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

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.

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:)

The Unvarnished Truth about Obama, Harris and Diversity without Accountability

Jordan Elgrably asked me to flesh out my post about Obama for The Markaz Review. I was trying to keep the post private, lol, but here it is with more thoughts about representation without accountability. Pls recommend/comment on the Markaz website if you like this column:) More here.

Obama’s new book

Obama’s new book has been making the rounds. It’s everywhere on social media, much like Michelle Obama’s book a couple of years ago. Both book covers glow with the same photoshop finish, two attractive people a bit shy about the power of their own magnetism. Smart, effortlessly debonair, moneyed. Diametrically opposed to Trump’s vulgarity, civilized in their discourse (“to protest a man in the final hour of his presidency seemed graceless and unnecessary,” he’s written about protests against Bush), and confident in the gushing response from their stans. Obama, the drone president. The man who dropped 26,000 bombs his last year in the White House. Literary rock stars like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith fangirl over his remarkable writing and unimaginably difficult presidential decisions. The decency of his character is assured, in spite of his war crimes. He’s got the Netflix deals after all and the power to gift us Biden. He makes us feel nostalgic for the good old days, when America was truly great. Everyone knows he killed almost 4000 people in 542 drone strikes, deported more than 2.5 million others, and force-fed Muslim men categorized as non-human in Guantanamo. Yet here we are. He didn’t just do the broadly brutal, presidential butchery we expect from American presidents, to keep us safe, he made it more personal. He handled kill lists, droned a 16-year-old American kid in Yemen along with his 17-year-old cousin, started spanking new wars, and called the president of Yemen to halt the release of a journalist reporting on drone casualties in that country. But the boring repetition of these atrocities can easily be set aside. Pictures of dead children or their wailing mothers don’t really register if they’re not wearing the right clothes or speaking the right languages. We can say sensibly that collateral damage is a price we are willing to pay, as long as someone else is actually paying that price. Would we be equally understanding about the droning of our own children for the greater good of the world? Why is that a crazy question? Maybe that’s just how it is these days. Everything whitewashed, packaged like an Apple product, branded like a captivatingly effete IG influencer, and placed adroitly like sponcon. It’s hard to tell the news from the ads or Hollywood films from military propaganda. Everything ground together into a bland paste of vacuity. Makes one hungry for guerrilla filmmaking and some raw, unvarnished truth.

lecture at UR on multiple feminisms

earlier this week i taught a UR class on gender, sexuality and women’s studies about islam and feminism. thank u tanya for inviting me. these are the three women whose work i used to make a case for multiple feminisms.

i talked about saba mahmood’s ‘politics of piety’ and the need to self-parochialize by acknowledging the specificities and limits of one’s own position in the world. she reminds us that western knowledge is not self-sufficient or neutral, that it is divisive, exclusionary and complicit in harm.

i relied on francoise verges for an understanding of decolonial feminism and the problematic relationship between bourgeois women in the global north and women in the global south as well as WOC in the global north – the ones who take care of their children, clean their homes, and do their nails. she questions the meaning of ‘autonomy’ under oppressive systems of militarization, surveillance, obscene inequalities, precariousness and disposability. to her, decolonial feminism is about constant questioning and curiosity, and about decolonizing oneself (examining one’s own prejudices).

finally, houria boutelja confronts savior feminism and the privilege of solidarity. she refuses to answer the question: ‘is islam compatible with feminism?’ and tells us that the submissive muslim woman is a myth – she’s never met one. i cannot thank these women scholars and activists enough for their sharp analysis and powerful work. so many of us stand on their shoulders.

Frankenstein in Baghdad

Halfway through Ahmed Saadawi’s ‘Frankenstein in Baghdad’ – macabre, surreal, comical, poetic. Also heartbreaking in how it portrays life unraveling under war and occupation – how our sense of ‘normal’ can shift precipitously. Masterful writing. Thank u so much Mazin M Hameed for recommending it and thank u Muna Lisa for reminding me of this book.

I am part of The Changermakers exhibit at RMSC

Hey everyone, I’m thrilled to be featured in this new exhibit at RMSC. It’s called ‘The Changemakers: Rochester Women Who Changed the World?’ and it highlights stories of women visionaries and trailblazers from Rochester.

It’s opening at the Rochester Museum and Science Center on November 20. You can visit the exhibit in person (no worries, there will be safety protocols in place). It’s a historic representation of woman power.

Learn more about The Changemakers: RMSC.org/changemakers #BeChangemakers

Monster. A Fugue in Fire and Ice

I listened to this lecture yesterday instead of focusing on the US elections. It’s a lecture by Anne McClintock, the A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at Princeton. Her presentation is called ‘Monster. A Fugue in Fire and Ice.’ “McClintock engaged three of the great crises of our time — climate catastrophe (especially melting ice and rising oceans), global militarization, and mass displacement. Through creative nonfiction and her own photographs, McClintock explored the question of how we can make scientific data and the planetary upheavals of the Anthropocene more publicly visible and tangible to facilitate more creative strategies for change.”

Although I voted and would prefer some disruption to the Trump regime, a return to neoliberal ‘normalcy’ and bipartisan support for militarism and empire do not reassure me. I feel nauseous when I think about 4 years under Biden-Harris and what that will mean for healthcare, housing and food security in the middle of a pandemic – 40% of low-income Americans have lost their jobs and 8 million additional people have slipped into poverty. What will a Biden presidency mean for Palestine, for Kashmir, for the Dalits and Muslims of India, for the people of the Middle East and Central and South America? And what will it mean for our planet? I am much more invested in these larger concerns than in the results of sham presidential elections. This is not a democracy. [not interested in apologias for Biden, Harris or American democracy]

robert fisk (1946 – 2020)

i will never forget his searing, disturbing description of what he saw at the sabra and shatila refugee camps, right after the massacre in 1982. he was one of the first journalists on the scene. an incredibly important witness.

“He reported extensively on the first Gulf War basing himself for a time in Baghdad where he was fiercely critical of other foreign correspondents whom he accused of covering the conflict from their hotel rooms. He also covered the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and frequently condemned US involvement in the region.”

voting one’s conscience

i’m a firm believer in people voting their conscience (or not voting, if that is their considered decision) – otherwise what’s the point? i don’t attack people for doing so, just because i happen to disagree w their choices. pls do ur thing. just no need to get all self-righteous about it. allow others the same agency u want for urself, and the same presumption of intelligence. thank u.

gadot as cleopatra

a friend asked me to speak to her class about feminism and islam, something i’ve written about, so i’ve been refreshing my reading of texts by three spectacularly incisive women of color – saba mahmood, houria boutelja and francoise verges. the timing could not be better as the controversy over casting gal gadot, a white israeli actress, in the role of cleopatra continues on social media.

i know this will ruffle feathers, but i’ve been meaning to write this since the new ‘wonder woman’ came out (also played by gal gadot). i grew up in the middle of europe, when wonder woman was on fire (albeit dubbed in french) and i have to say, it never did anything for me. i’ve read ad infinitum how wonder woman changed the lives of western/white women and i’ve always felt completely disconnected from that discourse. wonder woman, as invented by a white man and played by a skinny white woman, did not resonate with me. most of the time, she seemed to be awkwardly balancing herself while twirling, burdened with an impractical costume, and, i felt as a child, more limited in her powers than other super heroes. she did not represent strength to me. the bionic woman (also dubbed in french) seemed more sensible and badass than her.

it’s pretty fitting then that gal gadot, a supporter of IDF and settler colonialism, came to embody white feminism, its artifacts and imagery – something i am indifferent to.
in the same way cleopatra, as delivered by elizabeth taylor, felt sad and campy, so very campy, and failed to project female empowerment. she was obviously conceived and executed by a bunch of men in hollywood. now that we’ve come a long way, in terms of women’s rights, a group of white women want their chance to co-opt the story of an egyptian queen. i’m sure that their counterparts will be inspired, but the rest of us — brown, black, women from the east and the global south — will just have to do our own thing:)

stop already, wajahat ali

a couple of years ago, wajahat ali goes to palestine with MLI, a zionist-supported program, and writes all about his insights on how settlers have feelings too (the atlantic gives him plenty of space to reflect on the hackneyed ‘competing narratives’ vis a vis palestine/israel). there is pushback as expected. wajahat ali doesn’t back down. he writes a second piece for the atlantic to defend himself and spit on retrograde muslims. now, once again, wajahat ali gets annoyed because steven salaita, ali abunimah and others point out how certain opinions get more media coverage than others and how the proponents of those views get bigger media platforms. wajahat ali bends over backward to frame that uncontroversial statement as being anti-semitic and sends armies of trolls and miscellaneous gatekeepers of speech on p/i their way, in spite of how much damage such allegations have already wreaked on scholars/activists/journalists. sadly wajahat ali is pakistani american. his shameless (and outrageous) centering of himself on the subject of palestine is embarrassing. dude, pls pipe down and go back to writing unimaginative plays like ‘the domestic crusaders’.