A Photographer Confronts His World
True that the people were forcibly evicted, and it is true that official histories have been re-written to write them out of memory and documentation. But where did they go? And why have we ‘disappeared’ their histories, voices and experiences?
The Palestinian diaspora – a mirror to the one that once was the proud heritage of the Jewish people – spreads from Latin America, to the Middle East, and South East Asia. And though there are no multi-million dollar, corporate sponsored, celebrations, memorials, museum, or vigils that commemorate, the Nakba lives within millions of people. The Palestinian diaspora is perhaps one of the strongest and least known in the world today.
I am often asked why Israel, and why not spend more time worrying about some other crisis and conflict. This question is always only asked by apologists for Israel. And though there are many reasons for why Israel first, there are a few that are very obvious. First, it is the Palestinians who have worked hard, day and night, to make it an issue for the world’s conscience and concern. I can list dozens of intellectuals, writers, artists, activists, politicians, and others who have tirelessly spoken out about their dispossession and suffering and convinced, through evidence and reason, the just nature of their struggle. I think of Darwish, Said, Abu-Lughud(s), Suleiman, Bishara, Haddad, Ashrawi, Habibi, Bargouti, Abunimah, H Sharabi, Shamas, Nusseibeh, Khalidi, Karmi, and so many more. And so many friends who echoed their arguments – Ahmed, Zinn, Barsamian, Chomsky, Judt, and others….So the Palestinians have earned the concern of the world, and they have spent decades arguing it in any and every way possible. The other reasons are obvious: this is an American funded military occupation and repression, this is a remnant of an era of colonial arrogance and brutality we are trying to close, this is a metaphor for the continued repression and erasure of people’s histories who are still trying to discover that ‘dawn’ Faiz so eloquently spoke about.
Palestine is not a place, nor a people. It is an ideal that embodies within it the struggles for hundreds of millions of people around the world, and it captures the anger, disappointments, frustrations and determinations of most all of the post-colonial world whose dreams of emancipation today lie mostly in ruins. As goes Palestine, thus goes most of the rest of the still-struggling world.
I have written about this documentary before. In a post called The Greatest Denial – Israel And The Erasure of The Past, The Present And Any Future, pointing out that:
The refusal to speak, teach, discuss or even recognise the Nakbah as it is referred to by the Palestinians, remains the single more important obstacle to any chance of hope in the region. This refusal underpins the disdain and violent disregard with which the occupied Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are treated – their rights, their grievances and their very humanity, disregarded as relevant or even equivalent. It underpins the now infamous conviction that this was ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’ so that the Zionist enterprise need not have to confront the injustices – injustices that were well-known to the founders of the enterprise, it was being constructed on. In fact, the refusal to teach or acknowledge the Nakbah is tied to this need to see this land as empty and without people.
The fraud of the peace-process – one that has enriched war criminals such as Tony Blair – is consistently given life when it appears that the Palestinians may begin to take matters into their own hands. The purveyors of this fake peace process – like the diseased war criminal and mass murdered Tony Blair and his money making scams that have murdered hundreds of thousands, continue to sell us a dead horse that today can’t even be taken seriously as a corpse. At least not by those who have the most to lose. We are today returning to the realisation that this battle will have to be fought – in the streets, in the corridors of power, and in the minds and hearts of the tens of millions of Europeans and Americans who fund this occupation, who collude in its violence and brutality, and who chose to pretend that it is Israel that is in fact under threat, and not accept the reality that since 1948, and for some years earlier, a hapless, helpless people have had everything stolen from them and continue to lose more each and every day. The battle for history is the battle for lives when it comes to this conflict. To repeat it, again and again and again, is critical.
Hamid Dabashi makes an argument that should have been made much earlier. So indeed, why are all the incredible voices emerging from South Asia, China, Africa and elsewhere always and consistently missing from any discussion about philosophy and society?
As Dabashi argues:
Why is European philosophy “philosophy”, but African philosophy ethnophilosophy, the way Indian music is ethnomusic – an ethnographic logic that is based on the very same reasoning that if you were to go to the New York Museum of Natural History (popularised in Shawn Levy’s Night at the Museum ), you only see animals and non-white peoples and their cultures featured inside glass cages, but no cage is in sight for white people and their cultures – they just get to stroll through the isles and enjoy the power and ability of looking at taxidermic Yaks, cave dwellers, elephants, Eskimos, buffalo, Native Americans, etc, all in a single winding row…..
The question of Eurocentricism is now entirely blase. Of course Europeans are Eurocentric and see the world from their vantage point, and why should they not? They are the inheritors of multiple (now defunct) empires and they still carry within them the phantom hubris of those empires and they think their particular philosophy is “philosophy” and their particular thinking is “thinking”, and everything else is – as the great European philosopher Immanuel Levinas was wont of saying – “dancing”.
Anyone who has read a modicum of writers from Asia and Africa will remain stunned at the ignorance of European thought. It is an ignorance that also colors and taints so much of journalist and photojournalistic works where entire generations of thinkers – philosophers, historians, intellectuals, writers, poets, activists and what have you, are completely missing. Its as if these regions and those people simply do not think, write, argue, debate, challenge, inform, and illuminate. It is as if we here have nothing to learn from them there. Or dare I say, as if we here may only be able to get it right by listening to those others there. Details »
Occupy Wall Street.
For many, even those here in the very city that gave birth to it, it is now but a distant memory. Even those ‘hangers on’ I met celebrating it in fashionable bars and events in Williamsburg and DUMBO, have moved onto other fashionable causes. I remember distinctly that none of those who were actually living out in the tents and on the pavements, the ones who were risking their bodies and their futures facing the brutality of the New York police, seemed to be at these events. It was mostly Prada-wearing editors from fancy ‘editorial’ publications and publishers of books trying to make a living off the movement that was made up mostly of idealists, dreamers, and desperate people from all walks of America’s life. Today people talk about OWS and wash down their cynical words with a smirk if not a laugh. It is spoken about as if it was, for a brief moment, a game some misguided people played, and then simply walked away – something nothing more than a summer festival where a few young kids had a great time, pretended to stand against ‘the system’ and then had to return to their homes and to their day jobs.
A surprising erasure.
Peter Van Burin is an intelligent man, a loud dissident, and a consist critic of post-9/11 American and its pathologies and failures. Yet, it was a bit disappointing and surprising to read a piece about the decline of the idea of civil liberties and the BIl of Rights that never once touches on the criminalisation of the political speech of American Muslims, the mass, pre-emptive and clearly ethnically focused surveillance of their communities, the hundreds of cases of FBI entrapment of Muslims in fake ‘terrorism’ cases, the bribing and black-mailing of Muslims to eavesdrop and ‘snitch’ on their friends, the tens of thousands of Muslims ensnared in immigration and deportation sweeps and more.
Not a word is mentioned about these injustices and about that fact that Bill of Rights was immediately curtailed for any and all Muslims, and that the Constitution itself had been reduced to a meaningless piece of paper for Muslims in America within seconds of the towers coming down. And it was all done on the fundamentally racist premise that the attacker were of Muslim background, and hence were a reflection of the evil pathology of all Muslims. Van Buren’s piece reads as if the danger has yet to arrive. But is here, and has been experienced by thousands in American for over 14 years. Its just that those Americans happen to be the ‘unseen’ immigrants and minorities, the ones we once called ‘model minorities’ because they quietly and gratefully fitted themselves into our capitalist hunger for cheap and affordable foreign labor.
Our collective American consciousness seems to as yet still not have room to account for the other. We still imagine, and speak, as if what matters, and what will define our priorities, are the gated-communities of the middle / upper class American, particularly if they are White. It is as if we speak about a world that television and movies show us. It is as if we can see past the complexity and diversity that exists on our very streets and in our daily interactions, but then simply ignore them into non-existence once we begin to write to our imagined audience which seems to be largely a privileged one.
But perhaps if the Americans remain oblivious to the destruction of their rights, it is because most of the privileged class fundamentally believes that these curtailments of rights are not for them, or their kind. That just like drone attacks, the surveillance, the infiltration, the entrapment, the abuse, the detentions, the tortures, are reserved for a darker breed of American. Perhaps they understand the reality of the separate judicial system, and feel unconcerned.
I suspect so.
My memory of Kenya when I was young…it was a beautiful time, Kenya was growing, things were happening well…And suddenly there is new culture of humanitarianism…[and]…it was saying that the project of independence is over…for us, it was a very painful thing to witness ourselves on We Are The World…as if we need to be taken care of….and now, we have a new [set] of missionaries [here]…
A fantastic interview with a writer on my ‘close my intellectual gap month’ list – Giorgio Agamben is provocative and subtle
Repeatedly he argues points that resonate so strongly…A recent discussion with some young photographers led to my arguing that if a project feels like work, then it is not a project for you. My argument was that too often we are desperately chasing works that don’t come from a place that matters to us or is central to our most passionate concerns. Too often we confuse the work we do because we must earn money, and the work we are called to do because we must define our place in our society. The need to keep the two apart, and the need to approach them from vastly different states of mind is critical.
In a world of photography where more and more people can produce fine images, what will differentiate yet another project filled with nice images from all the others that already exist out there, are meanings and ideas that have a powerful personal core to them. So powerful that when producing the works it does not feel like work, but simply expression.
The insistence on work and production is a malign one. The Left went down the wrong path when it adopted these categories, which are at the centre of capitalism. But we should specify that inoperativeness, as I conceive it, is neither inertia nor idling. We must free ourselves from work, in an active sense – I very much like this French word désoeuvrer. This is an activity that makes all the social tasks of the economy, law and religion inoperative, thus freeing them up for other possible usages. For precisely this is proper to mankind: writing a poem that escapes the communicative function of language; or speaking or giving a kiss, thus changing the function of the mouth, which first and foremost serves for eating. In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle asked himself whether mankind has a task. The work of the flute player is to play the flute, and the cobbler’s job is to make shoes, but is there a work of man as such? He then advanced his hypothesis according to which man is perhaps born without any task; but he soon abandoned it. However, this hypothesis takes us to the heart of what it is to be human. The human is the animal that has no job: it has no given biological task, no clearly prescribed function. Only a powerful being has the capacity not to be powerful. Man can do everything but does not have to do anything.”
And of course, the wonderful liberty of simply declaring a work abandoned rather than ‘finished’. I have not quite figured out how to ‘finish’ a project, since they seem to want to go on for as long as i remain curious about the issues I am exploring, and scream to be left alone, once I have moved onto something else. In a world defined by deliverables, milestones, achievements, products, outcomes, and measurable conclusions, my arguments for the right to create projects that ‘just are’ or ‘works in progress’ seem to create great confusion. Added to this, the refusal to use conventional ‘closure’ products like books, exhibitions or even a post in The New York Times Lens Blog to loudly announce the conquest of the human spirit that is an end, a full stop, a conclusion or a final word, I have just been excited to know that explorations I began continue as do I. There is no rush to ‘end’ it, or ‘conclude’ it – stages that also often leave one at the mercy of the machinery of production, publication, distribution, printing, marketing and sales. A machinery in which, as I learned from experience, the author simply becomes the least interesting thing, and his/her views, the most discardable and fungible of material. And so Agamben:
Giacometti said something that I really liked: you never finish a painting, you abandon it. His paintings are not finished; their potential is never exhausted. I would like the same to be true of Homo sacer, for it to be abandoned but never finished. I think, moreover, that philosophy should not consist too much of theoretical statements – theory must sometimes display its insufficiency.
Here is to never finishing anything and celebrating that state of existence. And if you do finish, it is never to signal a completion, but merely a phase.
Though this piece gives us a valuable sense of the continuities of aerial control and political machinations in the tribal frontiers of Pakistan, I found it most interesting for the continuities of arrogance, bigotry and Eurocentricism that it also exhibits.
Throughout this piece – one that discusses and describes a hailstorm of death and destruction of human life, acts of war, wanton killing, colonial oppression and quoted racist bigotry, we are never allowed to wander too far away from the ‘romance’ of the air, the ‘gentlemanly’ style of the RAF pilots, the feel-good, bar-talk nature of their experiences and the ‘jolly good fun’ mood that used to infuse works such as the Biggles stories that I read as a teenager. There are the descriptions of the British barracks, with their collection of amenities: squash courts, tennis courts, polo, picnics, and dances. Lovely. Really moves the spirit.
Below – some sort of mass of barbaric non-humans who despite acts of tremendous chivalry, generosity, sensibility and rational calculation, yet again never rise above their caricature of ‘tribes’, ‘lawless’ or ‘castrating prisoner’ type nonsense. The entire piece remains high up in the air of inexperience, textual reading, anthropological myopia, cultural incomprehension, human indifference, racist dismissal and derivative colonial bonhomie. They are nothing more than targets to kill, and a problem to solve. Even now, after decades since the departure of the British, the Waziris are seen as nothing more than the blip in the cross-hairs.
Nothing is questioned: not the least of which is the politics of colonial presence, and false ‘great game’ narratives that people like Kipling did throw out there e.g. that there was an imminent threat of an invasion of India. This lie, used more to justify British geographical ambitions and greed than any real threat to any imaginary frontier, is repeated here without thought, and without the benefits of nearly 70 years of new research and new perspectives.
We are given details of aeroplanes – ah, that technical obsession much like the one we have today with ‘precision’ bombs or the specifics of the flying time of a Reaper drone – we are given ‘gentlemanly’ details, we are told that the RAF killed in a very civilised way, we are told that there was a brotherhood, we are told that techniques of flying and bombing and what not. All these decades later, this guy still writes as if he is a colonial sargeant in India reporting about the wogs who happen to have the bad luck of coming in the way of the RAF humanitarian bombs. All the quotes are from pilots of British speakers – there are no Waziris who speak, or explain. All the material is from British sources. There is no reason to look elsewhere. Throughout the Waziris is written to have no political context, no military though, no rational reasons for resistance, no cultural values of worth. He is a raider, a militant, an attacker, a marauder, a barbarian, a statistic, a killed.
Ah…Whole Foods. Fortune Magazine, as usual, puts a nice spin on exploitative labor practices:
I think the issues are as follows: trapped labor, no labor rights, prisoner abuse is now given a twist of worker abuse, severe under pay, massive corporate profits to say the least. furthermore, if we connect this to the mass incarceration profit industry, what we see is the rather unsettling fact that prisons may seek prisoners in order to meet corporate supply chain demands i.e prison labor work force, if it becomes a principal source of a company’s work force, can then be held hostage to market and profit forces, and we can see a backlash where courts and judges become complicit in providing ‘penal labor’ to a prison that has profit margins to achieve. it can even lead to longer sentences, refusal to review cases, rejection of paroles, and the creation of ‘fake’ prisoners by issuing harsh statement on petty charges just to get bodies into the prison and onwards onto the assembly line. in fact, we saw this sort of feedback in the ‘kids for cash’ scandal some years ago (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
The fortune article suggests that this work is good for prisoners because they are ‘citizens’. But they are crippled citizens – they have lost their most cherished right to the vote, and frankly, are already paying their debt to society by being locked up. to now make them available for corporate labor use is a bit rich.they cannot protest their conditions, they cannot demand any rights, they cannot argued their hours, they cannot really do anything meaningful with their lives based on these kinds of jobs. they are beholden to interests that prefer to see more incarcerated, given longer sentences, refused parole i.e. a trapped labor force for the benefit of private profit. Your shrink-wrapped Kale can also be gotten from other sources, though I suspect it will be equally expensive. The profits from the staggering 60c / day pay all go to the company, via a few kickbacks to the prisons I suspect
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