. In brief, I question the assumption that the people who attack these literary authors (and media persons) are part of the larger forces that threaten Modernity itself.

Talal Asad, Europe Against Islam: Islam In Europe 1997

Few are still willing to provide a context, so here is some.”Je Suis Charlie” could just as well be “Je Suis Charles” – here I am referring to the bigoted French interior minister from 1986-1988 Charles Pasqua whose immigration policies were so harsh – as he himself argued, waxing beautifully racist and stupid at the same time: “we will terrorize the terrorists”, that even the UN had to speak up and issue a severe reprimand.

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Do You Speak Pakistanian?

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People keep asking me how I speak Hindi, and I keep telling them that it is because I am Indian – in the historical sense of course. And that Hindi / Urdu are the same language given two names. However, never is this discussion about Urdu / Hindi more irritating and frustrating when carried out with Pakistanis who in their infinite ignorance are convinced that Urdu and Hindi are two entirely different languages and worse, that somehow Urdu is ‘Islamic’! I am often left bereft at the idiocy of these Ivy League graduates, and the tremendous closed-mindedness that permits them to carry along their prejudices despite being surrounded, at these great universities, with all the resources to help them open their eyes. So, since the library will not do, here is a wonderful piece about the beautiful, creative and deeply entwined relationship between Hindi and Urdu.

Kumar sums up his argument rather nicely when he points out:

What was once a shared common language of people of India stretching from Peshawar to the borders of Bengal split into two languages, Urdu and Hindi, towards the end of the 19th century. As a result, there arose two artificially separated literary cultures, each harking back to a different literary past due to the chauvinistic attitudes both of Hindus and Muslims. This cultural chauvinism was to subsequently embroil them in a practice of divisive politics, and each language became a marker of religious identity. With the passage of time the differences between the two sides became so irreconcilable that it led to the creation of a separate homeland for Muslims.

Worth a read.

(Thanks to my friend Sibte Hassan for pointing me to the phrase ‘Pakistanian’)

The Parsons MFA Series: #2

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The Parsons MFA Series: #1

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The Shahrazade/El-Madani Studio Collection At New Museum, New York City

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I walked into the New Museum’s Here And Elsewhere exhibit recently. A major presentation of contemporary art from the Middle East. Much of it is quite predictable, some of it is downright amateurish, a few terribly is derivative and horribly scarred by the pretensions of modern Western contemporary art discourse. Some was quite disappointing as it desperately attempted to, as pointed out by one critic, that it “..takes our attention away from the political subject and draws it toward the artist’s techniques.” – a statement that I would use as a criticism of a work of art, but in fact was offered by way of praise by the writer. There are however moments of it that are luminous. For example, the gorgeous set of studio photography works from Hashem El-Madani.

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Asian American Writers’ Workshop – Salman Rushdie, Edward Said, and Moral Courage

A wonderful meditation on the lives of two artists and intellectuals, and the different paths they took in the aftermath of 9/11. Salman Rushdie, as Pankaj Mishra so angrily pointed out, was amongst the European intellectuals who lost their moral courage in the shadow of that terrible event. Speaking about Amis, Mishra argued that:

It is a depressing spectacle – talented writers nibbling on cliches picked to the bone by tabloid hacks. But, as Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out, the “men of culture”, with their developed faculty of reasoning, tend to “give the hysterias of war and the imbecilities of national politics more plausible excuses than the average man is capable of inventing”.

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