A new book takes on the problematic academic discipline of “Jihadism”

The study of jihadism generally takes for granted that organizations like Hezbollah, Hamas, the Islamic State, al-Shabab, the Afghan Taliban, and various Iraqi Shia militias should be grouped under one category. This grand category also happens to include solitary individuals engaged in acts of violence not directed by any organization. Huge disparities of geography, language, sect, and politics are more or less ignored in favor of a narrative understandable through the single term of “jihadism.”

“Consider for a moment three different things: the Irish Republican Army, the Republican Party in the United States, and Plato’s Republic,” Li told me, by way of analogy. “All of these employ the term ‘republic,’ and all of them somehow have a connection with violence. If you lumped them together and claimed they represent an ideology called ‘republicanism,’ that obviously wouldn’t make any sense. Yet that’s what the category of ‘jihadism’ essentially does.”

[…] “The discourse on jihadism has a misguided focus on individuals, particularly the idea that a meaningful understanding of political violence can be found by getting inside their heads,” Li said. “If you took a random sample of the motivations of U.S. military service members, you would probably find that some believed in their mission, some just needed a job, and some were sadists who wanted to kill people. But you couldn’t go directly from analyzing the mindsets of individual soldiers to understanding the political goals or causes of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

[…] In a way, the U.N. peacekeepers came to Bosnia for reasons not so different from the foreign volunteers who called their cause a “jihad.” Acting on behalf of a supposed “international community,” the peacekeepers bore arms under the banner of values that they proclaimed as universal and applicable to all of humanity. Many also happened to be Muslims. Some of the veteran peacekeepers that Li met in Islamabad, years after the Bosnian war, demonstrate that they saw no conflict with upholding two universal ideas at the same time: the defense of liberal values and their duty to aid oppressed coreligionists.

[…] Despite this, the perception of foreign fighters as radically evil by default — something like modern equivalents of pirates or highwaymen — tends to exaggerate differences between them and other combatants.

“People who invoke jihad are not necessarily any less brutal, callous, or hypocritical than other violent actors, and there is no shortage of things they can be condemned for. But there’s a world of difference between criticism and dismissal,” Li said. “Criticism requires spelling out some criteria and accepting that those criteria should apply to others too, including oneself. Dismissal is a refusal to think, it’s condemnation that doesn’t submit itself to standards or scrutiny.” More here.

To happier times

2020 was an unbearably rough year for too many. We all had our challenges, but some suffered much more than others. Our hearts are overextended. May 2021 be kinder to us.

To beauty, to the vastness of the universe and the magic of nature. To happier times:)

‘Something That Happens Right Now’

I haven’t told this before. By our house on the plains before I was born my father planted a maple. At night after bedtime when others were asleep I would go out and stand beside it and know all the way north and all the way south. Air from the fields wandered in. Stars waited with me. All of us ached with a silence, needing the next thing, but quiet. We leaned into midnight and then leaned back. On the rise to the west the radio tower blinked—so many messages pouring by. A great surge came rushing from everywhere and wrapped all the land and sky. Where were we going? How soon would our house break loose and become a little speck lost in the vast night? My father and mother would die. The maple tree would stand right there. With my hand on that smooth bark we would watch it all. Then my feet would come loose from Earth and rise by the power of longing. I wouldn’t let the others know about this, but I would be everywhere, as I am right now, a thin tone like the wind, a sip of blue light—no source, no end, no horizon.

—William Stafford

seeing ‘the changemakers’ at RMSC

at the rochester museum & science center today where we saw ‘the changemakers’ exhibit which is stunning. recognized so many beautiful women friends who are part of the exhibition. two pieces from my art series ‘this heirloom’ are on display there. one is a graphic collage with my mom and her sister, when they were little girls. the other is called ‘embroidered dreams’ and it’s a tribute to my paternal grandmother, niaz fatima. my grandmother became a widow when she was quite young and struggled to raise and educate her children, in a highly patriarchal family system. i was wondering how she would feel about her picture hanging in a museum in rochester, new york, a tribute by a granddaughter she didn’t see grow up. it felt empowering.
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rmsc #thechangemakers #beachangemaker #womensupportingwomen #womenempowerment #pakistan #rochesteny

What terrifies people more than cops

Harsha Walia: You know what terrifies people as much (or more than) cops: social workers apprehending your children and tearing apart your family; border agents and immigration enforcement detaining and deporting you to a certain death; jail guards assaulting and incarcerating and torturing you; private security guards and city officials stealing your tent and belongings in the dead of winter because you have nowhere to sleep but outdoors; psychiatrists and health care professionals forcibly detaining you and throwing you in involuntary treatment; western-funded and trained military units and occupying forces killing and massacring you and your family members in one of the hundreds of permanent imperial wars across this globe. The carceral regime of social control within racial capitalism is a networked system of violence upholding ‘organized abandonment alongside organized violence’ (as Ruthie Gilmore calls it), of which cops are one of many interconnected deathscape infrastructures we need to abolish.

The NYT’s terrorism fetish

“We fell in love with the fact that we had gotten a member of ISIS who would describe his life in the caliphate and would describe his crimes,” New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet told NPR in an interview. “I think we were so in love with it that when we saw evidence that maybe he was a fabulist, when we saw evidence that he was making some of it up, we didn’t listen hard enough.”

That’s it? The NYT was madly in love with ISIS fantasies, so they didn’t bother to check whether their one and only source, Shehroze Chaudhry, had ever been to Syria? Rukmini Callimachi, their terrorism star, gets reassigned and we move on?

This is the problem with the West: their obsession with lurid, Orientalist, violent, but also perversely erotic readings and portrayals of the non-West. It’s a full-time job that requires constant snooping and make-believe, the invention of entire disciplines and colonial projects, the production of art and culture, as well as plentiful funding and prestigious awards. Whether it’s the Nobel or Pulitzer, the Peabody or the Oscars, look at the stories being told. What gets rewarded and what gets left on the dusty pile of rejection.

This reward and punishment scheme is so consistent and normalized, that even people of color with connections to the non-West get it. They know what stories to tell or how far they can go in their criticism of Europe and its stellar intellectual history. The trick is to complicate, to rely on subterfuge, and not make the indictment of the non-West too obvious, racist, or one-note. The formula works well, particularly if the oeuvre is inspired by Plato’s Dialogues or Leopardi’s Canti.

The ‘Caliphate’ fiasco is hardly an anomaly. NYT terrorism expert Judith Miller cheerled the invasion of Iraq, because her source “clad in nondescript clothes and a baseball cap pointed to several spots in the sand where he said chemical precursors and other weapons material were buried.”

This is the precarious foundation on which the War on Terror and its attendant propaganda are built, buttressed by stories of magic WMDs and ISIS elves. Failures of American journalism, however spectacular, never make a dent because this is the reflection we want to behold. We can only be good and right, if someone else is bad and wrong. Even if we get caught lying like a rug, we can turn around and say we were so madly in love with the truth, we just didn’t listen hard enough.

It is time to talk about caste in Pakistan and Pakistani diaspora

Shaista Patel: Concerns raised by Dalit and anti-caste thinkers from Pakistan often remain ignored and outright dismissed, especially by caste and class privileged Pakistani Muslims who refuse to see caste, let alone the caste dominance and caste terror prevalent in Pakistan and its diaspora.

Pakistanis need to stop believing that Dalits live only in India. There are about 40 castes, 32 of which were listed as scheduled castes under the November 1957 Presidential ordinance of Pakistan.

[…] As Sindhi anti-caste scholar Ghulam Hussain, who has contributed ground-breaking work on caste relations in Sindh, notes, Sayedism and Brahminism are infused with each other. Sayed supremacy – which Hussain labels as Sayedism – comes from the (unproven) belief that Sayeds are genealogical descendants of Prophet Muhammad and therefore have a more authentic grasp on Islam and all social and political matters.

Another anti-caste researcher, Haris Gazdar, points out that “the public silencing on caste contrasts with an obsession with it in private dealings”. More here.

The Exhausted Bodies of the Colonial Spectacle

Photography creates a power imbalance between photographer and subject. As Susan Sontag has said: ‘To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge — and, therefore, like power.’

When we reuse, post/share, or repurpose problematic photographs we should be aware of our own enmeshment and responsibility in that sensational and exploitative relationship.

Here is a fantastic treatise on the subject by Collectif Cases Rebelles. It’s their response to the publication of ‘Sex, Race & Colonies,’ a 544-page coffee table book filled with sexualized images of indigenous people being abused by white colonizers. The book is a lurid reproduction of colonial, racist, and misogynistic violence.
“To the question of whether these photos should be shown or not, we respond unequivocally: shouldn’t the people in the photographs be the first to answer?”

Farmers’ protests in India

In complete solidarity with the farmers’ protests in India.

Simran Jeet Singh: “The pandemic has shown us that there are two economies. Essential workers across the world are suffering. The farmers in India represent all of them, and their resistance to unjust legislation that privileges the uber-wealthy corporations is a resistance that speaks to so many of us all over the world.”

for my birthday this year

thank u for all the warm and lovely birthday wishes dear friends. so i’ve been on fb since 2007. it’s been a while. i’ve never asked people to support a cause on my birthday before, but this year yemen has been in my heart and on my mind.
pls donate any small (or large) amount u can. it’s people like us who have to show up for one another.

here is an IRC link.

i’m sure u’ve heard about the humanitarian crisis in yemen, man-made famine-like conditions that are devastating the country, along with an ongoing, merciless war (in which we americans are complicit). i also wanted to share some history with u, so u know how beautiful yemen is.

‘Located in the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen’s earliest excavated village settlements are dated to c. 5000 BC and the first urban settlements on the eastern deserts date from around 1200 BC. Sana’a lies in a fertile basin over two thousand meters above sea level, on a major communication axis that crosses the mountains of Yemen. As part of the African Horn where the Red Sea meets the Indian Ocean, it is often described as the ancestral heartland of the Arabs. Sana’a is one of the most ancient surviving cities in Arabia and arguably the longest continually inhabited city in the world.’

in karachi

i’ve been working 24/7 on a new community-oriented art project and the gorgeous website that will house it (thank u Isabelle for ur brilliant work on the website) and so i’m looking through old external hard drives to find and organize artwork and photography i have produced over the years. came across this picture from karachi where i was working at the time – my first serious job as a management trainee at ICI. wonderful times when everything was exciting and possible, even though i was stuck in a corporate world that never really jibed with me. still i will always be grateful for jobs that made me financially independent and able to live on my own in a diverse and insane metropolis, almost double the population of nyc. photograph by Umar:)