Not Our Men

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.

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And, What Is Your Favourite Colour Of Photographer?

Brent Lewis, a Senior Photo Editor at ESPN’s The Undefeated has realised that there aren’t enough ‘photographers of colour’ that he can commission for assignments, and believes that other editors have a similar problem. And his solution–classically technocratic and technological–is to create a ‘database’ of coloured photographers and, without ever once questioning or examining the more difficult structural and political reasons for the issue, resolve the issue. And in the process, albeit inadvertently, Lewis has entrenched the very problem of culturally, ethnically, and racially stereotyping photographers and restricting them to their little ghettoised speciality social, cultural, and physical geographies. He needs more black and brown people to go cover more black and brown events. 

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Scratching At My Skin

“I have been stereotyped: my life and lived experiences negated by photo editors in the USA in particular. My 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.”

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The Fall Of Adonis

This was a shockingly bizarre set of responses from a man considered to be one of the great Arab intellectuals of our time. I have read Adonis extensively, and I am frankly really surprised to see him argue that:

“If we do not distinguish between what is religious and what is political, cultural, and social, nothing will change and the decline of the Arabs will worsen. Religion is not the answer to problems anymore. Religion is the cause of problems. That is why it needs to be separated. Every free human believes in what he wants, and we should respect that. But for religion to be the foundation of society? No.”

Oh dear. I never imagined a day would come when I would realise that Adonis, considered one of the greatest living Arab poets, would reveal that he is poorly read, and even worse, intellectually dead. 

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A Rainbow Prohibition

Anastasia Taylor-Lind wants more diversity in the photojournalism industry. and has penned an argument that is conventional, unimaginative and banal. She continues the long practice of confusing a lack of diversity in mainstream Western / European photojournalism as only about ethnic, nationalist, or gender. That is, about ‘mixing it up’ and creating the right optics of diversity, much like we see in college posters, or television ads with their token ‘people of colour’ thrown in. What is completely left out is politics.

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What’s Water?

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

David Foster Wallace, Whats’ Water?

We love the myth of the individual crusader. And we love it even more when the crusaders convinces us, or his/her arguments are presented as if, there is no one else but the individual. National Geographic stories are very explicitly neoliberal in this regard: there is no government, there are no policies, there is no corporation, no labor, no collectivity and hence, there is no accountability for political and corporate power and interests. The selling of the myth that only individuals exist, and the re-painting of the social and economic collapse of a city as something that has nothing to do with policy choices (of government, of corporations and the two in collusion) is ideological. All this is washed away by feel good stories of resilience because demanding accountability from your elected officials, and struggling for social and economic support goes against our current neoliberal fantasy world of individuals as personal value agents alone.

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The Self-Flagellating Native Intellectual And The Quest For The Pleasures Of Empire

There is a remarkably succinct and clear moment in Gauri Viswanathan’s brilliant work Masks of Conquest: Literary Study And British Rule In India when she points out that colonizer’s self-representation:

…to native Indians through the products of his mental labor removes him from the place of ongoing colonialist activity-of commercial operations, military expansion, and administration of territories-and deactualizes and diffuses his material reality in the process…His material reality as subjugator and alien ruler is dissolved in his mental output; the blurring of the man and his works effectively removes him from history.

The colonized is unable to see the colonizer for his reality, but becomes hypnotized and bamboozled by the self-representation, so much so that the colonized become the vehicle for the perpetuation of the colonizers original self-representation. In the process, the colonized forgets the history, politics, economics and ideology that in fact inform and move the project of empire. Instead, the colonized – the subservient, the intellectually usurped native, looks back into himself and find himself lacking. In himself he sees the lesser actuality and the sordid materiality of his pathetic existence. In the colonizer he sees the ideal, the principled, the inspiring and aspired towards. And in the gap between the colonized self-image of being in a fallen state, and the colonizers exalted state, lies void into which the colonized casts his moral, and intellectual stones in the hope of building a bridge, however rickety, to traverse the distance.

Where The Wild Things Are!

The Pashtun of Waziristan, Pakistan has today become an avatar for violence, terrorism, rebellion, guerrilla warfare and other things deviant and vile. There is however a long heritage of depicting these people of the tribal regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan as genetically prone to violence and culturally prone to resistance to ‘civilised’ politics. This prejudice informs any and all writing about them, their history and the wars being waged in their backyards. From British colonial ear shenanigans – given the pretty-cute euphemism of ‘The Great Game’ to veil the fact that the White man’s ‘games’ are the brown man’s death sentence, genocide, pillage, massacre, mass murder, refugee crisis etc. to current American imperial wars in the region, the people of this region have been seen as nothing more than ‘barbaric’,and  ‘fundamentalist’ and continue to be spoken about with the worst of Orientalist and colonialist simplicities one can imagine – tribal, unconquerable, rebellious, and lawless. Where the British colonialist left off, their ancestors in the American political and academic establishment and the Pakistani post-colonialist structure have continued.

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Unintended Consequences Or Why Development Aid Can Kill

I came across a rather disturbing report recently (thanks to Wronging Rights) released by the Nordic African Institute of the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA). Titled The Complexity of Violence: A critical analysis of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) it is a critical examination of how crimes of sexual violence in the Congo are depicted, documented and reported on. Specifically the report challenges the prioritized focus on sexual violence, as something ‘abnormal’ and different from other forms of violence, and the undue and highly publicized attention given to it by international health, aid and media organizations. Details »

Offering Silence To The Oppressed

An exhibition called ‘Beware The Cost Of War’ recently opened in London.

Reading about it in the New York Times ‘Lens’ blog left me deeply disappointed and concerned.

Let me explain.

(Aside: Yoav Galai, the curator, is someone I have called a friend for some time now and I hope that he will forgive me for this very critical review of what is something he clearly put a lot of work in to. It is not personal, but merely a reflection on this propensity in our world to fear speaking, to raise a voice, to add details and specifics where generalizations only confuse, perpetuate injustices and acquit the guilty. I am sorry Yoav. I must say my piece.) Details »