Category Archives: Pantomime Terror

‘Music & Politics’ – Pantomime Terror

‘Music & Politics’ with John Pandit from Asian Dub Foundation and Aki Nawaz from Fun-Da-Mental
Wednesday 8th October, 7pm

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Entry £3, redeemable against any purchase

Key ring terror distractor trinket


Tucked in a side street in London Bridge today, a police stand handing out devices which I suspect.

I suspect an effort to distract from this evening’s BBCLondon report that Scotland Yard’s heavily redacted Operation Tiberius investigation covers up the exposure of 42 senior cops (and 19 former cops) for close links with drug crime and contract killings.

It is our duty, we are told: if you suspect it, report it.



On offer: this little show-bag of stuff from the dodgy non-uniform suits who refused to be photographed. I guess the key ring for terror is handy because I so want to be carrying that number around with me as a permanent anxiety reminder. That it came in what seems to be a used gram bag may only be coincidentally linked with the – let me repeat – exposure today that 42 members of the senior police were well paid crime syndicate stooges – as revealed in documents from Operation Tiberius previously heavily redacted by Scotland Yard but exposed tonight by BBCLondon.

The pen speaks for itself, was it previously used to sign payola cheques perhaps? I suspect it, so I report it.


And this one just really is the perfect Fathers Day Trinket, no?


FFS, I say, for fucks sake. Get these people a water cannon as soon as possible. Anyone need a news item to distract from the – did I mention – massive exposure of senior cops linked to crime syndicates?

Trinketization as damage control.

M.I.A.; The Partysquad – Double Bubble Trouble official music video Unc…

DIY Anti War Drones and more:

NXRB – Mark Perryman


Read it here

Panto Terror reviewed (sandwich)

Screen shot 2013-11-25 at 16.10.41A brief review from Mark Perryman (Philosophy Football) on Socialist Unity where I am sandwiched between words on Arun Kundnani’s book (which I read and think is really good) and Andrew Hussey’s book (which I’ve not yet read):

“Arun Kundnani’s ‘The Muslims are Coming!’ links together the experience of Islamophobia, the framing of extremism/fundamentalism and the ongoing global impact of the west’s so-called ‘War on Terror’. Here the left is grappling with subjects it is more at ease with understanding, though the depth to which it is transformed via that process remains in question. An insight into what that transformation might look like is provided by John Hutnyk’s ‘Pantomime Terror‘ which imaginatively records how popular culture has been affected by a post 9/11 world and on occasion has offered signs of resisting the reactionary, racist, consequences of that process. The urgent necessity for this kind of engagement is established brilliantly by Andrew Hussey’s new book ‘The French Intifada’.”

I regret the reviewers have not noted the critiques of Zizek, Badiou and Buck-Morss in mine, or the importance of Spivak and Adorno to my argument, or the coda on Wagner, but still very good to have. See here. Thanks Mark.

Hand Picked Stimulus Respond

I’ve two short bits of writing in this elegant little book from Jack Boulton, Stimulus Respond and Pavement Books. ‘The Politics of Cats’ and the bus part of the intro to ‘Pantomime Terror


Plan C: Institute for Precarious Consciousness – ‘we are all very anxious’

I don’t think the state of things is readily reducible to bite-sized explanation-metaphors, nor that whole eras of the capitalist mode of production (this is of course not just a metaphor) should be understood under sweepingly simple code-words, but, unfolding better explanations by deploying such code-words as efforts to get us to think differently and in detail is of great use. And the corresponding tactical 1,2,3-step is also helpful, even if ’tis not the whole struggle – so having Plan C post this is very welcome, even for those times when I am neither miserable, bored, nor anxious (‘he’s behind you’ – the pantomime reflex).

Not anxious, but I am amazed, often variously amazed – even at the idea of posting this:

“Today’s public secret is that everyone is anxious. Anxiety has spread from its previous localised locations (such as sexuality) to the whole of the social field. All forms of intensity, self-expression, emotional connection, immediacy, and enjoyment are now laced with anxiety. It has become the linchpin of subordination.”

This public secret scales up into another Pantomime Terror. It starts with the kids, subjected to such performances, relentlessly – ‘it will be fun, you’ll see’. Then school, and eventually you get asked to love your work. Meanwhile:

‘public space is bureaucratised and privatised, and a widening range of human activity is criminalised on the grounds of risk, security, nuisance, quality of life, or anti-social behaviour’.

As they say on FB: read this, you’ll be amazed what happens next:

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Previously on Plan C:

Pantomime Terror: MIA as Provocateur. Keynote address at International Centre for the Study of Culture, Giessen. 21 Nov 2013

Click on the image to get to Daily Motion to play. 55 mins. Thanks Raul Gschrey: it is on the same material as the last section of the book Pantomime Terror

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Pantomime Terror #music #politics

There’s a whole section on Wagner in this, and some humour. For the record… (you can order by clicking the cover to get to Zero then look for the sales tab lower right):

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Pantomime Terror: Music and Politics

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Pantomime Terror trinket of the day.


talk at RMIT Melbourne

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John Hutnyk
Pantomime Terror: MIA’s lyrical opposition to Capital, Google and the Border Patrols.

Monday 16 December 2013 4:30PM (room tbc)

Within the prevailing ‘keep calm and carry on’ conditions of the UK security regime, those who find safety in repressive complicity are also necessarily disabled from criticism of the war-effect as it appears everywhere. At best this turns anti-war opposition into performance, staged protest and the lyricism of music, song, drum and video. In this talk I examine the culture-inflected, low-intensity war alongside the shooting war. The video provocations of artists like M.I.A. (Mathangi Arulpragasam) can be read as dramatising difficulties that have occupied British South Asian musicians, writers, filmmakers and commentators in the context of a domestic civil liberties crackdown that replicates detention and terror security repression elsewhere.

talk is on the same day as one by Sophie Fuggle…

Flyers with room details:

GRC Seminar John Hutnyk 161213

GRC Seminar Sophie Fuggle 161213



More sentences that did not make the cut (from chapter two of Panto Terror):

The insurrection in the suburbs is not directed against the theoretical posturing of the self-regarding masters, but where the street demands something more than theory, bad theory is tolerated only so long as it does not succeed. Unfulfilled as yet, there is a threatening promise here. A lumpen justice storms the stage. Critics superfluous, Adorno applauds.

These might be reflections and critiques of the more or less prejudicial ways codes are filtered and sequenced in the psychological structures of the authoritarian personality today There is always the possibility of extending the study to account for historical differences in the way authoritarianism takes differing forms in different periods. Exactly that missing theory of mediation for which Adorno berated Benjamin’s Arcades assemblage might also displace the tendency to think in terms of vision not sound, and to accept the old methods forever, the old masters, and new – as if the once radical theorists retain critical intensity for all times.

There is a battle for attention and the production of images on all sides is just a part of the workings of an ‘attention economy’ or an ‘attention theory of value’ (Beller 2006:201). I want this value to illustrate and be illustrated in the workings of this writing, the ways writing works…

This is an old story – music and politics back in the day: in the 1970s a band called ‘The Lumpen’ were a cultural offshoot from the Black Panthers: “comrades who liked to harmonize while working Distribution night in San Francisco to ‘help the work go easier’ (another tradition). We had all sung in groups in the past, Calhoun having performed professionally in Las Vegas, and it just came naturally. I don’t remember just how it came about, but Emory Douglas, Minister of Culture, suggested that this could be formed into a musical cadre. Elaine Brown had already recorded an album of revolutionary songs (‘Seize the Time’) in a folk singing style, and this quartet singing in an R&B or ‘Soul’ form could be a useful political tool. Some folks don’t read, but everybody listens to music”

More recent work on Chinese urban street culture continues in a similar manner. Michael Dutton’s great book Streetlife China applauds the organised creativity of lumpen criminal subcultures struggling to survive in the informal and black economy as China advances its new capitalist regime, with deformed Deng-ist characteristics (Dutton 1999).

Back to Paris in 1848 then. In his book on that city, economist geographer David Harvey spends very little time with Marx on the streets, and rarely mentions the Eighteenth Brumaire, perhaps reluctant to draw anything but the most general macro conclusions. Conversely, but similar, his critique of readings of Benjamin cannot relate fragments of the Arcades project to the whole – echoes of Adorno but without the close comradely involvement or ‘Arcades orthodoxy’ (Adorno to Benjamin 10 November 1938, Benjamin/Adorno 1994/1999: 284). Nevertheless, Harvey shows that after the revolutionary disturbances of 1848 came Baron Haussmann and his wider streets project, which has to be understood as the policy response of the ruling class (Harvey 2003:3). Of course this was not simply straightforward – even if the roads, the new boulevards cutting through working class areas, were. In a somewhat hyperbolic mode, Harvey writes of 1848: ‘Before, there was an urban vision that at best could only tinker with the problems of a medieval urban infrastructure; then came Haussmann, who bludgeoned the city into modernity’ (Harvey 2003:3). This for Harvey: ‘Tradition has to be overthrown, violence is necessary, in order to grapple with the present and create the future’ (Harvey 2003:15).

Harvey points to a ‘greater degree of spatial segregation, much of it based on class distinctions’ in the wake of Haussman’s remodelling of the city (Harvey 2003:239).

The point is not to perfect a history of 1848 or 1871, but to explore ways in which the events of that time might help us think differently about our own. I am thinking then of the boulevard as ramparts, and the way this offers a perspective marked by class and militarism. What is it to look along the vista of the new Paris in the 1860s? Just as today the view of New York has been remodelled in significant ways, as Joel McKim argues in his studies of memorial and architectural competition over the Twin Towers site (McKim 2008:83). Indeed, what was it to look up at the planes as they hurtled into the twin towers, or, equally, as they fly far above, the planes that drop what Habermas calls ‘electronically controlled clusters of elegant and versatile missiles’ (in Borradori 2008:28). To get New Yorkers to stop and stare was significant, but it is also a privilege compared to those who do not have the time to do anything but run for cover.

The intellectuals, sociologists and commentators want a more inclusive France. The meaning of the former is secured by the latter – the secret dependence of democratic politics upon nationalist enjoyment takes varied forms, whether it be the novelty of the ‘third way’ politics, the love-thy-neighbour posturing of multicultural tolerance, or ‘radical’ reforms – drop the debt campaigns perhaps – even ‘Struggles for cultural recognition … [are] secretly supported … by compliance in deed, if not in words, with nationalistic rituals’ (Boucher 2004:160). The best these modes of ‘politics’ can claim is to be the human face of the obscene enjoyment generated by the capitalism-nationalism nexus. Žižek points to the need to break from these supplements to destroy the logic of their excessive unconscious attachments – discursive unity is secretly supported by venal enjoyment (Žižek 2004b:164) and he would have done with this kind of ‘rainbow coalition’ against populist fundamentalism in order rather to ‘aggravate’ class difference into class antagonism (Žižek 2004b:186).

In 1972 Eldrige Cleaver wrote:

“The real revolutionary element of our era is the Lumpen, understood in its broader sense. What is lacking is a Lumpen consciousness, consciousness of the basic condition of oppression being the Lumpen condition and not the proletarian condition. In order for the revolutionary movement to progress, the Lumpen must become conscious of themselves as the vast majority, and the false proletarian, working class consciousness must be negated.” (Cleaver 1972)

Extended coverage! #Woolwich

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Pantomime Terror (inaugural 2008) – Video Dailymotion

Pantomime Terror – Video Dailymotion.

(working on the book again!)

Poetry After Guantanamo

a piece on MIA, now available as a pre-print citable version on email request (first 50 only). Shoot me a line to get the code.


link PoetryafterGuantanamo

Poetry After Guantanamo

a piece on MIA, now available as a pre-print citable version on email request (first 50 only). Shoot me a line to get the code.


link PoetryafterGuantanamo

More Pantomime Terror

More Pantomime Terror – always on the case, protecting the Security of the Homeland near and far, the CIA seem to have found a pair of hot knickers in Yemen. They found no bomber, no plane, no ticket, they have no idea who built the panty-bomb… and there is no threat to the public. So it could be the perfect media story for the one-year-anniversary of the no body-shot snuff-film-watchin’-POTUS re-election bid:

‘The would-be suicide bomber, based in Yemen, had not yet picked a target or bought a plane ticket when the CIA stepped in and seized the bomb, officials said. It’s not immediately clear what happened to the alleged bomber.’

US: CIA thwarts new al-Qaida underwear bomb plot

Originally published: May 7, 2012 5:03 PM
Updated: May 7, 2012 6:11 PM
By The Associated Press  ADAM GOLDMAN (Associated Press), MATT APUZZO (Associated Press)

Photo credit: AP | FILE – This undated file photo released Oct. 31, 2010, by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior purports to show Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri. [Dubious link to person in photo redacted by JH, see the above alleged knickers pic instead if you really must have a picture]

The CIA thwarted an ambitious plot by al-Qaida’s affiliate in Yemen to destroy a U.S.-bound airliner using a bomb with a sophisticated new design around the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, The Associated Press has learned. (AP Photo/Saudi Arabia Ministry of Interior, File)

WASHINGTON – (AP) — The CIA thwarted an ambitious plot by al-Qaida’s affiliate in Yemen to destroy a U.S.-bound airliner using a bomb with a sophisticated new design around the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden, The Associated Press has learned.

The plot involved an upgrade of the underwear bomb that failed to detonate aboard a jetliner over Detroit on Christmas 2009. This new bomb was also designed to be used in a passenger’s underwear, but this time al-Qaida developed a more refined detonation system, U.S. officials said.

The FBI is examining the latest bomb to see whether it could have passed through airport security and brought down an airplane, officials said. They said the device did not contain metal, meaning it probably could have passed through an airport metal detector. But it was not clear whether new body scanners used in many airports would have detected it.

There were no immediate plans to change security procedures at U.S. airports.

The would-be suicide bomber, based in Yemen, had not yet picked a target or bought a plane ticket when the CIA stepped in and seized the bomb, officials said. It’s not immediately clear what happened to the alleged bomber.

White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said President Barack Obama learned about the plot in April and was assured the device posed no threat to the public.

“The president thanks all intelligence and counterterrorism professionals involved for their outstanding work and for serving with the extraordinary skill and commitment that their enormous responsibilities demand,” Hayden said.

The operation unfolded even as the White House and Department of Homeland Security assured the American public that they knew of no al-Qaida plots against the U.S. around the anniversary of bin Laden’s death. The operation was carried out over the past few weeks, officials said.

“We have no credible information that terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, are plotting attacks in the U.S. to coincide with the anniversary of bin Laden’s death,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said on April 26.

On May 1, the Department of Homeland Security said, “We have no indication of any specific, credible threats or plots against the U.S. tied to the one-year anniversary of bin Laden’s death.”

The White House did not explain those statements Monday.

The AP learned about the thwarted plot last week but agreed to White House and CIA requests not to publish it immediately because the sensitive intelligence operation was still under way. Once officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP decided to disclose the plot Monday despite requests from the Obama administration to wait for an official announcement Tuesday.

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security acknowledged the existence of the bomb late Monday, but there were no immediate plans to adjust security procedures at airports. Other officials, who were briefed on the operation, insisted on anonymity to discuss details of the plot, many of which the U.S. has not officially acknowledged.

“The device never presented a threat to public safety, and the U.S. government is working closely with international partners to address associated concerns with the device,” the FBI said in a statement.

It’s not clear who built the bomb, but, because of its sophistication and its similarity to the Christmas bomb, counterterrorism officials suspected it was the work of master bomb maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri or one of his protégées. Al-Asiri constructed the first underwear bomb and two others that al-Qaida built into printer cartridges and shipped to the U.S. on cargo planes in 2010.

Both of those bombs used a powerful industrial explosive. Both were nearly successful.

The operation is an intelligence victory for the United States and a reminder of al-Qaida’s ambitions, despite the death of bin Laden and other senior leaders. Because of instability in the Yemeni government, the terrorist group’s branch there has gained territory and strength. It has set up terrorist camps and, in some areas, even operates as a de facto government.

But along with the gains there also have been losses. The group has suffered significant setbacks as the CIA and the U.S. military focus more on Yemen. On Sunday, Fahd al-Quso, a senior al-Qaida leader, was hit by a missile as he stepped out of his vehicle along with another operative in the southern Shabwa province of Yemen.

Al-Quso, 37, was on the FBI’s most wanted list, with a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture [erm, and assassination?]. He was indicted in the U.S. for his role in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in the harbor of Aden, Yemen, in which 17 American sailors were killed and 39 injured.

Al-Quso was believed to have replaced Anwar al-Awlaki as the group’s head of external operations. Al-Awlaki was killed in a U.S. airstrike last year.


Contact the Washington investigative team at DCinvestigations(at)

Associated Press writers Kimberly Dozier and Eileen Sullivan contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. [though it does need to be rewritten, quite bad journalism always deserves an edit, or 'contribution tot he report']

Terror as Usual

‘Terror as Usual’ – Media cultures in an age of terror


Media@LSE and Birkbeck College with London Screen Studies Group

Friday 25 May 2012

Venue: Clore Management Centre, Torrington Sq, Birkbeck, University of London


10.00 Arrive

10.15 Introduction to the day

Session One 10.30-12.00

John Hutnyk, Goldsmiths – ‘Sexy Sammy and Red Rosie': from burning books to the war on terror

Mina Al-Lami, LSE – Members to martyrs: crossing the line from online to offline jihadism

12.00-13.00 Lunch

Session Two 13.00-14.30

Marc Hobart, SOAS – ‘Terror As Performance’ The Bali bombing on the news

Cristina Archetti, Salford – A communications perspective on terror

14.30-15.00 Coffee/Tea

Session Three 15.00-16.15

Guy Westwell – Queen Mary – Terror and conspiracy in post 9/11 US film

Open Discussion: all speakers – What’s old and what’s new?

Registration: Registration is Free but places are limited, so please pre-register by May 23rd at terrorasusual[at]

Born Free – MIA’s Poetry After Guantanamo

A piece written before this week’s release of Bad Girls, coming out soon in Social Identities.

Abstract: The recent work of the Sri-Lankan-British musician and sonic ‘curator’ known as M.I.A. (real name: Mathangi Arulpragasam) is considered as a commentary on atrocity and read alongside the well known essay ‘The Storyteller’ by Walter Benjamin and comments on Auschwitz by Theodor Adorno. The storytelling here is updated for a contemporary context where global war impacts us all, more or less visibly, more, or less, acknowledged. It is argued that the controversy over M.I.A.’s Romain Gavras video Born Free is exemplary of the predicament of art in the face of violence, crisis and terror – with this track, and video, M.I.A.’s work faced a storm of criticism which I want to critique in turn, in an attempt, at least, to learn to make or discern more analytic distinctions amongst concurrent determinations of art A careful reading of Adorno can in the end teach us to see Born Free anew.


Keywords: Benjamin, Adorno, Gavras, M.I.A, music, terror, racism, orientalism.

PDF Here Poetry After GuantanamoFinalDraftSocialIdentities.

Pantomime Terror Lecture 30.9.2008

This, here, for the gnawing criticism of the mice, is my inaugural Professorial lecture at Goldsmiths September 30 2008. Details: presented by Professor John Hutnyk of the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths. Title: ‘Pantomime Terror: the paranoid commuter and the danger of music’. Introduced by Professor Geoffrey Crossick. Please note there is a missing part at 48;38 where there was a tape changeover. At this point its important to know I discussed the Fun^da^mental video DIY Cookbook, available here:
and there is a bit of the discussion is missing, but covered in this blog post: – sorry its complicated, but if you like the first 48 mins, then why not watch the short 3 min FDM vid, read the short blog, then return for the eccentric finale!
Thanks heaps to Adela for filming this.

Pantomime Terror Lecture (last 5 mins)

Here, for obscure in-joke reasons, is the last part of my inaugural lecture in 2008, where I had been discussing pantomime terror, paranoid suspicions on the tube, and the ur-story of the 1001 nights updated to Guantanamo … this is meant not only as a wind up – and I will post the entire lecture eventually. Geoff Crossick says some things at the end…


Popular Music and Human Rights

Pantomime Terror in print (see downloads page for the pdf).

This is the flyer for the set: Popular Music and Human Rights 2-vol set

Undercover Transports

click on the page to download a pdf of this text (now with all the images).

Graphic Novels of different stripes

— On Wed, 22/6/11, jon sack <jsaanum[at]> wrote:

Dear friends,I’d like to ‘officially’ share with you my latest graphic novel, ‘Prisoners of Love’, which chronicles Ewa Jasiewicz’s experience on the Freedom Flotila last year (it has been ‘unofficially’ making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter this week).  This is a chapter in a larger project I’ve been (slowly) working on, but felt it was appropriate to publish this now in the lead up to the upcoming flotilla about to sail to Gaza – Freedom Flotilla II – Stay Human.  Please visit the blog for more info or to buy a copy.  A press release is below for further reading.Thanks,



New Graphic Novel Tackles Israeli Raid on Last Year’s Freedom Flotilla

London, UK – June 21, 2011

A new graphic novel, Prisoners of Love, tells the story from the point of view of Ewa Jasiewicz, an activist who took part in the Freedom Flotilla’s mission to Gaza last year, bringing much needed material support and solidarity to the Palestinian people living under Israel’s brutal and illegal blockade.

The Israeli PR machine commandeered the narrative before the gun smoke had cleared, constructing a story replete with “violent extremists” who attacked the Israeli soldiers who had stormed their ship in an attempt to ‘lynch’ them.

Israeli officials confiscated all material of the event recorded by passengers, and in doing so created a factual vacuum that it filled with a well planned, well orchestrated media offensive to justify their use of deadly force.  However, soon other voices, and other stories began to emerge, stories that ran counter to the official Israeli version, of indiscriminate assassinations, of brutal treatment of wounded passengers, and a searing contempt of due process.

The narrative of the comic is based on the final chapter of Ewa Jasiewicz’s book ‘Podpalic Gaze’ (Razing Gaza) published in Poland by WAB in February 2011.  The book is based on Jasiewicz’s experiences as a medical volunteer during Operation Cast Lead 2009 as well as analysis of the historical and present-day relationship between Poland and Israel.

Sack finished Prisoners of Love a year to the day – May 29th – that this occurred, and hopes this raises awareness of the upcoming Freedom Flotilla 2 – Stay Human, which is due to sail with 10 ships and 1000 people to Gaza in late June.

Prisoners of Love is part of a larger collection of graphic short stories, from Israel and Gaza, to the jungles of Congo, the streets of London and Warner Bros Theme Park in Spain.

Jon Sack

For updates on the progress of the forthcoming Freedom Flotilla, see and 

And then from the dark side, the Guardian reports on this truly mad bit of Panto:

Graphic novel outlines raid to capture bin Laden

MATT MOORE – AP foreign, Friday June 24 2011

Associated Press= PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The daring secret mission to get Osama bin Laden by elite U.S. forces will be told in the pages of a new graphic novel that aims to shed more light — with a bit of creative license — on the event.

Written by retired U.S. Marine Capt. Dale Dye and Julia Dye, the 88-page hardcover “Code Word: Geronimo” takes a look at the mission that is free from politics, a move the authors said was aimed at keeping the focus on those who planned, conducted and executed the raid. IDW Publishing said a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the American Veterans Center.

“People from all parties and from more than one administration made this all possible,” Julia Dye told The Associated Press. “It’s an American celebration.”

It was also a quick process adapting the real-life event for the book, illustrated by artists Gerry Kissell and Amin Amat, and set for release Sept. 6, less than a week before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

IDW, a San Diego-based publisher known for its line of comics that include “G.I. Joe,” ”Star Trek” and “Doctor Who,” said the story about bin Laden’s capture would appeal to both new and established readers.

Tom Waltz, IDW’s editor and a Marine who was in the Gulf War, called the story a detailed account of the mission.

“I firmly believe you won’t get a more accurate account [for sure! - ed] of this pivotal moment in history unless it is told by the SEAL team members themselves, [even better - incredulous ed]” Waltz said.

Julia Dye called the work necessary for the nation [uh huh -ed], particularly having had to live “within the shadow” of bin Laden for so long.

Read the rest online here. [if you dare - ed]

Pantomime Paranoia in London, or, ‘Look Out, He’s Behind You’

The book version of a commentary on various things Fun^da^mental (plus stuff on the Kumars at No. 42, Jean Charles de Menezes, Forest Gate, and the general mayhem of war-on-terror culture) is now out in a volume edited by Ian Peddie. Some of this material first appeared in various places across this blog, and was my inaugural lecture.

Now the pdf of my chapter is available on this link: 011 Hutnyk Ch 4 Peddi, by grace and favour of the publisher.

For those that hounded Hasan Elahi

I offer you this documentation of last night’s dinner. I do this in solidarity with Hasan Elahi who, as I read in Amitava Kumar’s excellent new book (mentioned below in the Ruthless post), was detained for questioning after visiting an Artist’s Residency program in Senegal and subsequently became subject of a 6 month FBI investigation after being falsely accused of having fled the country leaving explosives behind in a locker… ‘In order to prove to his interrogators, over the course of dozens of interviews, what he had been doing on that particular day as well as the days that followed, Elahi showed them all the information he had on his PDA … And when the investigation was over, Elahi began working on documenting publicly his every move … His aim is to overwhelm those who have him under surveillance … [he says] “If 300 million people were to offer up the details of their private lives, you would need to hire another 300 million people just to keep up”‘ (Kumar -2010, p28-29 A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb).

It seems to me this is the entire rationale of Facebook, but it is also another example of the Scheherezade complex I discuss here and here, and in the new book soon.

Universities UK and the hidden hand of terror/freedom of speech

In a convulsive act of responsive policy and positioning, a new publication on freedom of speech in Universities has hit the shelves. This, I suspect, is going to be interesting reading – it is from the Vice-Chancellor’s cabal we know and love as ‘Universities UK’ – a name for the infinite escalation of ego and salary combined.
I’m thinking repressive tolerance, containment and plea-bargain all in one neat dialectical formula – ‘freedom with constraints’. The context is – as ever – the security of the West but I suppose we could think of this as an example of touching base with the alumni gone wrong. In a fully understandable move given that a 2010 review cleared UCL of any role in radicalizing its students, it seems a working party was set up ‘following the arrest of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in the United States on Christmas Day 2009 for an attempted act of terrorism. Eighteen months previously he had graduated from UCL’
Let’s check that all the buttons have been pressed:
- Islamophobic identifier in the name ✔ [no mention of underpants]
- wholesome ‘our side’ values reference to christian consumer festival
- attempted act of terrorism, clearly foiled by our intrepid allies the US ✔
- absolution in the passage of time (eighteen months)✔
Another fine production by Crusader spin inc. ✔

And because no-one, simply no-one, can do anything without a podcast these days, there is also a youtube video, with the UCL Provost talking about how we dont want students spying on each other and the best way to ensure freedom of speech is to have ‘openness, publicity, transparency and challenge’. Hear Hear!

In the report, then, there is the mysterious hand of not-at-all openness (my italics):

Indeed, the setting up of the Working Group behind this report was prompted by the events of Christmas Day 2009 when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was apprehended in attempting to blow up a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. Eighteen months previously he had graduated from University College London, where he had also been president of the student Islamic Society. An independent inquiry chaired by Professor Dame Fiona Caldicott concluded unequivocally that there was no evidence to suggest that he had been radicalised during his time as a student, and MI5 see the hand of the Yemen-based preacher Anwar Al Awlaqi in his conversion to violent extremism

The front cover of the report pictures a woman with a megaphone in a green jumper, and in front of her another woman reaching into her back-pack… [just sayin', see here]
And then on Page 39, for those not wanting to read the entire thing, is a diagram about accepting bookings for rooms on campus. The shorthand box is that bookings will be referred to security and could be refused if the booking or group involves/raises:

Potential Controversial Issues:
• subject to adverse media attention
• Associated with a campaign or political pressure group
• A faith or belief group whose views may be deemed as being discriminatory or inflammatory to others

Great material here for my Pantomime Terror book!
Because there needs to be a critical voice on this, here is an invitation to comment on a few choice snippets from the press release that indicate the stakes in terms of knowledge production:

Prevent is the element of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy that has been most visible to universities. The Prevent strand aimed to support community cohesion and thereby deter or divert people away from violent extremism. The strategy is currently being reviewed by the Coalition Government and it is clear that its focus and approach will alter over the next few years

Universities UK, working with the sector, has also been examining issues relating to entirely legitimate research by academics into potentially sensitive areas, such as terrorism and extremism. The work has been looking at the handling of sensitive research materials, and how institutions might need to adapt practices and processes. UUK will publish a guidance note for institutions later in 2011

An independent review (headed by Dame Fiona Caldicott) into Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s time at UCL published its final report in  in October 2010. The central conclusion of the report was that there was no evidence to suggest either that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was radicalised while a student at UCL, or that conditions at UCL during that time or subsequently were conducive to the radicalisation of students

Universities UK is the representative organisation for the UK’s universities. Founded in 1918, its mission is to be the definitive voice for all universities in the UK

More to come…

A Complete System of Bayonet Exercise by Richard Francis Burton

Note to self:  Four years before the “Indian Mutiny” (first all India war of Independence), Richard F Burton published “A Complete System of Bayonet Exercise”, writing:

The Sepoy has not learned to trust to his musket as a European soldier does. The former, being inferior in physical strength, finds the firelock a cumbrous weapon, and perhaps he feels himself deficient in that dogged courage which must animate those who fight sturdily under a serious disadvantage. Consequently the Sepoy would often, if permitted, throw away his musket, & trust to the sword or dagger, the handling of which is more familiar to him. But Indians are not so adverse to innovations as they are popularly supposed to be.”

See here: A Complete System of Bayonet Exercise by Richard Francis Burton

See also here for Burton Archival stuff:

and here for online books:

including the thousand nights and a night:

Afzal farce in Delhi

Gadkari not sorry about ‘son-in-law’ remark on Afzal Guru
Press Trust of India, Updated: July 09, 2010 13:04 IST

Dehra Dun/New Delhi: Taunting the Congress over the delay in hanging Afzal Guru, BJP President Nitin Gadkari asked the party whether the Parliament attack death row convict was its “son-in-law”.

In comments that could stoke a controversy, Gadkari thundered at a BJP rally in Dehra Dun last night asking Congress leaders “Is Afzal Guru the son-in-law of Congress? Have you (Congress) given your daughter to him (Afzal). Why is he being given special treatment?”

Congress reacted with disdain to Gadkari’s remarks saying he has lost his mind and scoffed at the BJP chief.

When asked by reporters today whether he would apologise for his controversial remarks, Gadkari said he stuck to his stand.

“I have said nothing wrong. I stick to my stand and so there is no need (to apologise),” Gadkari told reporters in Dehra Dun.

In this regard, Gadkari said Congress government of Delhi was sitting on the file related to execution of hanging of Afzal Guru for four years and when asked Chief Minister Sheila Dixit said it was done on the instructions from the then Union Home Minister.

Now the decision is pending with the President, he said.

“I have not made a wrong statement. They (Congress) should rather give the reply as to why they are not executing the orders of the Supreme Court,” he said.

Gadkari made a reference to the Afzal Guru issue while slamming the Congress and the UPA for the delay in the hanging of the death row convict, bringing the focus back on the Afzal case file.

Congress said Gadkari has lost his mind and sarcastically said he needed serious help.

“The remark smacks of obscenity, obnoxiousness and obtuseness,” Congress spokesman Manish Tiwari said in New Delhi

Tiwari further said, “it is very obvious that the esteemed president of the BJP has lost it completely. The BJP should take pity on him and deposit him into a psychiatric facility. The man needs serious help.”

Targeting Congress, Gadkari had said, “It (Congress) is a party full of fearful people. They can never fight with terrorists and can never get rid of terrorism. It is a party which will bow down in front of terrorists and can never protect India.”

The Supreme Court upheld Afzal’s death penalty in 2005. Since then, the Opposition has attacked the Congress for delaying his hanging, saying if Afzal is not hanged India will be seen as a soft state. Afzal is on death row for over eight years after he was convicted of masterminding the December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament.

Four years after its opinion was sought, the Sheila Dikshit government in Delhi finally gave its opinion to Lieutenant Governor Tejinder Khanna recently saying that it supports the Supreme Court’s decision to give death sentence to Afzal Guru, but added a rider saying that the implications of the execution must be taken into consideration.

Within hours of this, Khanna returned the file asking the Delhi government’s stand on Afzal’s mercy petition. The Delhi government sent back Afzal’s file saying that it stood by the Supreme Court verdict.

Story first published:
July 09, 2010 12:59 IST

offenders are using public transport

Criminals on our buses. So we better check their tickets cos we want them to pay full fare right! (Far Right – from the lovely people who brought you points based immigration, endless queuing, lost passports, deportations to Iraq, and the generalized cretinization that is the UK Border Agency). Worse than Homeland Security I think.

The sharp-as-a-tack-smart Emma informs me of the Home Office’s boneheaded formulation:

“‘Intelligence has shown that failed asylum seekers and other immigration offenders are using public transport on a regular basis. Previous operations on public transport routes have resulted in identifying and arresting failed asylum seekers and also removing them.’

See also here, here and here.

Literature and Film Go Wild in the Streets: from Burning Books to the War on Terror.

Abstract for Joel (to be written up by March)

Literature and Film Go Wild in the Streets: from Burning Books to the War on Terror.

Book burning is something close to the heart of novelist Salman Rushdie, whose work, The Satanic Majesties was famously burnt in Bradford  twenty years back (and in India six months earlier) in 1989. This protest is said by many commentators to mark the public articulation and mobilization of a specifically Muslim South Asian presence in the UK (Malik 2009). There is much scholarship on this theme and the changes it rings in: Gayatri Spivak long ago pointed out how ‘the Rushdie affair has been coded as Freedom of Speech versus Terrorism’ (1993:237), and with its long history, the burning of books of course agitated the liberal sensitivities of many commentators who later were all in favour of the bombing of Baghdad, including, presumably various libraries, museums and bookshops. This is not to excuse the fatwa or to enter into the debates about censorship or appropriate handling of Islamic narrative (the six wives of the Prophet as prostitutes was always going to get Rushdie into trouble, as his sales publicist no doubt hoped, but horribly underestimated). The point that interests me here is the reconfiguration of the streetscape of diaspora and terror that this book burning achieved. An outrage reconfigures and then changes shape – as Rushdie’s characters also do – through the context of geo-political intrigue, investing these characters and issues with darker sentiments that is then played out in suburban space. The book burning on the street evokes other street politics – from burning cars and rioting (example: the film Sammie and Rosie get Laid – Frears/Kureishi) through to a more persistent low level everyday anxiety of racial profiling in a surveillance state. Where Spivak attends to a geographic and linguistic ‘really existing’ Asia that has now become the major location for the sharp end of the war on terror, from South East to North East (Philippines, North Korea) and North West to Middle East (Afghanistan, Palestine) we can talk of an expanded reconfigured Asia as host for a the theatre of war (Spivak quotes Koshy 2003:x) that ever more becomes a matter of urban/street conflict in locations like London, Manchester, Bradford and Birmingham. On streets like those of Lewisham, London, this Asia, and the visibility of ‘Asians’ loses geographical specificity and is embodied in the figure of the threatening Muslim: the people of the book become book burners and Jihadis. Various commentators do not seem to agree on how this came to pass or what should be the response, but clearly there can be multiple and varied globalized versionings of terror. The war on terror at home can be seen in the sociological reportage of Malik, Gopinath and Fekete, in the cinematography of Kureishi and Frears, and the theoretical reflections of Chow, Derrida and Sen.

See also here and here.

This Much is True

demenezesI will be attending this important bit of theatre:

By Paul Unwin and Sarah Beck

On 22 July 2005 Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead by the Metropolitan Police at Stockwell tube station. It was a defining moment in London’s history yet too many questions are left unanswered.

Award-winning writer and director Paul Unwin’s (co-creator of Casualty and Holby City) and Sarah Beck’s play is a shocking, electrifying, insight into what really happened before, during and in the years following Jean Charles de Menezes’ death.

Weaving together new and personal testimonies from senior police officers including Andy Hayman (Metropolitan Police former head of counter terrorism), Brian Paddick, Jean’s family, his friends, the legal team (including Michael Mansfield QC), THIS MUCH IS TRUE brings the tragedy to the stage and reveals much that has never been said publicly before.

Cast: Amber Agar, Stefano Braschi, Alice Da Cunha, Gerald Kyd, Beatriz Romilly, Justine Waddell.

Directed by Tim Roseman with a multi award-winning creative team including Paul Wills, Mike Walker, Knifedge, Richard Howell and Daniel Pemberton.
follow us on twitter @theatre503 and on facebook

The theoretical framework.

IMG_2776Prank, trick, fool, contrive, coquette, flirt, dodge, incite, bewitch, plot, conspire, deceive, trump, strategy, tactic, scheme, racket, intrigue, spin, frame, brew, plan, act, stage – the pantomime of politics, the theatre of power, the double-plays of deception. There is something of the gambler and something of elegance in every stratagem of war. Better we know the rules, all the more to ward them off. Red Salute.

Warm It Up Moloko-plus my little droogies – I could teach you, but I’d have to charge

mister-mayhem-415x248In another fine mess, the University of East London contributes to the escalation of madness that also saw Will Hutton foolishly pontificating against G20 protesters on the BBC two nights ago as part of a series of suits trotted out to do defensive work in anticipation of the coming protest. Lovely of the press to do this kind of warm up stuff when this kind of one-off event comes around. It adds a certain frisson.

People have asked me if I will be protesting against the G20 on April 1st, and I want to stress that I protest against them every day, and against the G50, G100 and any Gee whizz propaganda scam cooked up by the executive committee. I’ll be about of course, though I am also interested in building political outlooks and alternatives for more than a one-day carnival-cum-police training exercise in crowd containment. This 1 in 365 fractional theatre is no doubt striking, you’ve got to love these occasional stage-managed inversions of the bourgeois order, repleat with boarded up shopfronts, bankers wearing trainers, and anthropology professors outrageously suspended for giving puffed up interviews to local tabloids (its clearly mockery, viddy the picture, read the article). That said, the idea that the G20 protest might turn into a velvet revolution is intriguing, so do bring a snack for the lock down. There surely does need to be an alternative to this rotten, corrupt and unequal system – and although its going to take more than a street party on April Fools day, if we thought about it in terms of larger fractions and what is needed to win we might be getting somewhere (a party organization, overturning of class divisions, open borders, anti-racism that is more than wearing a badge, end of the arms trade, free education [hence this post's title - warm it up] and more). G20, G19, G18, G17… – how many days would it take to get all velvety? Arise comrades, another world is necessary.

In the meantime, Chris Knight needs to be re-ininstated, this sort of reaction is just mad. Again, check out the photo from the article that caused the furore – its clearly pantomime. And the ‘Guardian’s’ intrepid reporter seems to have a bit of the Will Hutton’s about him too – if you compare the ‘Evening Standard’ original article on Chris Knight – see comment one below for the text – I think you can clearly see that the process of escalation is carried out here too. Richard Rogers to the rescue. AwaY. With friends like these, who needs enemies…

Professor suspended over claims he incited G20 violence

• Interview creates trouble for anthropology expert
• Protest organiser revels in ‘perfect storm for enemies’

The G20 Meltdown protesters intend to converge on the Bank of England from four directions. Each group will march behind one of the “four horsemen of the apocalypse”.

Richard Rogers The Guardian, Friday 27 March 2009

One of the leading organisers of next Wednesday’s Financial Fools’ Day protests was last night suspended from his role as Professor of Anthropology at the University of East London, on full pay.

Chris Knight, who has been a lecturer in anthropology at the university since 1989, and professor since 2000, was informed of his suspension yesterday evening, and was told it was because of an interview he gave to a newspaper this week in which he is quoted as “inciting criminal action, specifically violence against policemen and women and damage to banking institutions”.

In an interview with the Evening Standard, Knight was pictured with a placard bearing the slogan “Eat the bankers”, and quoted as saying: “If they [the police] want violence, they’ll get it”. He is also quoted by the Standard as advising bankers that on April 1 “if you’re thinking of coming in, my advice is don’t”.

Knight, along with fellow UEL anthropologist Elizabeth Power and former Liberal Democrat councillor turned activist Marina Pepper, set up the website and began to host meetings to which they invited other green and anarchist groups.

Knight told the Guardian last night that he was doing everything possible to make sure there was no violence next week. He said he had set up the protest group with theatrical rather than violent aims.

“I’m doing everything possible to make sure that all the anger of the middle classes doesn’t turn into violence. That’s why we do all this play-acting. We’re being nice to the bankers – we’re burning them as effigies. Of course we don’t want violence. If there’s a huge ruck, the press will photograph it, and our vision about a different planet will not get reported.”

He added: “But it’s going to be hard. The message to police is ‘if you press your nuclear button, I’ll press mine’. It sounds like a threat? Well, yeah – don’t do it. If you want violence, you’ll get it.

“I know I’m in my own bubble. But in my bubble I’m predicting we’ll have a velvet revolution in the next week or so …The police, backed up by the army, will try to hold the ExCel centre. While they hold that, they will lose London. Then I think Gordon Brown will go.

“It’s a perfect storm for our enemies,” he added. “I cannot believe my luck. It’s happening 800 yards from my campus … The media are doing all our work for us.”

Jean Charles de Menezes

target_small1You can read the verdict and see the press conference by the family campaign on the website at the end of this press release:

Press statement from the family:
Friday, 12 December 2008

Press statement by the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, the campaign and their lawyers Birnberg Peirce following the jury’s verdict

“Today is a very important day for our family and campaign for justice. We have spoken to Jean’s family in Brazil and they like us feel vindicated by the jury’s verdict. The jury’s verdict is a damning indictment of the multiple failures of the police and the lies they told. It is clear from the verdict today that the jury could have gone further had they not been gagged by the Coroner. We maintain that Jean Charles de Menezes was unlawfully killed” – Patricia Armani Da Silva, cousin of Jean Charles on behalf of all of the family.

The family’s legal team argued that evidence heard by the jury provided sufficient grounds for the jury to return unlawful killing (murder) in respect of the two police shooters, C12 and C2 as well unlawful killing (gross negligence manslaughter) in respect of the actions of three of the command team. We also submitted that, in accordance with Article 2 (ECHR) the jury should be permitted to return a meaningful narrative verdict that could identify all the police failings that caused or contributed to the death of Jean Charles de Menezes.

The five legal teams representing supposedly separate interests of the police combined ranks to oppose our submissions, maintain that the evidence only supported a lawful killing or open verdict. The coroner ruled in favour of the police. As a consequence the family sought to challenge the decision, lodging an urgent application at the High Court. Mr Justice Silber considered the challenge in relation to the narrative verdict only but ruled that the coroner had a wide discretion and he would not interfere with his ruling.

The family considered that the coroner had effectively gagged the jury. Any verdict returned by them would have at best limited meaning and would not have the effect of holding the police accountable for any failings. At that stage, having exhausted all legal avenues, the family instructed their legal team to cease participating in the inquest proceedings.

We have lodged grounds to appeal the decision of Mr Justice Silber and our judicial review challenge of the coroner’s decision in respect of unlawful killing remains to be considered.

To date, not one police officer involved has been held personally accountable for failings that led to the death of Jean Charles. In fact the two most senior officers in the command team have been promoted. The law as it stands, effectively provides legal immunity for police officers who shoot innocent people in the cause of protecting the public.

This case raises questions of critical constitutional importance. Should our armed police service be protected from meaningful criticism (let alone criminal sanction) or are the public entitled to go about their day to day business free from the fear that they could be shot dead without warning if mistaken for a suspected terrorist?

For further information and background information visit:

Lookout, he’s Behind you.

He’s behind you – we are all terrorists when we nod in approval at the belated contrition of MI5 acknowledging no specific terrorist, but generalized terror.

He’s behind you – we are all terrorists when, listening to the security announcements to leave no bag untended we accept that some higher authority is watching out for us on the platform. They will come and destroy the bags, they are watching behind a bank of screens somewhere, say hi mom.

She’s behind you – the academic analyst searching for new metaphors and stories to think and rethink, to think differently in a time of total war.

He’s behind you – Aki Nawaz, but actually Aki is in Pakistan having just run the Gaza blockade.

He’s behind you – the policy strategist in the Pentagon, the under-assistant west coast arms procurement officer, the new media radiological cybernetic transfer consultant, the sociologist with a penchant for pop-psych warfare, the anthropologist writing the counter-insurgency procedures manual, the shooter behind the screen..

He’s behind you – in Rocklands, having cracked their skulls dragging moloch to heaven. Yes, it is the stupid economy. And no surprise that the War on Iraq costs as much as the Bank bailout at circa 700 Billion

He’s behind you – they have something of which they are very proud, they call it education and it distinguishes them from the goatherds…

He’s behind you – driving home from Bakersfield listening to gospel music on the coloured radio station where the preacher says you always have the lord by your side.

He’s behind you – I was so pleased to be informed of this that I ran 20 red lights, thank-you Jesus, thank-you Lord. (Let us by all means discuss religion, but not from the normative comparative scenario that compares Christianity with Islam, Christianity with Buddhism, Christianity with the Ghost Dance religion or some Pagan Wicca Druid Festive Wig Wam… and let us not appoint Tony Blair to a lectureship in Religion and Globalization, as Yale has done)

She’s behind you and her name is Scheherazade, no longer telling stories in the Nawab’s boudoir but this time she’s been detained, rendered and interned in Guantanamo. Kept on her own in a cell except for a daily interrogation when she is brought before her captors who demand a story. She obliges them and provokes ever more draconian civil liberties crackdowns and higher and higher terror alert ratings in the metropolises, but her stories can never set her free and she will never become queen while a thousand and one terrors assail us all.

I imagine Roshan Seth, forlorn pissed fool, receiving pleading SMS alerts, but with his Bloody Mary he has no defence against too many years of persecution and disappointment. Papa Hussein is drunk in bed watching Bollywood reruns and maybe Stephen Frears later confections like The Queen (2006). Scheherezade’s story cannot get out – sunk in the depths of a massive archive of forced confessions. Roshan Seth’s journalism cannot save her, and we need more than sozzled rants.

More from Tuesday

There have been bits of the Panto talk on here before. The Aki as Suicide Rapper routine was rehearsed here, while Žižek on the buses is glossed here (for the next Stimulus Respond). So its a little cut and paste getting towards a finalized version (not even close to complete – having just found Raymond Williams comments on Pantomime and class in his book on Television). Anyway, after the Aki section…:

I want to suggest that this suicide rapper event is a part of the culture of terror anniversary syndrome – like clockwork it becomes the norm to raise annual threat-awareness through fabricated events. In 2006 Aki Nawaz, in 2007 the Glasgow Car Bomb hero – John Smeaton, airport baggage handler and Glasgow kisser (Telegraph August 1st 2007). In 2008 it has been the trials of the carry on luggage video surveillance bombers, and Britain’s youngest terrorist, 15 year old schoolboy Hammaad Munshi – Guardian September 20th 2008), the Nottingham University case in 2008 – the theatricalization of everyday life, but as slapstick, absurdity, farce. Similarly around 9-11, a series of circumstantially significant alerts, breakthroughs, trials and incidents. I am not suggesting some of these are not ‘real’, but if you think of the case of Samina Malik, the lyrical terrorist’ given a nine month suspended sentence, after 6 months in detention) in 2007 (Guardian June 18 2008) as a more nuanced attention getter compared to the presence of tanks outside Heathrow in 2003 you might want to do more than repeat the scaremongering mantra of ‘suicide bomber, suicide rapper’ in a allegedly critical broadsheet.

In his 2008 book Defense of Lost Causes, Slavoj Zizek (who has never had a thought that was not published, twice) writes:

“happy are we who live under cynical public opinion manipulators, not under the sincere Muslim fundamentalists [who are] ready to fully engage themselves in their projects” (Zizek 2008:160)

To follow the logic of this provocation, those who lament the decline of principles should probably not support cynical politicians but rather should put their faith in the fundamentalists since they really do believe their ideals. I am not so sure this irony is misplaced, but I prefer Les Back’s warning of the ‘damaging sense of emergency and paranoia that seduces the most principled’ and endorse his ‘challenge’ of ‘how to acknowledge these complicities without giving into phobias produced by the so-called war on terror’ (Back 2007:138).

That, I hope makes the abstract make sense.

THEN (a bit more Walter):

On the eve of the second imperialist world war, the one that he did not live through, Walter Benjamin writes ‘The Storyteller’ (October 1936). In this essay, ostensibly devoted to the works of the writer Nikolai Leskov, but also about fairytales, reading, buying books, magic, Macbeth and Marxism, teaching and tall tales, Benjamin first suggests that the idea of a storyteller seems remote to modern sensibility. The reasons for this are many, but one of them is set out starkly in a way that might give us pause in the context of today’s world of terror, fear, hype and spin. With a foreboding of what is to come, Benjamin writes of war stories:

‘Every glance at a newspaper shows that it [storytelling] has reached a new low … our image not only of the external world but also of the moral world has undergone changes overnight, changes which were previously thought impossible. Beginning with the First World War … wasn’t it noticeable that at the end of the war those who returned from the battlefield had grown silent – not richer but poorer in communicable experience’ (Benjamin 1936/2002:144).

I think maybe storytelling is the mediation, the mechanism in theory which processes and gives form to the patina of ideas, the plethora of interpretation that needs to be negotiated in thought. The storyteller asserts and fights for authority, the passive aggressive late night campfire insistence of ‘listen to me, I’ve a story to tell, a web to spin’. Ideologies of war, children’s morality, Scheherazade, The Guardian, and the international seeking-telling of ethnographic effort, all participate in this mediation. Not immediacy, but retelling, repetition, recitation.

But Walter Benjamin does identify Scheherazade as the emblem of epic memory – able to link up stories, to tell one after the next so as to tell a greater history (Benjamin 1936/2002:154). What she remembers is also the message or the meaning – the point of remembering – of her wider program: i.e., that things were not always like this; that they need not remain like this; that adversity may be overcome. Scheherazade. Scheherezade gambles on storytelling to change the world, to fight the oppressor, to liberate herself and others.

Storytelling is not of course analysis, but it provides a framing for bringing the flux of isolated instances, experiences and events together. It may also have a critical intent – Scheherazade’s gamble is hostile to the audience she will persuade, change, and love – rearranging dangerous desires through patient narrative towards justice. The gamble of storytelling, at least for Scheherazade, is hedged by way of repetition, but it is not simply the next next next of iteration that succeeds, rather the timing is crucial. She must start and end at the appointed hour. Tactics.

What I think is terror/terrible is that the Guardian did not hear out the three verses of Cookbook DIY. Our theorists and critics settle for mute, silent, blind singularity of the event that has no message. They forget that pantomime follows the rule of three. One verse was enough for the Guardian to hop on board and confirm the anxious prejudice, ignore the dark public secrets which they dare not name, the unknown unknowns that stare us in the face – the self-parody paranoid (replacing the authoritarian personality – cf Adorno) curtails the very ‘freedoms’ of which ‘our enemies are so jealous’ (Bush). I do not doubt the arbiters of conformity want to erase any difficult material from the record but I do not think this happens intentionally – it is more or less a conspiracy of decorum – ‘nothing should be moist’ as Adorno once quipped. Habits of civil society are invisible until they are jolted into recognition by the incommensurate, and quick smart resumption of polite service transmission is preferred. But such pathologies cannot be allowed to stand. The focus upon the instant, the trinket, the event, the example without recognising the repetition and remembering the ur-story that holds all this together is insufficient. Look not to narrow questions of meaning, but rather aim for questioning, provide context, transnational literacy, verses two and three as well as the complex interstices. Having jettisoned the grand narrative, we are in danger of a journalism without content, and theory without example.

Panto Theory

Panto #1:

Roshan Seth’s dress ups is my flimsy excuse that allows me to talk about the theatre – tangentially – and in particular Pantomime. I am interested in Pantomime because of its storytelling facility, because it is – very often – the contemporary home of the 1001 Nights, and all the Orientalism that adaptations of that story, so favoured by Kureshi, might entail.

There is also a literary point to this storytelling frame – I take it from Walter Benjamin that the Storyteller – in his essay ‘The Storyteller’, first published in 1936 in the journal Orient and Occident, Benjamin mentions Scheherazade three times. His point here is to distinguish between memory and mere information, and I think it worth pursuing the line that the trick is to tell better stories such that despotism might be overcome (In the interval before the formation of a genuine people’s army that can win, this narrative gamble. Scheherezade, you will remember, tells her stories to buy time from the despotic King Shahryar).

But I first became interested in Pantomime after reading Alain Badiou’s Handbook of Inaesthetics (in translation – thank-you Alberto Toscano) and his comments on dance and theatre as a metaphor for thought (well, dance as restraint, theatre as acting, and as ideas [Badiou 1998/2005:72]). Though I have differences with Badiou on this, it is interesting to try to retrieve a critical thinking in the lease likely academic performance I can think of – within pantomime as story.


So – a detour through the theatrical – and for the purposes of this discussion, the comic theatre of British pantomime.

Thinking about pantomime terrors deserves a little historical play. The popular Christmas and summer holiday entertainment form has roots in vaudville and melodrama and might also be traced back through French mime, Italian Commedia dell’arte, or even to Roman mythology and the flutes of the god Pan (Miller 1978:52-54). A more detailed history of course would have to contend with the relation of the Pied Piper of Hammelin to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, with issues of role reversal, double entendre, drag, slapstick, superstitions (left side of the stage for demons, right side for fairy princesses) and theatre ghosts if not more. end insert]

Yet pantomime is also dynamic – not just a Christmas entertainment beloved of children, seaside theatres, shopping malls and B-list celebrity actors, an actor gets to play many roles, tinker with rhymes, song, dance and humour, appear in drag, men act as bawdy women, women as adventurous sexy boys, there is plenty of word play, double entendre, burlesque, knowing morals and audience involvement. For all the family then. The Harlequin character – a trickster for anthropologists – becomes Clown later – for sociology, a broker, a Faust figure for Literature, a shape-shifter for Sci Fi. Fairies enter from the right, the villains Stage Left.

Pantomime is very often topical (no wonder Cromwell banned them – they provided the first licensed public spaces, the prototype of gin-joints…):

“From the very beginning the pantomime was acutely aware of the world around it … no other form of entertainment has ever devoted itself so wholeheartedly to holding up to the public, for its approbation, censure, or mere amusement, the events, manners, whims and fancies, fads, crazes and absurdities of the time (Frow 1985:136)

There is reference to Saddam Hussain in Snow White – he was found hiding in a cave (Taylor 2007:137). Dick Whittington offers endless opportunity for jokes about the London Mayoral position, Red Ken or Bombshell Boris each giving the guy dressed up as a cat a run for his money. The Dick Whittington story involves a merchant being accused of minor theft and having to leave London only to turn back – the bells tell him to – and he makes his fortune in the orient (Morocco, from a Sultan and returns to electoral success in the city, and banking fortune).

These Panto’s use the tradition of wry or ironic political analogy to raise questions for school kids about stereotype, terror and racism. I find this useful and will go on to consider the role of hip hop video as something similar. There is afterall a long pop music involvement in Panto. Cliff Richard played Aladdin way back in 1962 (with the Shadows as Wishee, Washee, Poshee and Noshee). Tommy Steele also, and the Spice Girls not so long ago – and Keith Richard dressed up in Pirates of the Caribbean, while not strictly Panto, is really.

“Pantomime continues to develop in response to the cultural norms of society with the inclusion of topical and political references, references to the media and the inclusion of contemporary music and dance’ (Taylor 2007:69-70)

At the same time, Pantomime is a site where we might unexpectedly find the ‘aftermath’ of the war on terror. You may have 9-11 fatigue, but what about the kids? (Get ’em while they’re young). There has been a lot – perhaps endless – talk about the events – 9-11 or 7-7, Madrid and Bali, as events, but I am more concerned to recognise these anniversaries as events that come around more and more, not on their own. There is a repetition and extension of the event into all other parts of life. It is now of great interest for me that – following Gargi Bhattacharyya – to see how a ‘cultural project’ runs alongside the war on terror and impacts upon a very diverse range of practices, from militarization and public policy (obviously – watch the news) right through to entertainment and ‘child-rearing’ (Bhattacharyya 2008:55,92). And I have in mind Marx’s 18th Brumaire opening – you know all the great lines of this text, ‘they cannot represent themselves, they must be represented’, ‘let the dead bury the dead’ and the one that chides Hegel for saying historical events happen twice, but forgetting to say the second time they happen as farce.

Pantomime is just the kind of farce I need here – and it’s a play repeated over and over.


1001 Nights

In recent years several amateur pantomime troupes have performed critical versions of classic stories from the Alf Laylah – the 1001 Nights – as parables of the war

- Aladdin and his magic opium smuggling lamp

- Sinbad the Sailor and his Open Sesame cave at Tora Bora

- Ali Baba and the 40 Oil Thieves

The 1001 Nights provides a great many Panto tales – Cinderella as well, it is the classic old school Orientalist text, translated by the French Ambassador to Istanbul, Antoine Gallard in 1712, it has fascinated ever since (Lathan 2004:110)

There are of course dangers in the theatrical metaphor for thinking politics such that the jester-critic is easily dismissed/contained in the comic-entertainment section of the press. I suggest we take the pantomime clown more seriously, but I may already have been fooled. I must admit Capitalism thrives today on something like the controlled chaos of pantomime. It sells hybridized, multiply reflexive forms; it thrives on contradictory niche markets (jokes for the kids, different jokes for parents; it celebrates inversion, cross-dressing, transgression and emotes – for a profit.

(Aside): It is then, quite useful as allegorical frame.

So, Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an English Man.

(pic – its Julian Clary, Goldsmiths own, here as Cinderella’s sidekick Dandini)

Roshan Seth

Once Upon a Long Ago, Far Away a Time… Roshan Seth <pic 1> was in My Beautiful Laundrette (1985), a Stephen Frears film from a Hanif Kureishi screenplay. Kureshi, a *force* in British theatre and film, once said of The 1001 Nights – a book I will speak more of later – that it was the greatest book of all’ (in My Son the Fanatic [Kureishi 199x:xii]). His own story in Laundrette <pic 2 Laundrette ad> includes a portrait of a vodka-swilling, bed ridden, socialist-journalist father of ‘white-boy kissing’ Omar (see Desai 2004:vii), played by Seth. There are problems with the film, but I was happy to organise the first ever screening in Australia back in 1985. Controversy over its troubling sexual politics – an Asian boy fucking a fascist – possibly overshadowed the economic crisis built into the plot – financial meltdown and social decay mixed with Thatcherite opportunism and rampant greed, a volatile mix that might seem familiar today.

Roshan Seth was in a lot of films – from Monsoon Wedding, London Kills Me and The Buddha of Suburbia, right through to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) <pic 3> , and instead of showing Seth, I have a picture <pic 4> that is the height of exotica-schlock-porn-horror – is the heart-tearout scene where Amrish Puri who played Mola Ram>. Here I’d just point out how this is a classic image of cod-exotica… this is a classic orientalist film …the Temple of Doom houses a Thuggee cult – I’ve written about this in relation to Calcutta and Exotica, thugs would take a rupee, tie it one end of a length of cloth (a dupatta?), and strangle their victims from behind – causing terror on the roads). Anyway, in the film Seth was Chatter Lal, Prime Minister, and I don’t have a photo of him. He (and Puri) had a role the year before in Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982) – the story goes that some protested about Gandhi being represented at all, since he was like a saint and he should be presented simply as a white light crossing the screen. <Gandhi pic #5 – seems from this still that Attenborough tried to achieve that effect with Ben Kingsley>. Seth was Nehru in the film, prime minister again. When I was in Manchester I went to a fundraiser for Akbar Ahmed who was keen to make a rival bio-pick of Pakistan founder Jinnah (eventually released 1998). It was to be equally respectful of the other leader of the anti-colonial struggle. A thousand ponds a head dinner, I was there as ‘anthropologist’ and they were thinking of having none other than Ben Kingsley also play Jinnah. In the end they got Christopher Lee, with disturbing vampire associations, he faced death threats and needed body guards as people in Pakistan were, perhaps rightly, concerned at the quality of the movie. Ahmed himself, a Cambridge University Islamic scholar said his film would be respectful and truthful, not at all going in for scurrilous point scoring, it would report Nehru’s affair with Edwina Mountbatten, but not try to suggest the then soon to be Indian Prime Minister was corrupt or complicit in any way.

Roshan Seth was also Beria in the bio pic of Stalin (1992 – Robert Duvall in the lead role <Stalin Beria pic 6>). So the whole gamut of dress up roles are his – socialist-journalist in bed, thrise times Prime Minister of India, and NKVD executioner.

[more parts of my talk from last night will come when the hangover subsides... Thank-you to everyone who came last night, the students, past and present, who wrote in my little red book (great gift) and for the flowers, wine, books, more wine. thanks to the staff of the college who made it possible - from the media technicians hassled with a last minute panic, through to Geoff who contrived such a marvellous introduction. Thanks to everyone who came, from near and far - hi Cheryl - and Ange, Johhny and Freddy... Thanks Adela for the video record that appparently captures all four mentions of Emile. Thanks everyone who came.]

Inaugural – Tues Sept 30th, 5.30pm IGLT

You don’t need to print out the ‘enclosed card’ but please do phone or email the address below (and me) if you wish to come. The text, in case its not clear on your screen, reads:

The Warden of Goldsmiths, Professor Geoffrey Crossick, invites you to the Inaugural Lecture by

Professor John Hutnyk
Professor of Cultural Studies

Pantomime Terror: the Paranoid Commuter
and the Danger of Music

30 September 2008 at 5.30pm
Ian Gulland Lecture Theatre

Refreshments will be served after the lecture in the Staffing Dining Room. Acceptances to the Warden’s Office via email: or telephone 020 7919 7033

[update: Lecture version:]

Terrorvisionaries (part two)

A talk at Nottingham University Politics department last night gave me a chance to elaborate my worries over new media anthropology in South Asia, pantomime terror and the hanging channel – following on from the talks I’ve given about the Mohammed Afzal case and the DIY Cookbook video from Fund^da^mental. The notes below presume you have read the earlier posts which are linked at the relevant points (sorry, a bit clumsy and it presumes a lot eh – still, these are notes to myself really – just a little more public than usual – but then all our data seems to be very very public these days, thanks to the chancellor and the lost personal details from the Child Support Agency – ha).

Televisonaries (part one) here should be read first, then come back here to read this post, but half way through slot in the DIY Cokbook and Bus posts as indicated after about four paragraphs…

‘Terrorvisionaries (part two)':

The second example of cross platform public media storytelling is a diasporic one that involves my British-Pakistani mate Aki Nawaz. I have detailed the Aki story elsewhere, so merely refer you again to the links here.

In “Echographies of Television” (Derrida and Steigler) Derrida notes that televisual recording both captures immediacy more and can be more readily edited and manipulated, such that there will need to be a change in the legal axiomatics of the courts (p97 and 93). There is much that Derrida has to say of interest on television, the archive and justice, but sometimes Gayatri Spivak is much better on Derridean themes than Derrida himself. She apparently was working on the text of the Mahabharata – let us hope she will take it up again, and perhaps share views on elder brother Karna. Though he is not exactly subaltern, his position on the side of the Kauravas is at least interesting and the archival exclusion is operative, gridded over by a counter-female patriarchy and, as national and global reworkings of the narratives insert stories onto developmental teleology, neoliberal hype as well. The archive in Spivak is difficult, requires more effort than we usually can manage (‘more’ – persistent, language learning, privilege-unlearning, patient, painstaking scholarship) but her work on terror, suicide bombings and planetary justice is inspirational.

On the telematic, Spivak is more epistemological than Derrida – for her media would be something like knowledge, reason, responsibility, and so something to be conjured with, interrupted in a persistent effort of the teacher through critique to rearrange ordained and pre-coded desires. Not just to fill up on knowledge but to further transnational literacy and an ethics of the other. On terror: the ethical interrupts the epistemological. There is a point at which the construction of the other as object of knowledge must be challenged: ‘the ethical interrupts [law, reason] imperfectly, to listen to the other as if it were a self’ (Spivak 2004:83 “Boundary 2″, summer 80-111).

The task suggested here that seems most difficult to get our heads around is to accept complicity in a way that makes possible an identification, ‘alive to visible injustice’ (Spivak 2004:89) as well as ‘not to endorse suicide bombing but to be on the way to its end’ (Spivak 2004:93). Is there a message we can hear without an automatic move towards punishment or acquittal? Here the ethical and archival task of knowledge is to learn to learn what is in the mind, and what is the desire (or motivation?) of the suicide bomber. DIY Cookbook does something like this in a different way.

7/7 – buses, camera phones – Aki in the Guardian, backpacks, Charles De Menezes, DIY Video. As already riffed in the earlier posts on the Buses and on DIY Cookbook, here and here

Then return to the current post to continue:

The point is that here again an anthropology of media can be said to have made important moves to acknowledge cross platform significance in the media – saturated India – but also we might note that the acknowledgement that music tracks are a crucial make or break component of Bollywood film marketing only barely begins to get at the range of issues to be discussed in this field today.

The war on terror has achieved something that was previously only hinted at, partial, or only aspirational with regard to the place of South Asia in the world. Blown forcefully into the frontal lobe attention of all political actors, the obscurity of the previous Afghan wars, the regional nuclear detente, the peasant insurgencies or rural and hill tribals, these are no longer ignored. Front and centre, Islam on display, Pakistan a strategic player, India on alert. What multiculturalism and Bollywood could do only in a marginal and somewhat exotic way is exploded by a new visibility. But this is not just a media scare. Visibility maters where something is done with it – it is the first opportunity for a politics of redress that would build upon this (global) attention.

Call centres, news media, satellite, language, popular culture, tourism, humour, obscenity, gender, sex, digitization (of tradition), software and diaspora (India 2.0) all this suggests that media studies in this area are taking a broader scope and have advanced beyond the ‘coming of age’ stories that greeted Ramayana and Mahabharata, live cricket, and Bollywood on cable. This is to be welcomed.

Yet all is not rosy in storytelling land.

For all the publicity Sarai has garnered, it remains a small operation run out of CSDS. What it stands for however is more important – a still somewhat neglected area of academic and creative interest, deeply marked by a version of a technological cringe – the idea that new media is somehow new to India – and that the old politics are not also played out in the new news formats.

The exotic story of the new media arrival is the same orthodox binary obscurantism that ensures that stories of India abroad are either about rustic romance and tradition, morality, and colourful clothing, or else they are the dark side of communal violence, suicide bombing and disaster – the mismanaged nation post departure of the British, or blamed on Islam/Pakistan/Moguls/or Maoists. More nuanced positions are lost in favour of ‘the invisible or the hypervisible (stereotype)’ (Gopinath 2005:42). The ideological message here is that an India untainted by the ravages of imperial plunder might be preferred, and the NDTV ideal would have the Mahatma reading the news, but unfortunately the crisis is upon us, and in a flap chaos prevails. Anthropologists join the military effort (New York Times October 2007).

If we were to understand this material not only in juridical terms, or as requiring a transformation of the protocols of legal evidence and admissibility (no doubt this is necessary, as Derrida says), but also recognising that comprehension of media storytelling perhaps requires an appreciation of a wider sweep of mythological knowledge or epistemological reference (as Spivak might suggest), then to read the stories of Aki Nawaz as pantomime, or Mohammed Afzal as melodrama is somehow also warranted. This is not to disavow or diminish the urgent politics around the immediacy of these events – to challenge the demonization of Muslims in Britain, to oppose the death penalty and torture, to defend an individual from trial by media. But it is also to recognise something that shifts at a more general media level, where journalism gives way to SMS poll popularity, court procedures mimic docu-drama, tabloid sensations become the tactics of security services and similar.

To develop this is to recognise how patterns of melodrama and performance are played out in the way these events come to our attention. The pantomime season at Christmas is now matched with a sinister twin in July that commemorates the bus bombings with an equally ideological storytelling round – teaching kids fear and hate just as much as Christmas teaches them commoditization. The idea that pantomime is educational, rather than Orientalist – Sinbad, Ali Baba, Aladdin – is just as much training in stereotype and profiling as are the melodramatic terror alerts each July (and September). These are constructed ‘panics’, each no doubt grounded in real evidence, solid intelligence, and careful analysis by Special Branch and MI5 – as Charles de Menezes and Mohammed Afzal both surely can attest. Aki Nawaz as ‘suicide rapper’ might almost be funny if it were not symptomatic of a wider malaise and complicity in our media reportage – a failure to examine critically and contextually what is offered up to us as unmediated ‘news’. What did it say on the side of the bus if not ‘Total Film’?

One way perhaps to disrupt the walled enclave or ‘green zone’ that is civil society, polite discussion and public commons also known as the privileged space of television news might be to hark back to older storytelling forms.

Its 30 years since Edward Said delivered Orientalism and though I might have some quibbles with what has happened in the wake of that text (too many historical studies, not enough now) I do believe it alerts us to something important and not yet nearly resolved. I can’t help but think looking to old texts might help us rethink new ones – hence the Mahabharata and the Arabian Nights as away to refocus television…

The Mahabharata rehearses a fratricidal drama that tears everyone apart. Pakistan and India are not referenced there, but the tale of brothers split and fighting is a well worn trope, such that I think its time to move to other stories as a break. For me, its not so easy, inducted into the Arabian nights as a child, I feel betrayed because…

Instead, I imagine Roshan Sethi as a new kind of despotic Shahjah, entertaining Scheherezade only by email or SMS – because she was caught, detained and then by ‘special rendition’ she was interred in Guantanamo Bay, she texts out intermittently to Roshan. Forlorn drunken fool, her anguished reports reveal her having been interrogated all day yet again to the Gitmo Military Intelligence. This version of the 1001 nights is particularly obscene, but because Omar’s father is drunk in bed, watching Bollywood reruns, or Stephen Frears’ later fluff, the story just cannot get out. This is politics, its good to think something might more might be done today.

The character played by Roshan Seth might rant against the kind of journalism that enables this new cretinized media propaganda, but more than sozzled rants are required.

[image is the Nation logo - it should be spinning but blogger can't cope]


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