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The Idea Of India Project Update: At The Shrine Of Malang Shah Aulia And The Dance Of The Wandering Dervish And The Goddess

In The Idea Of India Project on May 30, 2011 at 7:03 pm

When the Muslim wandering mystic died, the goddess Bhagavati buried him with her own hands.

Here in the town of Pudunagaram, Kerala that is the story they will tell you .

Pudunagaram, Kerala

The wandering mystic’s origins are unknown, though many believe that he arrived here from Tamil Nadu. The Malang were wandering mystic, disdained by the orthodox and quite often even by the Sufis themselves, but they are very influential in this part of Kerala and Northern India. The Muslam Malang Shah Aulia and the goddess Bhagavati are closely linked here, with a devotion at her temple considered incomplete without first passing through the shrine of the saint. Panditji Kanju handed me a small packet of ash once I had completed my darshan at the temple, asking me to mix it with the sacred earth at the saint’s shrine. They say that the mixture of the two can fix a number of health problems. The links between the goddess and the mystic are woven into stories and legends here, and it is a remarkable example of how the people of the region have found ways to articulate and define their inter-relatedness.

Malang Shah Aulia’s shrine is also the site of an annual urs and a performance of an elaborate nerchas. I had never seen one – an annual performance at the shrine where trances and acts of dangerous self-flagellation and cutting are performed. I will write more about this in a later post. Suffice it to say that the performances are intense, involving a group of men surrounded by chanter and drummers, who move into a trance like state and carry out repeated self-mutilation, and also mock sacrifices of a  young boy. Different regions have different ritualistic practices when it comes to nerchas and they have been explored in works like The Kerala Muslims: A Historical Perspective Ed. Asghar Ali Engineer and also in a fascinating article by Dale and Menon called ‘Nerccas: Saint-Martyr Worship Among The Muslims Of Kerala’ in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 

One of the young men hanging out with me at the shrine had made a video of this year’s performance and showed it to me and I can confirm that it is something quite unique, intense and passionate. Such rituals are also of course criticized the more ‘orthodox’ clergy but are intrinsic to Islam’s cultural heritage in Kerala. Such nerchas are yet another example of the deep influence of Hindu practices and their adoption in Muslim ritualistic performances in Kerala.

Malang Shah Aulia and the goddess even dance together!

Many legends tie goddesses to saints, and to Christian martyrs. The pilgrimage of Sabarimala, an event that I documents and wrote about earlier in a piece called The Reality Of Legends: The Sabarimala Pilgrimage And The Dance Of Faiths where I discussed how legends tell of the  Muslim warrior Vavar protecting and defending the Hindu god Ayyappa. The annual pilgrimage to the god’s shrine cannot be completed without first visiting Vavar’s mosque in Erumeli and getting his permission to proceed to complete the rest of the temple.

Hindu Pilgrims And Vavar's Mosque, The Sabarimal, Erumeli, Kerala 2010

In the coming weeks I will be writing about more such legends, and how India’s many religious communities have written their stories together and found ways of tying themselves to each other. Here legends act as shared histories and memories, creating avenues of shared culture and of tolerance. Here Sufi saints care for Hindu goddesses, Christian martyrs are brothers to Bhagavati and share in their annual festivals. It is the face of Kerala that I love, and one that reminds us that communities have a myriad of ways of connecting to each other, of reflecting values that are human and tolerant to ensure their co-existence and social and cultural sharing.

I will be posting more such shared legends in the coming days.

Matt Black’s The People Of The Clouds

In Photography on May 25, 2011 at 8:53 pm

From People Of The Clouds by Matt Black

Matt Black‘s project People Of The Clouds may be one of the most intelligently thought through pieces of photographic work I have seen in a long time. I just wanted to say that simply and clearly. It is one of the first projects I have seen where a photographer explicitly attempts to explore the (blatantly obvious, but rarely acknowledged) connections between our modernity here, and their deprivations there.

As he explains on his KickStarter page for The People Of Clouds project, that the region of Mixteca where the work is based is…

At its heart, it’s a culture of the land, and corn. Along the region’s hillsides, it is still possible to glimpse ancient terraces, canals, and runoff channels that protected the Mixteca’s rich but fragile soil, and nourished its inhabitants, for thousands of years.

But today, these ancient farming traditions have been lost, replaced by chemical fertilizers, hybrid seeds, and herbicides, the trifecta of modern agriculture heavily promoted in indigenous communities by the Mexican government and international charities as part of the “Green Revolution” of the 1960s…Today, much of the Mixteca has been declared an “Ecological Disaster Zone,” the result of unchecked erosion, deforestation, and soil exhaustion…Far from sparking a Green Revolution, the industrial farming techniques prescribed to the Mixtecs have resulted in their becoming unable to even keep themselves fed.

Nearly a quarter million Mixtecs have emigrated to the US. Some villages have lost as much as 80% of their population and have become little more than ghost towns.

There is a simple, clear, connection between migration, the destruction of rural lives, the gods of modernity and their presumptions of infallibility. It reminded me of something that Amitava Kumar highlighted in his book Passport Photos when talking about NAFTA, its consequences for Mexican citizens, in particular the rural citizens, the need to reveal the economic and social connections that are frequently veiled by mainstream media. He quotes Nikki Fortunato Bas,of the Political Ecology Group, from the report New World Border:

In terms of immigration, I think of of the things people aren’t really grasping is that the US plays a really large role in forcing people into migration. You know, NAFTA alone has displaced, I think, 300,000 Mexican farm workers. The GATT has also played a role in destabilizing local economies and forcing people into migration. So, when the US starts scapegoating immigrants for our problems, they have to really look and see what is driving people to come to this country.

Matt Black seems to want to help us understand precisely this fact: that what we do here, affects what they can do there.

This is a powerful, insightful and beautifully human piece of work.

I am just thrilled to back it on KickStarter, and anxious to see its evolution.

The Most Beautiful Girl They’ve Seen Or The Embedded Photojournalist Gets Picked Up!

In Essays On Embedded Photojournalism, Journalism, Musings On Confusions, Our Wars, Photography on May 24, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Creative Common Copyright Fab34

I have argued this again and again, and have been reviled and criticized for it again and again. And yet, nothing produced by any of the many number of reporters and photojournalists who have chosen to embed with the US military in Iraq or Afghanistan has convinced me to change my mind that embedded journalism is many things but never journalism.

It has been with nothing but great dismay that I have watched photojournalism’s highest awards and recognitions go to work that was produced in conditions and restrictions that we would have denigrated and mocked had they been imposed by one our ‘flavor of the year’ enemy states. I doubt that any reportage done from an embed with the Soviet Army that invade Afghanistan in 1979 would have been considered a crucial and appropriate documentation of the war in Afghanistan. And yet, we are ourselves happily convincing ourselves that ‘our’ boys are in fact producing crucial and appropriate documentation of our wars.

I was reminded of all this as I read a fascinating and funny piece by Peter Van Buren in Le Monde Diplomatique called ‘The War Lovers’ where he begins by asking the most relevant question we often avoid:

What is it about the military that turns normally thoughtful journalists into war pornographers? A reporter who would otherwise make it through the day sober spends a little time with some unit of the U.S. military and promptly loses himself in ever more dramatic language about bravery and sacrifice, stolen in equal parts from Thucydides, Henry V, and Sergeant Rock comics.

I have made my own arguments about the embed approach in a number of pieces, including The Transformation Of Pathology Into Pathos Or The Military Does What It Does And It Does It Well, and Wrapping Photographers Into The Packaging Of War, and a partial tongue-in-cheek piece called How We Refused To Embed With Brittany Spears, and Fighting Ghosts And Selling The Good War Or Why Are The Toy Soldiers On The Front Lines!, and others of course.

But there is a fascinating insight in Van Buren’s piece that is worth thinking about. He points out that in fact the embedded reporter has tremendous access within the military, to its soldiers, and even to classified details coming across over the wire. They also have more liberty to report what they saw than we may imagine. And yet, few do. Van Buren’s argument for why the military can allow this to happen and not worry is striking, pointing out that

…the military wasn’t worried..[b]ecause its officials knew perfectly well that for reporters the process was — not to mince words — seductive…[E]embedding with the military felt like being invited in — no, welcomed — for the first time by the cool kids.

And the camaraderie and companionships that develop ensure the appropriate voice and the appropriate check on serious reporting. As Van Buren continues:

You go out with the soldiers and suddenly you’re riding in some kind of armored, motorized monster truck. You’re the only one without a weapon and so they have to protect you. Instead of making fun of you and looking at you as if you were dressed as a Naughty Schoolgirl, they’re cool with it. Bored at only having one another to talk to, fellow soldiers who eat the exact same food, watch the exact same TV, and sleep, pee and work together every day for a year, the troops see you as quite interesting. You can’t believe it, but they really do want to know what you know, where you’ve been, and what you’ve seen — and you want to tell them.

For women, it works similarly, but with the added bonus that, no matter what you look like, you’re treated as the most beautiful female they’ve seen in the last six months — and it’s probably true.

Of course, we reporters and photojournalists never talk about this. As always, there is such little self-reflection within the practitioners of the craft that it is staggering to think that they are being asked to go out and document the world for us. In fact, in a world drowning in images, they may be producing the permanent and definitive images of a world. And it is an image where the ‘other’ is increasingly and consistently seen through the sights of a gun. Or, as Van Buren points out, through …wet dreams passed on to the public.

The Idea Of India Project Update: The Kerala Phase Begins Or The Power Of The Feminine Divine

In The Idea Of India Project on May 21, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Temple to Bhadrakali, the fierce Bhagavati, Vamal, Kerala

I am finally in Kerala and beginning my work here with an exploration of the power of the female deity in Hindu, Muslim, and Christian spirituality. Each of the three religions venerate powerful goddesses (for the Hindus), saints and martyrs (for the Christians) and revered holy women (for the Muslims).

Dominque-Sila Khan has done a very nice job exploring about this issue in her book Sacred Kerala: A Spiritual Journey where she points out that:

There is scarcely any religion in the world that does not revere a powerful feminine figure, be it a full-fledged goddess, a saint, a pious person or a mere symbol…the ‘mother figure’ pervades all three main religious traditions in Kerala. (page 114)

My journey in Kerala has begun with a search for this small, delicate temple to the goddess Bhadrakali in the village of Vamal, near Thalassery, Kerala. There is in fact a small Muslim community in the vicinity of the temple. There is in fact a mosque a mere 10 yards down the road, and it is not unusual to see Muslim women entering the temple to receive blessings and leave a small offering. This particular temple is also famous for its Teyyam dance performance.

Vamal, Kerala by Asim Rafiqui

Female deities and women of powerful spiritual persuasions will be a core focus of my work in Kerala. There are many instances of goddesses and christians saints being associated with each other as sisters, jewish martyrs from Karbala being venerated by Christians and Muslims, and of course powerful Sufi women saints who attract people of all faiths to their shrines.

The Kerala Journeys, The Idea Of India Project Copyright Asim Rafiqui

Kerala will also be the focus of an exploration of the history of the Mapilla – the earliest community of Muslims to arrive on what is today known as the Indian shores. Before the imagined ‘invasions’, the Muslims were trading and settling on these shores as early as the 7th century AD. I will also be exploring the history of the Malabar coast and its central role in global trade in the centuries before the arrival of the Europeans. This centrality of the Malabar coast was first bought to my attention thanks to Janet Abu-Laghoud’s remarkable books called Before European Hegemony: The World System 1250 – 1350.

The journey has begun. It promises to be an exciting one.

One Person’s Nightmare Is Another Person’s Non-Violent Resistance Or Eqbal Ahmed Was Right

In Israel/Palestine, Our Wars on May 20, 2011 at 3:12 pm

In the 1970s, he [Eqbal Ahmed] formulated a suggestion, an extremely brilliant one, quite in keeping with his general attitude of non-violent aggressiveness, that the PLO should try to organize a march of Palestinians towards the Israeli borders in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Inspired by the great civil rights marches of the 1960s, Eqbal urged Arafat and company to mobilize as many people as possible, walking unarmed to the border with banners saying “We want to go home.” I remember the look on their faces, when I patiently explained Eqbal’s proposal, of disbelief and mild panic, especially when I emphasized the need for peaceful means and disciplined organization.

Edward Said speaks about Eqbal Ahmed

Eqbal Ahmed, Confronting Empire: Interviews With David Barsamian page xxix

On Sunday, 15th of May 2011, the Palestinians did precisely what Eqbal Ahmed had once advised the Palestinians leadership to do.

Copyright EPA

Then, as now, the Palestinians are a people betrayed by their leadership who lack imagination and genuine courage. And as always, it is the Palestinians themselves who lead, reminding their leaders, and the rest of the world, what it is they are fighting for, and what is justifiably their right. Arafat may have been shocked to hear Eqbal Ahmed’s advice, but it seems that the Palestinians are not deaf to it. As The Economist described it:

ON SUNDAY Israel got an unexpected and unpalatable taste of its nightmare scenario: masses of Palestinians marching, unarmed, towards the borders of the Jewish state, demanding the redress of their decades-old national grievance.

On Sunday, 15th of May 2011, a few thousand of them marched towards the borders of Israel, and a number of them were shot at and killed as a result. They are as always unarmed and defenseless. And their resistance to Israeli atrocities, injustices and inhumanity has always largely been non-violent. Contrary to the piece in The Economist violent resistance to Israel has always been an exception.

And violent response to Palestinian non-violent resistance has always been the norm. One only has to look at what has taken place at places like Bilin where a well-organized, non-violent resistance to the Israeli separation wall has been met with a brutal crackdown and killings of unarmed protestors.

The Palestinians have not learned the power of a civic resistance. They have been in fact involved in nothing other than that. Each day, with every simple human act, they resist their degradation, dispossession, humiliation and erasure. It is their most powerful and perhaps only weapon.

Your Brain Of Mud Or President Obama’s Magic Show In Cairo

In Israel/Palestine, Journalism, Our Wars on May 19, 2011 at 8:26 am
(Originally written in response to Obama’s first condescending speech to the A-rabs back in 2009. Reposted to reflect that nothing really has changed.)
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“It is well”, I said carelessly “…beware! Play us no tricks, make us no snares, for before your brains of mud have thought of them, we shall know them and avenge them. The light from the transparent eye of him with the bare legs and half haired face [the white man with his magnifying glass] shall destroy you and go through your land: his vanishing teeth shall fix themselves fast on to you and eat you up, you and your wives and children; the magic tubes shall talk with you loudly, and make you as sieves. Beware!”

Qautermain confronts the African Kukuana tribe, from the book King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard

Ruth Mayer, in her work Artificial Africas, points us to Mary Pratt’s book  Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing & Transculturation, in which Ms Pratt:

…differentiates two main stances in colonial self-stylizations, an imperial ‘rhetoric of conquest’ suffusing the absolutist era and an ensuing rhetoric of ‘anti-conquest’ demarcating the split consciousness of Western travelers in the 18th and 19th centuries, their paradoxical desire ‘to secure their innocence’ in the same moment as they assert European hegemony

she further points out that:

To contain an imperialist system within a rhetoric of anti-conquest calls for confusion … and indeed a highly contradictory symbolic system resulted from the efforts to reconcile the irreconcilable. What I call ‘trick translation’ is perhaps one of the most persistent troupes for casting colonial contact in terms of mutual understanding without abandoning the idea of a clear-cut hierarchy of communication and an European [today American] monopoly of meaning production.

It was an act of ‘trick translation’ that Barack Obama had actually come to perform on June 4th 2009 in Cairo, Egypt.  To offer a language of ‘anti-conquest’, and should we add ‘anti-involvement’, in a region with the most deeply entrenched American political, economic, and military involvement since WW II.

On June 4th 2009, President Barack Obama (a man I voted for!) took the stage on the soil of one of the region’s most despotic and repressive regimes. But more than that, he was standing in the center of the geography of American imperial projections that has been the Middle East since the British, Germans, French and other smaller European nations were forced to leave it in the 1940s.

The Middle East is home to some of America’s most important client states – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, The United Arab Emirates and of course, the unbreakable, Israel. It is also the site of some of her largest military bases and home to tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of American military and undercover operations personnel. It is the site of her most extensive energy resources and investments. It is the site where she has repeatedly engaged in covert and overt political and military operations to ensure access and control to these energy resources. It is the region where her operatives, military, covert and political, keep a close hand on political and economic developments and work to ensure that the nations of the region remain in the realm of American influence.

But, we are here to weave a rhetoric of ‘anti-conquest’, and I focus on those specific areas of his speech that I felt were particularly obfuscatory and Huxlian (Aldous Huxley being one of the original genius’ to describe a modernity where language becomes the most powerful weapon of war and conquest).

Like a great white hunter confronting a group of cannibals about the eat his friend alive, President Obama arrived with a few rhetorical tricks up his sleeves meant to appease the torridly infantile minds of his audience and hosts by offering them trinkets and hoping to dazzle them with his erudition and ‘respect’ for their histories.

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 determination to see something called ‘the Muslim world’ as one large homogeneous entity is the hallmark of a classic Orientalist mind who fails or refuses to recognize that the polity of ‘Islam’ covers a remarkable diversity of people, cultures, ethnicity’s, and most importantly histories and heritages. To say nothing about the horribly embarrassing fact that the largest number of Muslims in fact live outside of the Middle East (Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India contain the largest number of officially defined Muslims), and where many practice regional varieties of Islam that many in the Middle East consider blasphemous!

More importantly, it is an act of the most egregious arrogance and even ignorance to suggest that if there are ‘tensions’ between a people who may be Muslim, and a nation that is in fact imperialistic and colonizing in the lands inhabited by Muslims than it is because of ‘historical forces’ and not because of  immediate military, political and economic realities.

Perhaps I am being naive in believing that it is less the crusades that concern the Palestinians, or their slaughter by Richard the Lionheart, and more the ongoing and brutal military occupation of their lands being carried out by one of America’s favorite client states, Israel!

The hubris of a statement the attempts to erase the entire post-WWII history and engagement of the United States of America in the region of the Middle East, and replaces it with imagined ‘historical forces’ that point to events and imagined acts from hundreds if not thousands of years in the past is staggering! Perhaps President Obama, this self-claimed student of history, needs to return to his college library and pick up a few books on the American entanglements in the region. He could not do badly by starting with Robert Fisk’s  The Great War For Civilization, or Michael B Oren’s Power, Faith & Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 – Present . I could suggest many others.

And to say nothing about the fact that the issues that cripple the Middle East are the least likely to be understood if seen as emerging from the region’s ‘Islamic’ character. They would in fact be better acknowledged if seen, as we see most every other region of the globe, with a careful and rigorous examination of the local and regional political, economic, social and strategic issues that infect the region. The crisis in Lebanon and the crisis in Kuwait have separate, if only tangentially related if that, issues and require a local focus.

It is this refusal to engage the region in its specificity that allows a number of American intellectual, commentators, politicians, journalists and other opinion makers to repeatedly conflate entities like Hamas with others like Hezbollah, the Islamic Brotherhood with Al -Qaeda. In a tribute to the most obscurantist and simplistic ideas perpetuated by classical Orientalists, the American administration and her providers of thought (think tanks, hired intellectuals, lobby and media organizations) continue to aggregate largely diverse and political complex matters that should in fact be examined within their local and regional social, political and regional contexts.


Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Perhaps the only thing more embarrassing than this statement – a classic Orientalist construction that cleverly claims modernity for ‘the white man’ while falsely praising the natives for their ‘traditions’  (read: backward, anti-modern, unchanging, out-dated, medieval), was that probably none of the luminaries in the audience, representing the worst and most illiterate of their nations, understood what had just been said to them!

And ironically, it was a statement that would have appealed to the most obscurantist and fundamentalists of reactionaries in the audience; the people who in fact work day and night through state control of media, culture, society and speech to ensure that their people remain in the shackles of ‘traditions’ and avoid such modern day comforts such as full and enforceable rights as citizens of a functioning democracy with the rule of law and equality for all. In that room full of hereditary leaders or despots, there could not have been a mind not nodding in quiet agreement at the American presidents endorsement of Islam’s ‘traditional’ values and the threat it faces from the ‘foreigner’s’ modernity, for after all, these same people use this very argument, with the help of their obscurantist mullahs and TV celebrity preachers, to demand that their citizens not ask for such modern innovations such as equal justice under the law, juridical accountability for elected representatives, legal and social ad human rights,  and a representative polity.

But the presence of this orientalist canard was certainly a surprise. Recent works by the historian Jack Good (The Theft of History) and Marcel Detienne (The Greeks And Us have challenged Europe’s belief in her modernity and certainly her assumptions that she was uniquely equipped to facilitate it. As John B Hobson states in his work Eastern Origins of Western Civilization:

“Eurocentrism errs by asking wrong questions at the outset. All Eurocentric scholars (either explicitly or implicitly) begin by asking two interrelated questions: ‘What was it about the West that enabled its breakthrough to capitalist modernity?’ and ‘What was it about the East that prevented it from making the breakthrough?’” But these questions assume that western dominance was inevitable, and lead historians to scour the past for the factors that explain it. “The rise of the West is understood through a logic of immanence: that it can only be accounted for by factors that are strictly endogenous to Europe.”


His words were frequently met with applause. President Obama threw them some crumbs, and they gobbled them up like hungry natives. Condescension were accepted as genuine respect and appreciation by people so devoid of dignity and honor that they will accept false pearls to disguise their being real swine. (I hope people get the colonial reference here!)

They applauded when he spoke to them in the only Arabic phrase he could be bothered to remember; the greeting of Assalaamu alaykum. How touching. Taking a note right out of an off-the-shelf travel guide to sites remote and exotic, Mr Obama did not forget that even ‘attempting’ the local lingo will result in smiles and graciousness!

They applauded when he appeared to respect something called ‘Islam’s’ contributions to European civilization.

Perhaps most had failed to realize that he was referring to contributions that were some 500 years or more old while retaining, subtly of course, the right to all other innovations since then for the more civilized and ‘modern’ Europe. Or the fact that, once again, it was not ‘Islam’ that made these contributions but individuals of questionable Muslim, Jewish, and other uncertain origins who were given deeply to issues of intellectual inquiry and study and open to influences all the way from China and India, who just happened to be living under a Muslim dynasty made these contributions.

Algebra is not a religious achievement – it is a human achievement, produced by men for man and with the effort of man. Religion has had no influence on the creation of this, or the arch or the compass or the other items Mr. Obama seemed to think ‘Islam’ contributed to. To attribute the discover of vaccine to a spiritual, religious, and some would argue, mythical philosphy is ignorant and anti-intellectual. It would be the equivalent of suggesting that Penicillin was a Christian discover, or the splitting of the atom a Jewish one! But apparently such inanities go down well in the Middle East!

(Rather than applaud, they should have hung their heads in shame; there is not a library of note, nor a university of even mediocre repute in all the lands across all the sands in all of the oil drenched nations in this region! That Arabs (and Obama was speaking to Arabs, not Muslims or even a nebulous ‘Islam’) continue to contribute to modernity, science, culture, arts, literature and the future, but must often flee their homelands and do so elsewhere!)

They applauded again when he spoke about Islam’s traditions of tolerance and racial equality. It was bizarre to say the least to offer this conventional sop to a room filled with representatives of intolerant and at times rascist regimes, applauding a philosophical concept alien to the very societies they have created and rule. They applauded when told that Thomas Jefferson kept a copy of the Koran in his personal library – did they imagine that he consulted it for his political and personal affairs, or was influenced by it?

They applauded when Mr. Obama claimed that the 7 million American Muslims enjoy incomes and educational levels that are higher than the American average. What that says about the deprivations of the average American, particularly the African-American community I am not so sure about. Who are these extremely successful and wealthy Muslims we do not quite know. But to make a claim to suggest that in fact in America the Muslims even do better than the Americans is sheer nonsense!

Their success or failure, as that of any immigrant in the USA is independent of their status as ‘Muslims. The Asian American, the West Indian and most recently the South Asian Indian community are highly successful immigrant communities and there is no way to claim that their religious choices are a determinant or a measure of their success. Furthermore, given that America allows only the ‘best and the brightest’  or the very wealthy from ‘other’ nations to come to the country, particularly when they are from Asia and/or the Middle East, it should not surprise us that these immigrant communities in fact do rather well.

But this obfuscation was essential to hide America’s ridiculous and immoral detainment, harassment, incarceration, deportation, and torture of hundreds of ‘Muslims’ either living in America or abroad. It was necessary to say to hide the rendition programs targeting of Muslims, the ‘black’ sites and their exclusively Muslim inhabitants, and the air and environment of overtly racist anti-Muslim sentiment that pervades American print, radio and television, particularly if you are of the conservative kind. And I will not even mention what the Evangelical fanatics and retards have been saying and encouraging amongst their congregations! By the way, I doubt that the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis festering in hovels in Jamaica Plains, scrambling from apartment to apartment to avoid the prying and ‘black’ eyes of the Homeland Security Department, quite fit into this fabulous President Obama statistic.

They applauded when Mr. Obama claimed that
the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it. Which left me perplexed because I was sure that I was told that we had invaded Afghanistan to liberate that nation’s women from ‘oppression’ symbolized by the burqa! And yet as devastation and horror now marks that country, with the arguments for the liberation of their women center stage, I wonder if it is not time to bring the daisy-cutters and pilot-less drones back to the USA where apparently women are being given constitution protection for a practice that elsewhere is considered by the Americans to be a sign of their backwardness and oppression!

And is this the same government that did not go to court to protect the rights of men and women being held at Guantanamo? As men continue to die in American ‘black’ site custody, I find it shocking that legal and judicial resources are available for women’s right to cover themselves where as they have been argued away for men we are torturing, murdering and discarding at unknown locations around the world!

And the inanities continued.


President Obama called the war in Iraq – this most brutal, hideous, illegal and greed based invasion of a nation in recent memory, as a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Quite the soft way to describe an event that was and is in fact nothing less than an illegal, unprovoked, premeditated invasion of a sovereign nation (to say nothing about the genocidal 12 year sanctions regime instituted against the civilian population of a de-armed state!)  led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands, the deaths of nearly a million, the torturing of thousands (pictures of which President Obama recently decided to censor to protect our delicate sensibilities – we are so civilized) and frankly remains a hell hole for those outside the centrally air-conditioned ‘green zone’ and should in fact be a crime prosecutable in the International Court of Justice.

Oh but wait, as President quickly added,  he believes that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

Ah, then its ok. For now at least we have a ‘democracy’ that requires private/corporate armed militia to protect politicians, businessmen, journalists and anyone not sanctioned by the many crooks and criminal organizations that now actually control the country while  masquerading behind banners of religions and sects. And for added measure the under cover assassination teams/death squads, massive torture centers, prisons, 24×7 hour private security, walls/dividers, daily 24×7 military patrols, towns like Falujah that remain under marshal law, kidnappings, criminality, a dysfunctional social and civil service, and the entire government under the guidance of our American generals and politicians necessary just to keep this duct-tape kleptocracy together for a little while longer.

Nine-eleven was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals.

What then are the consequences, Mr. Obama, of the fear and trauma of the Iraqis and the Afghanis who are in fact at this very moment confronted as they are by American tanks and pilot-less drones trying to understand how they will act contrary to their traditions and ideals? Or perhaps we will just blame their actions on ‘Islam’.


Speaking of America’s intolerance of extremism and violence, Mr Obama went out of his way to celebrate Israel. Walking in the footsteps of his predecessor, he proclaimed with great stress America’s ‘unbreakable’ relationship with the country. He even manufactured completely fictitious ‘cultural and historical’ ties. I can’t imagine what ties a group of European religious fanatics determined to create an ethnically exclusive state by intentionally and violently colonizing and driving out its original inhabitants would have with the United States of America? Oh yes, I forgot, it would be the penchant for violent European colonization of native lands, institutionalized and military cleansing of them from these lands, and the celebration of the now completed fact as liberty, modernity, progress and civility, with a neat set of ‘reservations’ for the unfortunately who survived. How silly of me!

It is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.

No Mr President, they have not suffered in the pursuit of a homeland. They have suffered in the dispossession of it.

They are waiting not for gifts from America, but for their rights, rights for which we have gone to war for other nations (Bosnia, Kuwait and now would love to for Chad) but remain silent on their behalf.

And in what can only be described as the most contorted reading of history, Mr Obama laid claim to the entire process of decolonization as one of a long heritage of non-violent resistance

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed…from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It’s a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That’s not how moral authority is claimed; that’s how it is surrendered.

I wonder if Mr Obama is reading the same books of history.. I also wonder as President Obama escalates the now senselessly immoral and unjust conflict in Afghanistan if he listening to himself!

The history of colonial Africa, Middle East, South and South East Asia is marked by repeated and consistent armed insurrections and resistance to the colonial enterprise. The colonialists often painted this resistance as ‘minor’ or ‘marginal’ but none of the occupied people, even the Africans who were so savagely raped and enslaved, did not ‘go quietly into the night’. To say nothing about the intellectual, artistic, cultural and political resistance to occupying and colonizing regimes across the globe. Edward Said’s Culture And Imperialism would be a decent place for him to begin to start to understand regimes of resistance to colonial oppression that existed from the very moment the colonialists arrived on the shores of Africa, Asia and elsewhere. Or if Said is too politically sensitive for him, then perhaps he would like to read a fellow African; C.L.R. James’ masterful The Black Jacobins will remind our President of the power of violent resistance in breaking the back of a rapacious and brutal colonizer and usurper.

And if these nations and peoples of the far South and Africa are too complex for him to understand, then perhaps he would do well to remember if nothing else then the American Revolution and the great American war of independence, celebrated every year with great fanfare on July 4th. I believe that General George Washington would take umbrage to the suggestion that violence is a dead end. Or perhaps he would remember the American Civil War, a war that liberated the ancestors of his black citizens and moved America towards the path of modernity. Perhaps if they had followed a non-violent approach…… But then again, the oppressors and users of violence always love to lecture the oppressed about their ‘barbaric’ violent resistance and their need to demonstrate ‘civility’ by adopting a softer and more nuanced tone to the occupiers continued and increasingly military and violent responses!

Notice how the occupier is never told to adopt a non-violent occupation!

And the sheer arrogance to lecture to an unarmed and hopelessly repressed and dehumanized people, while their lands are under brutal military occupation from the only nation in the region that has in fact repeatedly attacked, occupied, summarily killed and displaced lands and peoples across the entire region is sheer mind boggling. The Palestinians are being asked to renounce violence, while the Israelis are being funded with more arms, more jets, more tanks, more training, more excuses for their illegal nuclear weapons program, and more aid packages – all of which continue to go towards and fund the creation of more settlements and more dispossessions and more brutality and more killings and more strangulations.

Continuing what has now become an almost too-boring-to-repeat cliche’s, President Obama placed all the blame for the violence, the intransigence of the conflict in Palestine on the Palestinians. There, in the world he was weaving on that stage in Cairo, where there is no Iraq and no Afghanistan, and no oil and interests, and business connections and shady deals and under handed greed, there was also no nuclear-armed, American funded, religiously fundamentalist, military controlled, ethnically discriminatory pseudo-democracy only for Jews with its American funded M16s and jackboots across the throats of a helpless and desperate people.

Yes, we are told that it is not the military bases, the settlements, the Wall, the check points, the gates, the farm lands, the murdering settlers, the curfews, the summary arrests, the targeted assassinations, the random detentions, the expropriations, the home demolitions, the expulsions, the incarcerations, the discrimination, the humiliations, the bombings, the phosphorous, the slow and daily grinding away at human dignity that are all part and parcel of a highly sophisticated military, architectural, social, political and economic settlement regime. Its the Palestinians with their handful of AK-47s and their donkey carts!

Calling the democratically elected Hamas Government as having ‘some support’ amongst the Palestinians, while calling upon the corrupt and discredited Palestinian Authority to develop a capacity to govern President Obama continued the insistent, anti-democratic approach of supporting the very people the citizenry rejected, while rejecting the very people the citizenry selected.

The only democratically elected official government in the very Middle East Mr. Obama claims to be talking to, and it is just not the one that we want.

Israel is in illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It has permanently constructed roads, settlements, military camps and emplacements, check points and gates, a massive Wall, security fences and cameras, farms and industrial estates all across the West Bank and done so with the absolute and complete support of the United States of America who funds these activities through a myriad and complex set of private, corporate and governmental institutions.

It is not there because the Palestinians are ‘violent’ or have ‘rockets’. It has been there because it wants these lands. It has done everything in its power to destroy the prospects of an independent Palestinian state, and only the beltway in Washington D.C. are a handful of people who think otherwise.

Israel’s obligations are not just what President Obama claimed: to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society but in fact to withdraw completely from the West Bank and Gaza to the 1967 green lines, to compensate financially the victims of the 1948 displacements, and to offer restitution both verbal, financial, legal and other to the millions who now suffer thanks to its intransigence, occupations, wars and religiously sanctioned hysteria and radicalism. The settlements don’t just need to be stopped, they need to be destroyed, dismantled, reversed, erased, and along with it the entire occupation machinery of men, tanks, gates, check points, walls, soldiers, settlers, goons, fanatics, businessmen and of course Palestinian collaborators.


And far from distancing himself from the pathologies of religious mysticism and mumbo-jumbo, President Obama sadly chose to pander to it further. Continuing yet another grand orientalist tradition of speaking to ‘the natives’ through the use of what the orientalist imagines is their particular world formulations – they are too stupid to understand our modernity, so we must use our ‘trick translation’ and speak to them about reality in their barbaric tongue – Mr. Obama like a modern day Quatermain decided to end his speech in a ‘one for the road’ chorus of quotations from the 3 religious texts and this shocking and rather insulting statement:

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God’s vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth.

President Obama may have pulled off the greatest Evangelical mind tricks in history when he may have convinced a room full of ‘Muslim’ despots and criminal national leaders to join him in the support of a vision fantastically and naively created on the basis of a religious text that has been variously used to different degrees to also justified the inquisition, the crusades, the holocaust and possibly even the recent slaughter of the people of Iraq by an Evangelical, fanatic and religiously drunk American administration.

America engages the Middle East through conquest, investments, manipulations, espionage, education, extraction of resources, training of the military, politics and geo-political entanglements. For some odd reason President Obama can’t see that it can also be communicated with in simple, worldly, adult language without resorting to false and frankly cynical and hypocritical exploitation of religious texts and quotes, like a high school kid desperate to decorate a poor term paper that lacks content but may sound interesting if a few ‘notable’ quotes are thrown in!

As President Obama walked off that Cairo stage to go and bask in the glow of the glory that was being orchestrated for him by his obsequious hosts and minders, a General McChrystal was being appointed to head the operations in Obama’s favorite war in Afghanistan. As Tom Engelhart explained in a recent post on the fabulous Tom’s Dispatch blog site:

General McChrystal comes from a world where killing by any means is the norm and a blanket of secrecy provides the necessary protection. For five years he commanded the Pentagon’s super-secret Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)…McChrystal gained a certain renown when President Bush outed him as the man responsible for tracking down and eliminating al-Qaeda-in-Mesopotamia leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The secret force of “manhunters” he commanded had its own secret detention and interrogation center near Baghdad, Camp Nama, where bad things happened regularly, and the unit there, Task Force 6-26, had its own slogan: “If you don’t make them bleed, they can’t prosecute for it.” Since some of the task force’s men were, in the end, prosecuted, the bleeding evidently wasn’t avoided.

Tomorrow we will explain the war in Afghanistan as that between the liberal values of the United States of America and obscurantist, mysoginist and barbaric values of ‘radical Islam’. General McChrystal, with his legacy of broken souls and bodies, his torture centers and assassination teams, his professionally executed operations of terror and mayhem, will be left to the sidelines and forgotten. Some old orientalists, or obfuscators (perhaps a newer version of a Ahmed Rashid!) will be trotted out to explain why ‘they hate us’.

President Obama stood in Cairo and wove a fantasy. A fantasy that claimed that there is something called ‘Islam’ that he could speak to as if he was speaking to a homogeneous entity. A fantasy that claimed that America does not in fact have interests and protects interests with military and other means in the Middle East. A fantasy that denies the roots of the violence that does in fact plague that region and emanates from within regimes whose despotic and irrational leaders are amongst America’s closest allies. A fantasy where the tiresome, outdated, discredited and artificial construct of ‘the clash of civilizations’ is trotted out to obfuscate the hard political and economic factors that in fact create alliances and foster the conflicts.

The speech on June 4th 2009 will sadly not go down in history as a great moment in diplomacy. There is an air of desperation about the writings that are trying to claim it so. Much like the photo-op in the White House Lawn the day the Oslo Accords were signed, we will drown our fears under misguided hopes and self-imposed delusions while the relentless machinery of imperial power and politics will continue to cut its merciless path through a region cursed with oil and men of supreme venality.

A few hours after this speech President Obama headed to Buchenwald where he said:

I have no patience for people who would deny history

Indeed Mr. President.

Indeed.

ADDENDUM: I was reminded by a friend that in fact there could be religious motivations for the explorations of algebra e.g. man’s need to measure time more precisely, or to work out the geometries and structures of complex domes, mosques or even the decorative patterns that decorated it. A similar argument has in fact been made by Kim Plofker in his new book Mathematics in India – that Indian innovations in mathematics may have been driven by a need for temple designs or astrology. Regardless, as has already been argued, these remain worldly requirements to serve worldly needs and for universal relevance and application must apply consistently across man’s known world. Their measure of innovation comes from their universality, their non-specificity to any one set of beliefs of religious values.


Crossing Boundaries Or Where I Realize That Some Of The Most Creative Photographers Are Not Even Photographers

In Photography, Readings, The Daily Discussion on May 12, 2011 at 3:01 pm

The borders this book crosses again and again are also those where academic writing meets popular journalism, and political poetry encounters the work of documentary photography.

Amitava Kumar, Passport Photos

This [After The Last Sky: Palestinian Lives by Edward Said & Jean Mohr] is not a normal tandem of word and image, neither a coffee table book with a long, glorified caption nor a work of prose propped up here and there by sheaves of shiny pictures. Mr. Said writes to the photos so assiduously and with such effect as to make one powerful essay. And at times, we realize with a sobering lurch, he writes not to the pictures but from them.

Richard Ben Cramer , Acts Of Continuance, The New York Times November 9th, 1986

When Professor Ammiel Alcalay recently emailed me to inform me that his new book had just been published and that I may find it interesting,I assumed that it would be a work related to the question of the Sephardim. Professor Alcalay and I had recently been discussing my intention to produce a work that explores the lost heritage and last remaining vestiges of Jewish community in Northern Africa and the Levant. But I was surprised when I read the back pages of that work that Professor Alcalay had chosen to…

…comb through photographs, correspondence, memorabilia, journal entries, and newspaper clippings from the era, and incorporated them into [a] book; the result is a personal investigation into the relationships of context to text, memory to nostalgia, and present attention to the multiple traces of the past.

Professor Alcalay had emailed to tell me that he had in fact published a photography book!

Neither Wit Not Gold by Ammiel Alcalay

Even a cursory examination of Professor Alcalay’s work reveals the fascinatingly creative ways in which personal photographs, archival images are used to recover memories, provoke ideas and illuminate imaginations. This work of a poet, historian, translator, writer, journalist and academic, contains more complex, more creative and more experimental play with photography and text than anything I have seen from the world of the ‘professional’ photographer. In fact, even the format and scale of the work is such that it invites you to lift it, page through it, bend its corners, write within it and simply carry it about.

Sample Page, Neither Wit Nor Gold by Ammiel Alcalay

All things that so many ‘pristine’ works of photography do not allow you to do. Alcalay’s work is a work for the public, and one designed to encourage engagement and entanglement. It refutes the idea that has become so popular these days of designing and producing photography books as ‘works of art’ or ‘collectables’ that are simply vanity plates for the desperate. Large, heavy, expensive and hence inaccessible to the general public and the casually interested, they are often as useful and interesting as an exquisite glass vase. Nice to look at, but damn if I want to stand anywhere near it.

The same desire of accessibility and public reach can be seen other photography works produced by those the ‘community’ would label as non- photographers. One such work that comes to mind is photographer Jean Mohr and academic/critic Edward Said’s remarkable collaboration After The Last Sky: Palestinian Lives. It is a work that I have discussed on a number of occasions in this blog itself.

After The Last Sky by Edward Said & Jean Mohr

Edward Said, reacting to a United Nations decision to remove all text from an exhibition of Jean Mohr’s images of Palestinian refugees that was to be displayed in the main hall of the UN Headquarters, decided to engage the images and use them to construct a textual response. As he states in the introduction to the book:

The whole point of this book is to engage this difficulty, to deny the habitually simple, even harmful representation of Palestinians, and replace them with something more capable of capturing the complex reality of their experience. Its [the books] style and method – the interplay of text and photos, the mixture of genres, modes, styles – do not tell a consecutive story, nor do they constitute a political essay….

Many Palestinian friends who say Jean Mohr’s pictures thought that he saw us as no one else has. But we also thought that he saw us as we would have seen ourselves – at once inside and outside our world. The same double vision informs my text.

There is a remarkably insightful revelation of the close interplay between the image and the text in Said’s introductory essay to this book. It is precisely as the reviewer Ben Cramer of The New York Times pointed out, that Edward Said is writing ‘…not to the pictures, but from them.’ This is perhaps one of the earliest challenges to the tiresomely predictable use conventional photojournalism, editorial and mass media publications and even curatorial spaces have made of the craft of photography.

A similar thought about the crossing of boundaries – of the mixing of modes, genres and methods, is revealed in Amitava Kumar’s brilliant and piercing work Passport Photos.

Passport Photos by Amitava Kumar

Here, yet again, we see the theme of crossing boundaries. In fact, Kumar’s book deals with the immigrant experience in the West and attempts to add the narratives and histories that are typically missing from the artifacts of the nation state: the national ID, the passport, etc. His is an attempt to return the complete humanity behind an individual labelled as ‘alien’ or ‘immigrant’. As Kumar himself states in the book’s Preface:

[The book attempts to]…restore a certain weight of experience, a stubborn density, a life to what we encounter in newspaper columns as abstract, often faceless, figures without histories.

These are not merely pretensions. These works of Alcalay, Said/Mohr and Kumar are attempts to arrive at new, more insightful truths about our modernity and about those we frequently choose to (inadvertently or intentionally) silence. Their resort to using many different forms of expression – photographs, essays, poetry, journalism, personal journal entries etc. are an attempt to break down the clichés and lazy generalities that frequently pass as ‘truths’ in media and also very often in academia. To break down these clichés these writers chose to break down the walls that separate disciplines, and producing works that go beyond our obvious expectations about use, insight and provocation.

The photographer Oliver Arthur and I recently had a brief discussion where we touched upon the fact that most photographers tend to narrow their ‘influences’ to the world of ‘officially’ sanctioned photography. That is, our inspirations tend to be just other photographers. But it is obvious that many outside this small, cloistered and frequently navel-gazing world are producing some amazingly interesting, creative, and unique works of photography that question the very idea that photography ought to be seen as a separate craft, art or creative act. Oliver herself is, as she told me, working to bring more text into her work. Or, as she put it, more text into the very way in which her work is constructed, her photographs seen and captured. The same sentiments underpin my work in India.

Works such as After The Last Sky remind us of the possibilities that come from collaborating with different forms and methods. The also remind us that we as photographers are also storytellers, with the possibility (if not always the creativity or the intelligence) to turn to methods outside of the technical, to create their narratives. If photojournalism and documentary photography seemed trapped in tiresome, repetitive, and clichéd forms (as I have frequently argued on this blog as such as here, here and here amongst other pieces), perhaps it is because we have forgotten that over time a photograph can become more a metaphor than an actual, complete and comprehensive reality. That is, the most popular and generically popular images (think National Geographic style, famine photography from Africa, prostitutes in Asia, a drug addict in Afghanistan etc. ) work as metaphors do – they transform ideas into (pre-packaged, commonly understood) images. Our challenge remains to redefine these metaphors and we cannot do it through more of the same. It is writers such as Kumar, Alcalay and Said remind us that in fact the real possibilities of photographs to offer new insights, to challenge conventions and enforce new understandings lie in their interplay with words, and their openness to being informed with content from without. The link between a well worn metaphor and its image has to be broken.

The Idea Of India Project Update: Photo Schematic #5

In The Idea Of India Project on May 10, 2011 at 7:49 am

There is really, on the face of it, nothing interesting about this scene. But as I stood there, waiting for my daughter to complete her carousel ride, I could not help but feel that it had real possibilities. On the face of it there is nothing really going on. The light too is rather ordinary. But what caught my eye are the many different layers along which action can occur. And the presence of the strong central shadow created by the carousel’s central axis (not visible, to the left of me) divided the scene into an even more interesting degree.

As you look into the center of the image you begin to see that the scene has many different layers to it. That is, as objects and people move across the frame, they do so on different planes, angles and heights. This is very exciting and in fact can create an amazingly complex composition. So what looks as something very ordinary and avoided, in fact, can yield something very interesting.

From the view above, I managed, in just the few minutes that I had, the following frame.

The Park by Asim Rafiqui 2011

Again, what I love about it is that many layers, the many different things taking place, all the way through towards the rear of the frame. As a photograph it takes time to examine, which is very exciting. If I had more time (hey, I was there with a 7-year-old in a frenzy to experience all 50 rides in the park in the same day!) I think even more complex frames could have been found.

The Park Or How While Contemplating A Recent Assassination I Found Myself On A Ferris Wheel

In Musings On Confusions on May 8, 2011 at 10:08 am

The Park by Asim Rafiqui 2011 (Click on image for more)

Click on the image above for more.

The Dead Can’t Dance And I Refuse To Either Or Why I Insist On Remembering While Others Insist On Drinking To Forget

In Musings On Confusions, Our Wars, The Daily Discussion on May 3, 2011 at 10:06 am

We have invaded two nations because we were told that we must. Both illegally and in violation of all known international law.

We have murdered possibly over a million Afghanis and Iraqis and Pakistanis and others in the process. And continue to kill them at will in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We have displaced and dislocated from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan other millions, forever ruining their lives and humanity. And forever consigning them to the void of suspicion, fear and prejudice.

We constructed hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military bases and detention centers in Afghanistan and Iraq. And now use them for ‘forward projection’ in the so-called war against a noun.

We continue to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan and use massive military force to retain our jack boots over their necks while funding and supporting illegal and completely illegitimate governments that we described as ‘democratic’ and ‘parliamentary’.

We have invited private militia and corporate mercerneries to the party and given out contracts worth billions to make it appealing for them.

We have detained innocents, including American citizens, indefinitely and still refuse to give them appropriate justice. President Obama willingly continuing the illegal and unjust policies of his predecessors

We have tortured them relentlessly (oh, sorry, we have enhanced interrogated them!)  and strong armed our civilized courts and bureaucratic apparatchiks to justify our actions.

We have renditioned them and sent them off to our ‘allies’ in other parts of the world to be tortured, maimed and killed. And there is no end to this program.

We have illegally eavesdropped on our citizens, violating our own laws in the process. And it continues.

We have sent American men and women into useless wars and watched thousands of them die to cover our lies and greed. And thousands more will die in the coming days.

We have curtailed civil rights and liberties within the USA all in the name of a war against a noun. And there is no turning back.

We have handed over trillions of dollars to the military and to private contractors just as our own economy has gone bankrupt and our citizens are being thrown out of their homes, jobs and futures.

We have handed over trillions of dollars to Wall Street, while the ordinary have been begging for pension handouts and calling it ‘revolutionary’ action. And each time I ask why, I am told that it was the good of the nation. And its security.

We are closing down our schools, reducing our welfare programs, cutting back public and state budgets, taking away what little healthcare we could afford, allowing our infrastructure to rot, corporatizing our congressional and house leadership, inflaming Islamophobia because we have run out of political and public service ideas and all while simultaneously approving more money for security programs, anti-immigration programs, military invasions and wars, and new and improved intelligence programs.

We have been doing this for ten years, and as my nation sinks into economic pointlessness and desperation, I am being told that I should celebrate the killing of a largely if not completely irrelevant ‘Enemy #1′.

I am supposed to forget all this for the sake of a party and a beer. I am supposed to just not ask the hard questions, never look back as Obama so stupidly said Look Forward, Not Backward. 

I am supposed to ignore the sheer hideousness of the fact that what actually got this useless trophy took nothing more than a few months of intelligence work (can bribing the Pakistani ISI be considered ‘intelligence work’?), a small commando unit, and a raid in the city of Abbotabad – one of Pakistan’s largest military cantonment cities and less than hour away from its capital Islamabad?

Am I to believe that no one bothered to look inside what must have been the strangest and most conspicuous house in the entire town – 12 foot walls, barbed wire, clandestine comings and goings, high security controls, etc. to see who may be there? A house smack in the center of a major Pakistani military city, under the very nose of Pakistani and American intelligence. Am I to believe that we waged years of drone wars in the mountains, leaving thousands of dead and tens of thousands displaced, while never bothering to look over the walls of our city offices? If not I, then would not the thousands of dead want to know the answer to this question.

Why do I feel that I have just been made a fool of and am now being told to hold the Star Spangled Banner and dance around like a monkey? Why can’t I get over the feeling that I have just been sold a lemon, and the salesman is laughing while counting my cash?

Perhaps it’s just me but I can’t celebrate or wave this flag. I can’t get past the horrors of these preceding years. I can’t stop hearing the echoes of the arrogant lies, nor the screams of the millions of innocent lives lost to pave the road of our righteousness with their blood and souls. I can’t help but lament this fraud, since nothing changes, and all paranoid fantasies of ‘invading demons’ continue as before. More wars, more security, more torture, more fear, mor screaming hysteria about the dangers to ‘our way of life’.

I beg for mercy. Please don’t ask this American to dance. I beg for mercy. Please don’t demand that this American forget. I beg for mercy, please let this American remember. There is still so much more to come. So much more that I will have to remember for future days when I will be told to forget. Please let me sit here….and remember.