art of resistance, movie/tv propaganda

Why Are We Still Stuck On “Humanizing”?

In one of her interviews, Palestinian filmmaker Annemarie Jacir says she’s “not one of those filmmakers who cares about humanizing Palestinians, that’s not my goal at all… I’m not interested in that dialogue with people, in showing the West that Palestinians are human beings too, because that is so basic, if somebody doesn’t know that, I’m not interested even in the beginning of a dialogue with that person.”

Unfortunately, it seems like, for a great number of audiences, humanizing is still a thing. Just going through Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York (HONY) images from the Middle East, one can notice a huge difference in reactions and comments. There are endless comments thanking him for “humanizing the people of the Middle East”, for “showing they are people too”, for “showing Iraq has shopping malls, wow”, etc. And, of course, it took a white guy from North America to provide them with the right dose of credibility.

Not to take my comment the wrong way – HONY is a truly beautiful project and I admire Stanton’s work. He deals with humanity, with those things all of us share – like parents worrying about their children, insecurity in looks and life decisions, thrill of love, importance of friends… The thing that worries me is that (looking at the reactions of the public) some people are automatically perceived as humans (which is normal and how it should be), while for others – it takes some time and effort to be perceived as such (now, that is not normal). Remember, we are talking about random, everyday people, folks you meet on the street (not political leaders or high-rank army officers). How is it that we are still in need of showing them as humans?

I am aware of the broad extent of political propaganda and the lacking representations of diversity of the Middle East, particularly in the United States, but still, something about these reactions is still shocking. If Stanton is showing them as humans, what were they before, to those who now see them as humans? Did they not even think about them, or were they just numbers, were they aliens, were they savages?

Now, if there is still a need for and a thrill over “showing as human”, we can’t move forward – to talk about the burning issues of the Middle East and our (Western) part in it. If you do not perceive someone as human, then you do not relate to that person, you do not feel compassion for what’s happening to that person. That human being is as strange and unknown as it gets. And if, let’s say, your country invades that person’s country, you just might not find it troubling at all.

Another thing is that realizing we are all human is not enough. That is not the ending point. That is the starting point, that’s the point of departure for our activism. Yes, we’re all humans, and yes – we will react when we see injustice happening to other humans, no matter where they are and who they are. We will inform ourselves and we will not satisfy ourselves with crying over an image of children in Iraq who lost everything but still find a way to laugh and play with toys they made out of junk. We will not use that image to feel better about our peaceful lives, to make ourselves appreciate everything we have. It shouldn’t be (just) like that. We should do something for those children. It’s about them, not about us, remember. It’s about responsibility and interconnections of the world.

As we are being stuck in this long phase of “humanizing”, the world is slowly deteriorating.

General, your tank is a powerful vehicle.

It smashes down forest and crushes a hundred men.

But it has one defect:

It needs a driver.

General, your bomber is powerful.

It flies faster than a storm and carries more than an

elephant.

But it has one defect:

It needs a mechanic.

General, man is very useful.

He can fly and he can kill.

But he has one defect:

He can think.

Bertolt Brecht

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art of resistance, Iraq

Marking Veterans Day 2014: The Nature of War & The Letter From a Dying Veteran.

For more than ten years now, StoryCorps is listening to Americans and sharing stories of their lives. They have collected and archived more than 50,000 interviews with more than 90,000 participants. Their mission is to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives, and they are doing a wonderful job at it.

This month, StoryCorps marks Veterans Day with new animated shorts and a radio special.

The Nature of War is a story of Justin Cilburn. While serving in Baghdad, Justin formed an unlikely friendship with two Iraqi boys who lived nearby. At StoryCorps, Justin speaks with his wife, Deanne, about the lasting impression the boys left on his life.

In the light of this year’s Veterans Day, I am posting The Last Letter of Thomas Young, a soldier who served in Iraq (he was paralyzed by a bullet to the spine while deployed in Iraq), and  one of the first veterans to come out publicly against the war, spending most of his life after the war protesting. His story is the subject of the documentary Body of War. He died two days ago, on November 10th, 2014.

The Last Letter – A Message to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney From a Dying Veteran

“I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. I write this letter on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq. I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives. I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care.

I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.

You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.

I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States. I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East. I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion. I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes. The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history. It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East. It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror. And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region. On every level—moral, strategic, military and economic—Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences.

I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love. I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.

I have, like many other disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration. I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used. We were betrayed. And we have been abandoned. You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being a Christian. But isn’t lying a sin? Isn’t murder a sin? Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins? I am not a Christian. But I believe in the Christian ideal. I believe that what you do to the least of your brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul.

My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.”

 

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art of resistance, movie/tv propaganda

West vs. Islam: Playing The Religion Card.

In the spring of 2009, Barack Obama gave his famous Cairo speech. One of his first sentences was:

We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world, tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunites to many Muslims.“

He continues to talk about Islam during the speech, emphasizing the partnership of Islam and America,and the fight against negative stereotypes of Islam.

Now, the terms West vs. Islam or United States vs. Muslims are quite obvious – West is not defined by religion, but (Middle) East continues to be. It is true that the dominant religion in the West is practiced differently and is maybe less obviously present in everyday life (on a personal, not on an institutional level – let’s just say that the influence of the Catholic Church is not be underestimated) and you will probably not see Christians in New York or Sydney praying five times a day, but you will definitely see Muslims doing it in Amman or Sana’a, for example. But, there are so many issues with defining people by their religion primarily.

One of them is that those terms are extremely insulting to Muslims living in the West, people who have spent their lives in – let’s say – USA, and find it as their home, find American identity as an important part of who they are. Saying that we are in conflict with Muslims generally or have an issue with Muslims is problematic for there are 1.5 billions of Muslims in the world, and they belong to diverse communities, different countries, and many, many of them – live and belong to the Western world.

Jocelyne Cesari, Senior Research Fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, an the Director of the Islam in the West Program at Harvard University writes how:

One major consequence of such a polarized mindset is to mask the sociological reality of Muslims. In fact, a striking gap exists between the image of Islam as it is constructed in binary public discourse and the multifaceted reality of Muslims across countries and localities. For example, the dominant assumption is that visible Islamic identities in the West are inversely correlated to their civic and political loyalties, while there is empirical evidence that contradicts such an assumption. My book – ‘Why the West Fears Islam – An Exploration of Muslims in Liberal Democracies’ – presents first-hand data from focus groups I organized in Paris, London, Berlin, Amsterdam, and Boston between 2007 and 2010. In this regard, it is the first systematic and comparative review of the existing knowledge about Muslim political behaviours and religious practices in western Europe and in the United States.

The major conclusion is that although Muslims are challenged by their secular environment, they do not experience the incompatibility so intensely debated by western politicians and Salafi preachers alike. Then why is Islam depicted as an obstacle in political discourse and the media? Taking up this intriguing gap, I have attempted to make sense of this disjuncture between what Muslims do and the political construct of the ‘Muslim problem’. During this exploration, liberalism and secularism have appeared as the two major idioms used to make sense of the Muslim presence.

The ‘Islamic Problem’ in Europe is a consequence of immigrant settlement that in the last two decades has been phrased in cultural and religious terms. The fact that Muslims stand at the core of three major social ‘problems’ – immigration; class and economic integration; ethnicity and multiculturalism – has increased the concern about Islamic religion, increasingly seen as the major reason for all problems. I show in my book that in the United States this culturalization of all political issues related to Muslims is more recent and primarily related to security concerns. Therefore, categories of ‘immigrant’ and ‘Muslim’ overlap in Western Europe, unlike in the United States where immigration debates centre on economic and social concerns such as wages, assimilation, and language. The outcome of these social shifts is visible in the apocalyptic turn of the public rhetoric on Islam in Europe. Extreme right political figures like Geert Wilders speak of ‘the lights going out over Europe’ or of ‘the sheer survival of the West’.“

She continues to say:

This ‘new integrationist’ discourse is widely shared across European countries and, interestingly, promoted by former left-wing activists. Gender equality and rejection of religious authority, which were primary left-wing topics of struggle in the 1960s have become in the present decade the legitimate markers of European identity. In these conditions, all groups and individuals are required to demonstrate conformity to these liberal values in order to become legitimate members of national communities. The ‘Moderate Muslims’ label serves this purpose. It creates a distinction that is supposedly not based on Islam as such but on the adherence of Muslims to liberal values.

Strikingly, feminist groups have become key actors of this discourse. Some feminist figures have been particularly vehement against group rights and especially against any Islamic principles that could undermine gender equality. Curiously, this feminist discourse silences the Muslim women that it purports to defend. As a consequence, Muslim women are transformed into subalterns in a way that is similar to the colonial and postcolonial vision of the Muslim subject.“

With their book Who Speaks for Islam? John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed have performed an invaluable service in understanding contemporary Islam and the disparate views of 1.5 billion Muslims.  Relying on the work of the Gallup organization to ascertain the views of Muslims across the world, Esposito and Mogahed have analyzed public opinion in the Islamic world on all of the most important issues of the day. Their analysis provides an excellent foundation for bridging the gaps between the West and the East, and is a great read for all of those who wish to understand this topic.

There are many reasons for us to do so. For example, a 2006 USA Today/Gallup poll found that substantial minorities of Americans admit to harboring at least some prejudice against Muslims and favoring heightened security measures for Muslims a way to help prevent terrorism. The same poll found that 44% of Americans saying that Muslim are too extreme in their religious beliefs.

What is extreme? Isn’t the killing of Dr. George Tiller, a 67-year-old abortion provider who was shot point blank in the forehead as he attended church services in Wichita, extreme? Tiller’s clinic was one of a handful in the USA that performed abortions after the 24th week of pregnancy. Tiller’s case is not an isolated one, and that is only one tiny example of the wrongdoings of extreme Christians. But Tiller’s murderer Shelley Shannon was not chosen as a representative model of Christians by the media, the same way we do not see Army of God banners and flags all over the place as an image depicting Christians.

Donald_Spitz_holds_Army_of_God_BannerDonald Spitz holds Army of God banner. /image via wikipedia/

And I think that is good, since those people and those acts do not represent the majority of Christians or the religion itself (this is not to say that we shouldn’t pay attention to them, but rather not to take them as a standard and representative for all).

Now, the other issue I find disturbing when it comes to West vs. Islam, is that it allows us (Western countries – our governments) to make the religion of Islam responsible for everything bad going on in the (Middle) East. It is a way of reducing people and issues to one thing – a way in which Islam serves as a cover-up of for all the complex realities, identities and historical events of the Middle East. It is extremely ignorant and extremely dangerous. But it is also perfect – since Western governments share a great deal of responsibility for the turmoils of the (Middle) East.

Of course, part of the blame for the religious name-calling lies on the shoulders of incapable Arab leaders who – knowing not how to lead their countries and provide competent solutions for their people and issues they are facing – every now and then talk about Islam like it is going to magically solve everything (but, then again –  Obama also finishes every speech with God bless America, and when we talk about America – we do not say Christians or Christianity).

I believe that the religion is what a person makes of it. All of the holy books – whether it is the Bible, Qur’an, Torah – can be interpreted in many ways. If you are a good person, you’ll find what’s good in it and live by it. If you’re a violent, embittered person, you’ll find in it an excuse to be violent in the name of religion. Like Reza Aslan says in the interview for the CNN: „Islam is just a religion and like any other religion in the world it depends on what you bring to it. If you are a violent person your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism is going to be violent.“

So – instead of all the talk about the Islam, we must talk about the legacy of colonialism which continues to make a profound impact on East-West relations today. We must talk about the current distribution of global power, once wielded by Europe and now by the United States, which fuels a sense of alienation, frustration, and mistrust in the Eastern world. To finish this post – let’s just go back to 1996 and Samuel Huntington’s implicit claim in his Clash of Civilizations that there is a collision between the fundamental values of Islamic and Western worlds and that “Islam has bloody borders” , a point of view that justifies the current global power imbalance to the detriment of non-Western cultures and societies. It is time to finally let go of the dirty games, lower passions and superficial explanations we are being fed with.

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Iraq, movie/tv propaganda

Mapping the “Other”: A one-way street of the West.

“The British Army adopted the same cynical colonial attitude in its cartography of Belfast. I still possess their sectarian maps of the 1970s in which Protestant areas were coloured red (of course) and Catholic districts green (of course) while the mixed, middle-class area around Malone Road appeared as a dull brown, the colour of a fine dry sherry. But we do not draw these maps of our own British cities. I could draw a map of Bradford’s ethnic districts – but we would never print it. Thus we divide the ‘other’, while assiduously denying the ‘other’ in ourself. This is what the French did in Lebanon, what the British did in Northern Ireland and the Americans are now doing in Iraq. In this way we maintain our homogenous power. Pierre Gemayel grew up in Bikfaya, firmly in that wedge of territory north of Beirut. Many Lebanese now fear a conflict between those who support the ‘democracy’ to which Gemayel belonged and the Shias, the people – in every sense of the word – at the ‘bottom’. And the French are going to ensure that the country in which all these people are trapped remains ‘independent’. Quite so. And by the way, when did we ever see an ethnic map of Paris and its banlieus?”

This is a quote from one of Robert Fisk’s articles for The Independent (article published in November 2006, found in his book The Age of the Warrior: Selected Writings). After I read it, I marked the page and went on a search for maps that showcase ethnic and religious diversity of the Middle East countries. There are many, many maps like that on Google Images. Here are some of them.

Afghanistan-groups-Ethnic-in_525924c4ee764

ethnic_iraq

iraq_ethnic_religious_map

iraq-demographic-map

Mid_East_Ethnic_lg

MidEastSyriaEthnicMap

Now, when you google USA and search for its ethnic and religious diversity maps (and we know that USA really is a land of diversity), there are only couple of images, one of them being this map of New York (published by The New York Times).

nyt-2010-nyc-mosaic-map

It is even worse when trying to find something about France, a country where the “other” was always a problem. There are no maps presenting the suburbs of French cities or France as a country the way Iraq, for example, is presented. No maps to point out our “weak spots”. No maps to note the existence of suburbs like Clichy-sous-Bois, located only 15 kilometres from central Paris, but not served by any motorway or major road and no railway (not served by any station of the Paris Métro, RER, or suburban rail network), and therefore one of the most isolated of the inner suburbs of Paris. Clichy-sous-Bois has a high unemployment rate compared to the rest of the country, more than 40% of the young population, and of course – the vast majority of its population is made up of African heritage, and it is where the riots in 2005 started (after the death of two young boys who had been escaping a police control).

No maps. All I have to answer the question Robert Fisk asked  (“And by the way, when did we ever see an ethnic map of Paris and its banlieus?”), is to go back to 1995 when movie La Haine was made. It is a story of three friends – Vinz, a Jew, Saïd, an Arab, and Hubert, a black boxer, raised in French suburbs – and one day in their lives filled with boredom, unemployment, tension, hatred and violence. It’s about a society on its way down. And as it falls,it keeps telling itself: “So far so good… So far so good… So far so good.” But… It’s not how you fall that matters. It’s how you land.

“La haine attire la haine!” or  “hatred breeds hatred!” These are our maps.

la haine

la hine2La Haine /photos via IMDb/

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art of resistance, Iraq, movie/tv propaganda

The Book To Read: Robert Fisk & The Age of The Warrior.

This morning I found myself digging through my books, searching for Robert Fisk’s The Age of The Warrior (2008)I did it only to read the preface again. The first time I read this amazing collection of Fisk’s writings, I remember the overwhelming feeling and (already then) the need to go back to and through it again. So I do it, from time to time, and I still discover the power and importance of this preface – so I decided to type it up and share it here.

main_largeRobert Fisk

Iraq, I suspect, will come to define the world we live in, even for those of us who have never been within a thousand miles of its borders. The war’s colossal loss in human life – primarily Iraqi, of course – and the lies that formed a bodyguard for our invasion troops in 2003 should inform our understanding of conflict for years to come. Weapons of mass destruction. Links to al-Qaeda and the crimes against humanity of 11 September 2001. We were fooled. Yet I sometimes believe that we wanted to be fooled – that we wish to be led to the slaughter by our masters, to race for the cliff-edge with the desperate enthusiasm of the suicide bomber, our instincts awakened by something that should have been buried at Hastings or Waterloo or Antietam or Berlin or even Da Nang. Do we need war? Do we need it the way we need air and love and children and safety? I wonder.

Anger is a ferocious creature. Journalists are supposed to avoid this nightmare animal, to observe this beast with ‘objective’ eyes. A reporter’s supposed lack of ‘bias’ – which, I suspect, is now the great sickness of our Western press and television has become the antidote to personal feeling, the excuse for all of us to avoid the truth. Record the fury of a Palestinian whose land has been taken from him by Israeli settlers – but always refer to Israel’s ‘security needs’ and its ‘war on terror’. If Americans are accused of ‘torture’, call it ‘abuse’. If Israel assassinates a Palestinian, call it a ‘targeted killing’. If Armenians lament their Holocaust of 1, 500, 000 souls in 1915, remind readers that Turkey denies this all to real and fully documented genocide. If Iraq has become a hell on Earth for its people, recall how awful Saddam was. If a dictator is on our side, call him a ‘strongman’. If he’s our enemy, call him tyrant, or part of the ‘axis of evil’. And above all else, use the word ‘terrrorist’. Terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. Seven days a week.

That’s the kind of anger that journalists are permitted to deploy, the anger of righteousness and fear. It is the language of our masters, the Bushes and Blairs and Browns, the Kinkels and the Sarkozy and, of course, the Mubaraks and the King Husseins and the Arabian kings and emirs and the Musharrafs and, indeed, even the crazed Muammar Ghadafi of Libya – who signs up to the war of Good against Evil. For journalists, this has nothing to do with justice – which is all the people of the Middle East demand – and everything to do with avoidance. Ask ‘how’ and ‘who’ – but not ‘why’. Source everything to officials: ‘American officials’, ‘intelligence officials’, ‘official sources’, anonymous policemen or army officers. And if those institutions charged with our protection abuse that power, then remind readers and listeners and viewers of the dangerous age in which we now live, the age of terror – which means that we must live in the Age of Warrior, someone whose business and profession and vocation and mere existence is to destroy our enemies.“

Robert Fisk, The Age of The Warrior (preface)

You can buy  The Age of The Warrior on Amazon, and for more of Fisk’s writings – read his weekly column for the The Independent. Also, I highly recommend his books Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War and The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.

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