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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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 »

And, What Is Your Favourite Colour Of Photographer?

This came across my email, forwarded to me by the Magnum Foundation.

I have serious misgivings about this initiative.

There are a number of reasons, not the least of which is how the title – “Photographers of Colour” – works off the assumption of “White” universality as the norm, while others require to be defined in a ‘special category’. Whereas I can understand the instinct that gave birth to it, I am confused as to why this instinct was even considered valid and one worthy of an initiative of its own. I am surprised that more people did not raise an objection to the rather overt objectification of photographers of non-White origin this initiative demands. This entire effort requires people to self-identify themselves along ethnic and racial lines and is based on the belief that somehow ethnic and racial belonging gives them ‘credibility’ to cover stories and issues in regions of similar ethnic and racial spaces and geographies. This is a terrifying ghettoization of our craft, and in fact, reflected well in the example given in the introductory text alone where an editor’s need for African photographers to cover an AFROPUNK event – black people sent to cover black people – seems to have provoked the idea. Why would being African be enough of a qualification to cover this event?

(Note how the questionnaire does not even ask, until the very last question, the photographer’s race. And then to, as by US law, o a voluntary basis. So what’s the point in the first place? A generic questionnaire such as the one offered demands self-identification along ethnic and racial lines. That is, it demands that a human being reduce her/himself to merely her official race category. This is simply ridiculous to even demand, or to follow!)

But here is the most egregious problem with this effort: it absolutely ignores and/or veils the fact that it editor offices that are predominantly occupied by White / Caucasian people, and that it is here ethnic and intellectually diversity is most needed. To get and find a diverse set of photographers, you need to find a diverse set (by experience, by class, by intellect) set of editors!

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Unexpected Journeys Or How Did You Get To San Francisco?

She turns thirteen today. She dances at San Francisco Ballet School’s Summer Intensive programs this summer. It was just two years ago that she had auditioned for the Swedish Royal Ballet’s dance school, only to be rejected at the last stage of the week-long audition. It was just two years ago that I remember waking up at 2 am that night, and hearing her quietly crying in the bathroom. Last week, when she received the letter from the San Francisco Ballet, inviting her to come and train in the Summer Intensive Program, Sofia completed a journey that began in painful disappointment. This summer is no ordinary summer. For this 13-year old, this invitation letter was not just to another Summer Intensive program, but a confirmation that hard work, a refusal to accept the judgement of others, and a determination to become what she dreamed about, was the only way to face the dance world.

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Vas Bien Fidel

am3ubw6

If we carry courage, and our determined resistance, then we do so because of the example that you, and so many of your travelling companions in our post-colonial aftermath, set for us.

Long live the Revolution. Long remain our resolve.

Vas Bien Fidel.

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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Math Scares Me But Numbers Sooth Me

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At times I can’t tell whether the writers and editors at the New York Times are just plain stupid, or supremely clever. For example, this entire piece is little short of an exercise in obfuscation and political propaganda, misrepresenting data repeatedly to shill for the argument – entirely false, that the economic situation of the average American is getting better, and hence, that Donald Trump is wrong.

Well, looking at the data you can concoct that argument, but it isn’t there in the data. So either Mr. Applebaum does not remember his high-school math, or, that he and his editors, believe that the ordinary New York Times reader is too stupid to remember her high school math.

For example, here is how they define ‘median income’ in the article:


“The median income is the amount that divides households evenly between those that make less and those that make more.”


That is not what median income is.

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My Masculinity Problem

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It’s fascinating to see the return of so many mid- 18th century Orientalist troupes and obsessions : this bizarre and needling determination to categorize and then – as if the categories created are genuine and natural, to analyze. The French are of course persistent and unrepentant Orientalists, and the more educated the worse. And so this gaze that first categorizes – ‘Arab masculinity’, and then pretends to analyze it.

What is ‘Arab masculinity’? Need we ask? Dare we ask where this object of study even comes from? Is it even real? Is there a unique Arab conception and manifestation of ‘masculinity’? Do a dozen stylized, fashion-shoot type set-up images of men who happen to be Arab provide enough material to explain not only the category, but its real existence? Do these men live in cages, isolated from the world and its influences? Do they experience whatever we may think are pure ‘Arab’ experiences, and not any spilling across geographical, intellectual, cultural, emotional and physical boundaries? An ‘Arab’ is an ‘Arab’ is an ‘Arab’, and damn is s/he is anything but a pure representation of an easily isolated and studied species.

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This Post Is Not About The Burkini

Moustafa Bayoumi had an interesting Facebook post this morning that speaks to the histories of colonialism that may inform the recent French idiocies around the uses of the burkini at French beaches. The post is here:

I found it provocative and decided to engage with him figuratively. That I am currently designing some photo projects for 2017 that look at the continuing ‘rot’ of colonial and imperial rule and the ways it scars and distorts life, ecology and economy, his arguments were very interesting. However, though Bayoumi makes some good points, but I can’t help but feel that he overstates his case, perhaps even over determines it, by suggesting a rather idealized idea of ‘direct’ vs’ indirect’ colonial rule. This idea does not stand the test of history in any way.

So here is why. Details »