Here’s what I know. You grew up, like most, where you got trophies for participation, medals for winning bullshit things and undying support from your doting parents who just wanted to see you succeed...
Ali Abunimah and Omar Barghouti - brilliant and self-confident Palestinian activists and writers - are the true heirs of Edward Said's legacy. Writing clearly, honestly and with tremendous generosity of spirit and consistency of morals, they make the argument with strength, and reveal Israel's unsustainable hypocrisy with wonderful clarity.
Ali Abunimah's new book promises to be a wonderful read, and an important source of clarity for those who strangely remain confused about what is taking place.
Samer Mohdad was once told that “Arab photography did not exist.” This week he is part of an ambitious showcase of contemporary Arab photography at Houston FotoFest.
Asim Rafiqui's insight:
A powerful way to marginalize works is to place them in a 'new' category - there they can reside as an exotica to be gawked at by those interested in their self-invention as 'cosmopolitan' or 'sophisticated', much like periodically eating at 'foreign food' restaurants passes for many as a qualification for 'international, 'open minded' and 'traveled'. No matter how generous your intention, if you categorize artistic works along ethnic, cultural, national lines, you will always leave it hanging on the margins of the very center that has the power to define these labels.
Why label this work, these exhibitions as an 'inside view', or even 'Arab' photography? Why cannot this just be about the secular subjects that are focused on - dispossession, community, politics, resistance, emancipation, illiberal society, military occupation etc. - issues that affect us all, and that we all can find mirrored in our own worlds in most all of the metropolis in the West?
If we refuse to see how these stories are not by Arabs about Arabs, but about the world and the politics of a region that we, certainly we here in the USA, are profoundly and intrinsically embroiled in, you will never overcome not only your own prejudice, but also never achieve your goal to 'clear away the prejudice and cliches' as the curators of this exhibition claim they want to do
THe first prejudice and cliche to attack are the exotic/colonial categories - these which reek of 18th-century bigotry that so colored anthropology and ethnography, and to find a universal, human language and a reading that makes these wirks a part of our world, and highlights it as a part of our reality here in the West
Lynsey Addario traveled to Afghanistan ahead of upcoming presidential elections, where the first female governor in the country, Habiba Sarabi, is now the first woman running for vice-president.
Asim Rafiqui's insight:
Yesterday, shilling for corporations. Today, shilling for illegal military occupations. Forever, ignorant and illiterate photojournalists at the forefront of the use of faux-humanist discourse to veil real military invasions, occupations, and all its associated military violence, civic destruction, institutional corruption, systemic entrenchment of rapists, mass murderers, gang leaders, crooks, drug barons, money laundering masters, and corrupt politicians.
It was only yesterday that Marnia Marzen in her book The Eloquence of Silence was reminding us that
"Perhaps the most spectacular example of the colonial appropriation of women's voices, and the silencing of those among them who had begun to take women revolutionaries . . . as role models by not donning the veil, was the event of May 16, 1958 [just four years before Algeria finally gained its independence from France after a long bloody struggle and 130 years of French control—L,A.], On that day a demonstration was organized by rebellious French generals in Algiers to show their determination to keep Algeria French, To give the government of France evidence that Algerians were in agreement with them, generals had a few thousand native men bused in from nearby villages, along with a few women who were solemnly unveiled by French women. .. Rounding up Algerians and bringing them to demonstrations of loyalty to France was not in itself an unusual act during the colonial era, But to unveil women at a well-choreographed ceremony added to the event a symbolic dimension that dramatized the one constant feature of the Algerian occupation by France: its obsession with women. [Lazreg 1994:135, See Lughud, Do Muslim Women Need Saving]"
The old colonial obsession with using women to veil its crass economic, political and military interests has a long pedigree. The brown woman has always to be saved from brown men. Addario becomes part of a fake narrative that suggests that the condition of the women of Afghanistan i- associated with burqas and isolation - is a result because of the Taliban. It ignores politics, history, and social / communal reactionaries to decades of violence and brutality both from foreign and domestic actors. It ignores other possibilities and of course any and all agency of the Afghani woman herself. It also ignores the mass brutality faced by all Afghanis under the Taliban regime for example, including so many of the very Pushtuns that this imperial adventure has labelled as 'Taliban' for the simply act of their resistance to the American occupation. And yes, it is an occupation, and it is a resistance. you don't have to like it, or its content, but you don't have to pretend that it is 'terrorism' or merely a theological campaign. These fake narratives of new Afghani democracy, of elections are part and parcel of the enterprise of war and occupation - the 'packaging' of liberal discourse into the public theatre of vote gathering and giving. Power, defined as always by politics behind the scene, remains elsewhere. The women however continue to play their continuing silent role as actors on the imperial stage, expected to offer their grateful bodies for the use of the Western liberal's imagination and then to move on. Addario igores RAWA - a women's rights organization that was once the toast of the town in the USA, but since their vociferous criticism of the American occupation, the murderers and criminals in government, seem to have lost their ability to attend dinner parties at the Asia Society and other platforms of liberal thought.
The poor women of Afghanistan. Addario plays the role of the useful idiot, offering nonsensical, out-dated and fraudulent images and content, veiling propaganda exercises into real events, feeding the war machine the images of humanity that it desperately needs to justify the brutalities it has inflicted and knows will need to continue to inflict to keep the people of the country' in line. Iraq offers us the lesson, but of course, there is no one photographing there for the moment
Politics in Uganda is not for the faint-hearted. For years, opposition supporters have been beaten, robbed, murdered, imprisoned in secret police cells, tortured, and charged with treason. Ruling party supporters have shut down the generators of radio stations and even destroyed bridges to prevent opposition candidates from campaigning in some areas. The supposedly impartial Electoral Commission has used donor-funded “civic education” programs to campaign for the ruling party. Cell phone companies and radio stations had been intimidated into refusing to carry opposition advertisements and even text messages.
Asim Rafiqui's insight:
American Evangelicals, and a venal political establishment that so loves them, and that they so love. To say nothing about the use of 'homosexuality' as a weapon to silence dissent and distract from the brutality of the politicians. Epstein yet again is brilliant.
Now the Washingtion Post has a excellent piece that points out that:
"There are several problems with Prendergast’s [founder of Enough Project] narrative that scholars of the region have identified, including Severine Autesserre’s point that most DRC conflicts are driven by local interests over land rights and citizenship, identity, and belonging, Cuvelier, Vlassenroot, and Olin’s work showing that there is little empirical evidence or theoretical consensus as to how rebels use resource wealth, and my work arguing that rebels will draw on other sources of revenue in the absence of mineral wealth because the absence of government control allows them to move freely."
Read the full article here. The narratives we love are the ones that make us the most important player in their lives. This level of narcissism is merely a cover for our refusal to engage seriously with other histories and other politics. Its time that we stopped preening ourselves and started to experience the lives and realities of those we claim to 'give voice to'.
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