click on the page to download a pdf of this text (now with all the images).
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.
The true story a rag-tag team of international peace activists aboard two fishing boats, who decided to take on the might of the Israeli military and break the siege of Gaza. Refusing to be intimidated, only one thing could stop them; and that was them-selves.
Screening, 6pm Goldsmiths Cinema, Monday 30 Nov 2009
IndyMedia on Aki on Gaza:
At this years London Anarchist Bookfair I grabbed Musician, Activist, Punk, Broadcaster and Musilim, Aki Nawaz who was there to introduce his film ‘To Gaza With Love’.
He gave some tough critiques on the Anarchist movement, talked about his recent visit to Pakistan in which he questions the true motives recent violence towards western journalists, and hints at what exciting projects we can expect from him in 2010.
For Kiwi and Alexander’s book, I’ve started (very late, overdue) to reconstruct my talk from the Berlin Chameleons conference in Feb last year. Its a draft as yet. Here is the first stab at an intro….
I have that sinking feeling again: I don’t trust the chameleon. I don’t like the guise. The chameleon is embedded, goes undercover, incognito, prefers covert operations, stealth, intrigues, performs with a secret agency, organizes an underground resistance, clandestine ops, a conspirator of deception. The associative range of ‘camouflage’ and ‘immersion’, when thought of as something that might pass as a strategy for understanding work in the arts, humanities or social sciences, immediately invokes a range of military and official connotations that do not bode well for a progressive politics of knowledge. Journalists as well as academics have been exposed in various local dress, false stories have been planted in the press, dossier’s collected that masquerade as truth, propaganda lies. There are a great many examples of dishonesty, feint and deceit that pass as truth amongst the casualty machine that is war. Increasingly war is fought in the media theatre as well as in blood – with murderous weapons on the ground, and equally brutal machines of war on screen.
The military have always liked to dress up, often in burlesque manner, and it was only with modern warfare that flamboyance was not always a dress code. All those red tunics of Empire of yore… Contemporary wars now sport desert patters or jungle greens, and contemporary war reporters increasingly opt for battle field chic in their to-camera reports. Television news and documentary series thrive on the new aesthetic of the embedded, combat boot wearing, hot spot on the spot presenter, mimicking military campaigns to stream live from Baghdad, Kabul, or the border of Gaza (as I write few journalists can enter Gaza as Israel relentlessly shells a trapped population of millions). The theatre of war has its own costume department.
This is, of course, also true of the opposition. In this chapter I will have something to say of the Palestinian scarf, the Kufiya, in relation to solidarity and resistance, and fashion, just as I think its important to acknowledge the symbolism of media use on both sides. In news and commentary, there are critics of war who stage their interventions with a certain style just as much as do the public relations and publicity-conscious Generals. I think not only of the Japanese news presenter that wore such a Kufiya every night as he reported the attacks on Baghdad in 2003, but also the role of such a scarf in the iconography of Aki Nawaz from Fun^da^mental, a long-time severe critique of anti-Muslim aggression. This chapter wishes to chart a politics of representation and fashion, recognising perhaps that all camouflage is war; that all fashion shoots are hostile; that all journalism happens by way of conflict. Today, whether safe at home before the screen, or on the streets of <insert battle-zone name here>. all our reports are war stories.
The chapter will go on to discuss Aki Nawaz’s recent adventures in media and on the Free Gaza boat, Ted Swedenburg’s excellent Hawgblawg, and research strategies under conditions of total war….
Pantomime Terror lecture abstract. Latest version, still to be worked up. I am rethinking all of this, its provisional, its hesitant, its giving me a headache (of course) and it has to be ready soon. Yikes. And this is supposed to be the fun part!….
We are called upon to ‘report any suspicious baggage’ by constant repetition of security announcements at train stations and airports. Rather than provide a robust security service, such announcements seem to generate a new low level and everyday paranoia. The war on terror is generalized and does not happen ‘over there’, but almost absentmindedly occurs to each of us everywhere: the paranoia infiltrates our everyday lives and become normalized. The terrorist is right there beside us – behind us, among us. Watch out! I will argue that these announcements are part of a new kind of popular culture pantomime, with villains and heroes, and absurd storytelling to boot. That this happens alongside new legislation, new legal and administrative powers (detention, DNA, CCTV, MI5 Security ‘notes’); and stop and search security policing focused upon Muslims (and unarmed Brazilians shot on the underground) is the dark underbelly of the performative. Restrictions on civil liberties and ‘limits’ to freedom are proclaimed as necessary and debates about these necessities no longer raise concern – we assume someone is watching out, and we will report the suspicious bags if we see them. It is clear that spaces for critical contest are mortally threatened in contemporary, tolerant, civilized Britain.
Exploring the metaphor of Pantomime might be a way to comprehend the dysfunctional aspect of present times. This discussion reviews critical work by the musician Aki Nawaz from the band Fun-da-Mental in the light of pantomime performance. Nawaz was castigated as a ‘Suicide Rapper’ for his 2006 album ‘All is War’, but those that did so missed the nuances of his critique. Fun-Da-Mental’s earlier work relating to insurgency struggles, anti-colonialism and political freedom in the UK is assessed and contrasted to the farcical present climate where a 23 year old woman can be incarcerated as a ‘lyrical terrorist’, and both a 16 year old boy and a Nottingham University researcher can face charges of terrorism for downloading material from the world wide web. It will be argued that we might best see this as a kind of bizarre storytelling scenography – where repetition and stereotype do ideological work for security services who have no idea who the real enemy is, or if there is any enemy at all. In demonizing those who would raise critical questions, the ban upon ‘thought crime’ has become very real. And it seems as if the only vocal outcry is musical.
In this context, the work of scholars that search for the meaning of ‘suicide bombing’ lines up alongside that of the MI5 Behavioural Sciences Unit in providing inadequate and insufficient understandings of the current conjuncture. If the opposition communicates in culture, and Whitehall’s Research Information and Communications Unit counter with ‘spin’, we are either in a grave predicament, or everyone is treating this as a game. Denouncing the demonization of Aki Nawaz and the like as equal to the creation of pantomime villains, the presentation will argue for a more engaged critique of “culture” and assess a certain distance or gap between emancipatory political expression and the tamed versions of multiculturalism accepted by/acceptable in the British marketplace.
Invite to the lecture here. [The picture is from the Guardian news report on the MI5 behavioural Science Unit Operational Briefing ‘note’ which informed us that terrorists are ethnically ‘diverse’, mostly british nationals, not ‘mad and bad’ and might be either male or female, young or old, and have a range of qualifications from none to degree-level… Guardian 21.08.08]