I’m a brown person, so any time the word “terrorism” makes the rounds, I perk up. In the wake of the Charleston Massacre I’ve seen a certain hashtag, #Whiteterrorism, make its way around progressive corners of the web. Yet I have to wonder: do those who use this term understand the full weight of what it means to be called a terrorist? What do Muslim Americans have to say about calling others by that epithet? Terrorism, from our recent history, is tarnished by its racial connotations. It is, at best, slander used to tell us that we don’t belong. At worst, it is the banner under which the United States Government has terrorized our people with impunity.
A few weeks ago I stumbled upon this photoessay. The argument of the piece was simple: overpopulation and overconsumption are disastrous for the environment and for humanity’s continued existence on Earth - a pretty standard liberal concern which most college-educated people would agree with. I clicked on the link because of a pessimistic desire to visualize how our world was heading towards ecological apocalypse.
Yet as I scrolled down the article, it became increasingly obvious that most of the examples given to illustrate overpopulation were culled from the developing world. Notably, the two aerial views of ‘overpopulated’ cities used Mexico City and Port-au-Prince as examples. Moreover, the repetition in each photo - whether it be tree stumps, people, slums, livestock lots, or rectangular crop fields – are potent visualizations of patterned homogeneity from a distanced bird’s-eye perspective. The camera’s positioning in most of these photos follow the logic of scientific objectivity, replicating what Donna Haraway has dubbed the God-trick, the mythical view which sees from everywhere and nowhere.
Feminism is coming to Hollywood in a big way… there’s the ACLU action against industry-wide discrimination against women, Mad Max: Fury Road became a smash hit, and now Paramount has announced the Transformers writing team is bringing on board two women for work on the next film.
The Paramount thing is very interesting, and not just as a response to the ACLU. I’m sure studio bosses took note of how well Fury Road did at the box office. But there’s a common-enough assumption floating around that bringing women into the workforce will encourage more women-friendly/feminist approaches to business. It’s going to be much more complicated than that. If these trends continue and women come to be represented more and more throughout Hollywood’s industry, we’re going to see people faced with complex political situations.
I recently read a great article by David Simon on his blog, putting the aftermath of the Baltimore Uprisings in context. I liked many of his insights into the pragmatics of achieving institutional reform through the US’s two-party political rivalry. But his critique that rioting is bereft of any political potential left something to be desired.
I write about this because even though Simon trotted out “Selma, Gdansk, Robben Island,” it was a sophisticated formulation of an oftentimes hackneyed argument. Most of the time, it seems that people use the nonviolence incantation as a way to lazily dismiss contemporary attempts at agitation for change, or to hold people to an impossibly high standard. But Simon, perhaps as a credit to his extensive experience with the press, understood it in terms of the battle of images.
In his own words,
“When the very demand is an end to wanton and brutalizing overpolicing, a riot and all the imagery that a riot conjures is in fact the most useless thing in the great arsenal of civil disobedience and rebellion…
This makes me wonder. Is David Simon right to place the crux of reform on wooing the middle class? And what about “Selma, Gdansk, Robben Island?” Does history actually line up behind his examples?
I’ve been in quite a few college-community discussions about finding solutions to the problem of racist stereotyping. I’ve even facilitated some. One point that frequently comes up is the role of the university. It goes like this: “We need to educate people so that they are aware of their biases. It is our role as a place for higher learning to foster people’s racial consciousnesses so that they will turn away from racist thinking”
If only life were so simple. Based on my experiences in college, I would have been lucky to find bigoted people who actually wanted to learn, who had an attitude conducive to anti-racist education. The idea that we can change racist behaviors is predicated on the assumption that people will want to change. People get their pride wrapped up in racism. They are proud to “stand up to the liberal agenda.” They are smug with their ignorance. Racism makes them feel strong instead of weak, confident instead of uncertain, comfortable instead of uncomfortable, bound to a familiar community rather than alone and alienated. How can we expect those people who have made up their minds on the matter of race, people who most desperately need these kinds of interventions, to benefit in any way from a single-minded appeal to education?
Orientalism is thriving, and so it seems are references to Edward Said's seminal 1978 work of the same name. But what about his other large-scale work on colonialism? The alliance between Culture and Imperialism today is as strong as ever, and in the United States, it shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.
A few days ago, I saw the latest trailer for Jurassic World. There is a much maligned plot point involving Chris Pratt's character teaming up with a gang of velociraptors to take down the diabolical genetically modified apex predator on the loose. Some commentators have cried foul over the ridiculousness of the plot, and lament that it smacks of Michael Crichton's signature anti-scientific paranoia. Yet there is much more going on in this trailer: for one Indominus Rex isn't just the psychopathic bad guy (killing for sport), it's also instigating a dinosaur revolution! Consider the scene in which the bewildered heroes remark that "something's wrong. It's communicating." A later cut shows I-Rex roaring at pterosaurs, followed by said pterosaurs snapping up hapless victims in an air raid on the park. Now check out the military-grade park security forces, going in guns-blazing. Tell me this does not look like an all-out human-dinosaur war.
Monday this week marked the 16th anniversary of the terrorist attack on Littleton, Colorado at Columbine High School. I watched Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine that day, purely by coincidence. There were a couple of things that struck me about the film. One of them was the way in which people talked about the attack, the way in which the "how could this have happened to us?" became a narrative about good, innocent people just trying to live decently in a world that can be gripped by a nigh inexplicable violence. Michael Moore's project was to explain that seemingly incomprehensible violence through a fear-driven culture. But there was one place Michael Moore, fashioning himself as a "man of the people", could not have gone. How is it that in a land where everyone is "good people," bad things continue to happen? Could it really be possible that we are all good people?
Well, hold on. Not everyone is good people. Somewhere, lurking in our communities, there are the psychopaths and the deviants. They--especially the psychopaths--are so adept at parroting our values back to us that they can live completely undetected in our societies until they decide on their moment to strike. We're the good people, and they, the others, are the evil psychopaths.
If only it were so simple. We all have a capacity for cruelty, and we all have the capacity to empathize with others, even with psychopaths. In the context of studying maximum security prisons, Professor Lorna A. Rhodes interviewed guards about the fear of "contamination" they experience when interacting with inmates labelled as psychopaths. There is an assumed predictability to psychopathic behavior because it is characterized as ruthlessly rational. But if it is so easy for us to inhabit the mind of a psychopath, and if contamination is such a threat to the extent that the line between psychopath and investigator can be made indistinguishable, then is there really such a stable boundary between the good "us" and the evil "them"?
Once again, I am unhappy with the fourth estate. This post in particular shares my thoughts on a pretty old Atlantic piece titled something like "What ISIS Really Wants". Compared to other journalism these days, I think it was a relatively good quality article. The Atlantic certainly has reason to be proud of this piece (on my Facebook feed they triumphantly advertised it as a "must-read"). However to me, it's only as good as an article written by a white journalist from the US can really get when talking about politics in the Arab world.
The article's main argument is that in order to effectively counter ISIS, the US government must understand them on a theological (i.e. Islamic) basis. At first glance, I thought it was an interesting and sensible argument: let's try to understand the people who work for ISIS from their perspective. But there's an important difference between understanding from "their" perspective and understanding their "Islamic" perspective. True, the article jumps through the necessary hoops of journalistic balance by giving some space to all the other Muslims out there who condemn ISIS as essentially un-Islamic. But this is a mere mention, and the article suggests ultimately that while we should not implicate all Muslims with the actions of ISIS leadership, there is something undeniably Islamic about the organization thanks to its identification with Koranic scripture and theology.
Alright, I'll admit. Apeshit is a bit of a strong way to describe a very understandable reaction from a very outraged press. This post is inspired in particular by one of Vice's articles on the subject. The outrage, which seems to be reflected in other headlines for articles that I actually haven't read, is over the fact that not only was the WMD threat wildly inflated, but there was no connection whatsoever between Iraq and Al-Qaeda (at least until the U.S./Coalition Forces got in there and created a fucked up power vacuum).
Here's why I'm not happy with the fourth estate today. While the anger is understandable, I think journalists are making a mistake by going after Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld and pillorying them for incompetence. By all means, pillory the politicians. But please, do it well. The incompetence route is a rather lazy justification for the shitshow the U.S. and U.K. keep failing to not make worse in the Persian Gulf. The Vice article seems to imply that the tenuous connection between Iraq and terrorism was sloppy, a poor excuse to ramrod jus ad bellum down the throat of white public opinion. I believe this is only partially true.
I get into Facebook arguments a lot. Recently, it was against a white man ex-Catholic current Marxist who I hung out with in college. He was arguing that Islam is inherently violent and Muslim people cannot be expected to integrate into Western civilization because of their barbaric religious ideology. I'm an ex-Muslim. I argued that he was being ridiculous.
I understand where he's coming from -- at least, I think I understand. First, I imagined myself as a bro. Then I surveyed the world. All of the troublemaking countries where terrorists are fomenting anti-Western violence against other countries as well as their own people are Muslim. In the psychological universe of the bro, there is no difference between correlation and causation. Ergo, the Islamic aspect must be a defining cause of the violence. Not rigorous at all, just blanket generalizations about large swathes of people. It's what bros do all the time, right brah?