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‘One night I got in jail for picking flowers’

May 19, 2013

‘And if any of the guards are still speaking to me, could I have a glass of water?’

Cinema Guantánamo

May 18, 2013

No-charge, first-run feature films screened on 35mm for Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base prison guards, troops, and their families (not detainees) by the Movie Program at GTMO (‘A phenomenal place to be, [where] one can enjoy great snacks from the concession stand during the movie. With GTMO’s exceptionally beautiful year round weather, movies are very rarely postponed’).

Films include Hansel and GretelWitch Hunters (‘bounty hunters track and kill witches all
over the world’), Side Effects (‘a psychiatric-meds melodrama about an NYC woman whose husband’s in prison’), and Warm Bodies (a zombie love story ‘with much of the world’s population now an undead horde’).

As documented by Miami Herald journalist Carol Rosenberg.

Map-memory, 10 May 1948

May 10, 2013

bayt mahsir - haim bergerBayt Mahsir, 1932, photographed by Ukrainian immigrant Haim Berger (YNet).

beit meir - wiki commonsBeit Meir, photographed by Daniel Ventura (Wikimedia Commons).


8-9 May. As part of Operation Maccabi (launched by the Haganah) the Harel Brigade sets out to attack and conquer the village of Beit Mahsir.

10 May. The village of Beit Mahsir is occupied.

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Soon, those of us for whom the ‘place that has left its place’ is cause for heartache will also vanish, and the old landscape will be totally erased from the collective memory of those who already have succeeed in transforming it almost beyond recognition. One need only read Israeli textbooks or see the albums with ‘before and after’ photos—the Land before 1948 and today—to realize how close we are to the point when the vanished Arab landscape will be considered just a piece of Arab propaganda, a fabrication aimed at the destruction of Israel through incitment of ‘The Return.’

Meron BenvenistiSacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948 (trans. Maxine Kaufman-Lacusta, UC Press, 2000) 4.

◊     ◊     ◊

The two books about the village of Bayt Mahsir are from refugees living in Jordan; one was written in calligraphic longhand and published in al-Baq’a refugee camp in 1988, the second was published in 2002. These books inform me that the villages have been largely destroyed, and replaced by two Israeli towns: Bayt Mahsir is now named Beit Meir and is a religious moshav (cooperative farm), and Suba has become Kibbutz Tzova.

I locate contemporary maps of the areas west of Jerusalem and discover that Kibbutz Tzova/Suba and Beit Meir/Bayt Mahsir are located in the Martyrs’ Forest (Ya’ar HaKdoshim). Established by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in 1951, the Martyrs’ Forest commemorates the six million European Jews who died in the Holocaust. The JNF map of the Martyrs’ Forest shows the commemorative locations, along with picnic areas, biking paths, archaeological sites, and the Israeli towns that have been built there. The geography is such that without knowledge of the Palestinian villages’ existence in the past it would be impossible to know that they were once here.

Rochelle A. DavisPalestinian Village Histories: Geographies of the Displaced (Stanford University Press, 2011) 1-2.

◊     ◊     ◊

Several village houses have been spared, and are for the most part interspersed among the houses of the settlement of Beyt Me’ir. Two large, rectangular-shaped, almost identical houses built of limestone rise above the Israeli settlement’s cabin-like residences. The remains of a flourmill, a metal machine with flywheels fitted over a stone structure, can still be seen. There is a wild forest of old trees on the eastern edge of the village site, on top of the mountain. The tomb of al-’Ajami, together with other graves, are among the trees.

Walid KhalidiBayt Mahsir

This first appeared at The New Inquiry.

Cosmopolitican, or cosmetics as police regime

March 16, 2013

In an audio track layered over an image of Lee Miller (in the first volume of Histoire(s) du cinéma) Godard broods over the correlation between art and artifice: ‘Cinema is not part of the communication industry or the entertainment industry. It is part of cosmetics, the industry of masks. A minor branch of the industry of lies.”

If cinema is part of the industry of masks, then what industry does cosmetics (‘the industry of masks’) belong to? Etymology is not a zero-sum game but I am struck by the the alignment of cosmetics (from French cosmétique, derived from Greek kosmētikos, from kosmein ‘arrange or adorn’) and order. The friendliness between cosmetics (from kosmos, ‘order or adornment’) and aesthetics (from aisthēta ‘perceptible things’) only serves to embolden the corollated relationship to sensible distribution and arrangement.

There is another regime endowed with the power of ordering space and perceptible things (and also their synthesis, the spatial arrangement in which things appear). As I’ve written in the wake of Rancière’s work, that is the police regime. The police regime is a useful and generative category¹ and it goes without saying that it doesn’t always, though often does, require imagining actual uniformed cops. My larger point is that to read cosmetics as a police regime doesn’t necessarily require a poetic license, so in this regard I think I am coming out as a fundamentalist with regard to perception and space.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration defines cosmetics as ‘articles intended to be applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance without affecting the body’s structure or functions‘  (emphasis added). Couldn’t the operation of altering appearance without affecting structure and function be a foundational and concrete thesis on police?

saudi nails

Sometimes cosmetics and police regimes align literally. In Saudi Arabia the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice tried to force a woman out of the mall after they spotted her wearing nail polish.² The difference between this particular harassment by the volunteer vice squad and hundreds of others like it is because ‘Manicure Girl’ filmed the exchange and posted the video online; the CPVPV later filed a formal complaint against her for doing so.

Another confrontation involved a passenger and a flight attendant at a Las Vegas, Nevada airport.³ A woman painting her nails on the airplane was arrested after the Southwest Airlines flight landed:

All charges against the passenger for using ‘abusive profane language’ were eventually dismissed by the prosecutor, but not before Ms. Daniels was placed in a holding cell and detained for 10 hours.

The incident developed after the passenger was told by a flight attendant to stop painting her nails because the odor of her nail polish remover was bothering other passengers. Ms. Daniels complied, but later completed finishing her nails in an aircraft bathroom, believing that doing so in the privacy of the toilet would be less offensive to others.

Both the Riyadh and Las Vegas accounts ended with retaliation not for the nail varnish in question but the reaction of its wearers: the online posting of the video in the former and the ‘Stop bitching at me!’ remark in the latter. Policing regimes demand smoothness and unwrinkled surfaces instead of striae, ridges, or disruptions.


¹ ‘Useful and generative’ because this reading atypically displaces the policing regime from the user of cosmetics herself.

² On a personal note I have yet to be interpellated by the cosmetics vice squads in Iran, though my nail beds were heavily surveilled in Catholic school.

³ Anyone impatiently waiting to utilize the phrase ‘the Saudi Arabia of ______’ would be ingratiated by this straight-from-the-papers comparison between the Kingdom and U.S. flight proceedings, so go right ahead.

This first appeared at The New Inquiry.

Repeating faces

March 7, 2013

“I’ve just seen a face,
I can’t forget the time or place.”
—John Lennon and Paul McCartney,
“I’ve Just Seen a Face”

The physiognomy of the human face confers particularity and evidence of a singular self. In many societies the face reflects a gateway to interiority and humanity (suggesting so seems like stating the most obvious and commonsensical human notion, like air, water, or universal grammar). Even the elementary boundaries of the English language afford a grasp on how integral one’s face is to persona (putting one’s face on), character or reputation (saving face), conflict (wearing a game face), social exchange (talking face to face), or inhumanity (faceless bureaucrats).

As such, it is difficult to imagine how the sight of the covered face wouldn’t trigger suspicion in ‘Western’ societies. Yet the unavoidability of surveillance, microsurveillance, and dataveillance (and some cooperation from our part in them) is also a major source of anxiety. The quantifiable, qualifiable, and codifiable economies of the face that concern me, and form the basis of an ongoing research project, spring from this paradox.

These are some images culled from that project and shared here as an open text. I have coated each image in a similar tint so individual colors would appear less distracting and more seamless. The title refers to the simulacra effect of covered faces: because the obscured or masked face resists representation, it can only be repeated, a phenomenon that grants it what Jacques Derrida called a “terrible power.” The significance of that terrible power is what I will to continue to examine.

Dilma Rousseff facing a military court interrogation, November 1970

Extraordinary rendition under the secret CIA program

Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN)

Members of the KKK in the 1920s

Hussein Chalayan’s S/S Between show, 1998

Farmers in Yemen

Lara Stone on the cover of the 90th anniversary issue of Vogue

Princess Hijba’s street art/defacement in the Parisian subway

René Magritte’s Les Amants (The Lovers), 1928

Party masks of Prince William’s face at London’s Heathrow airport

Michael Jackson covering himself and his child with an abaya in Bahrain

First published on the Art Dubai blog, 6 March 2013.

A country torn: the Cicero March, 1966

February 23, 2013


From the Chicago Film Archives FilmGroup Collection, ‘Urban Crisis and the New Militants Series.’ First viewed in 16mm at Terror & the Inhuman: Magic Lantern Cinema, curated by Beth Capper. Description: ‘Cicero March details a civil rights march on September 4, 1966. Robert Lucas led activists through Cicero to protest restrictions in housing laws. White residents of Cicero respond with vitriolic jeers as the police struggle to prevent a riot.’



Rashad Shabazz, ‘Black Militancy: Notes From the Underground

For a generation of young activists, the reality of war, imperialism, racism and the growing fragility of democratic liberalism was too much to handle. Force became a means to wrestle with this tension. As the discourse of a “country torn” finds its way into mainstream political analyses (for many the deep divisions in this country are not a new political reality), we should reflect on the writings of political dissidents and radicals. We should recognize the diversity of political analysis that is very much alive. The histories of armed struggle, if taken seriously, provide us with a means to think more critically about the center, and complicate its claims of moral and political right.

David Manning, ‘A Tale of Two (or Three) Marches

Unlike 1968, this [2003] march was overtly patriotic. These people were not marching in opposition to the United States, and certainly no one among the quarter million or so marchers was marching in support of Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden. There were flags and signs that read “Patriots for Peace.”

Towards a ‘moral’ assassination model

February 22, 2013


The University of Chicago’s Center for International Studies has scheduled an upcoming talk by University of Utah law professor Amos Guiora titled ‘Legitimate Target: A Criteria Based Approach to Targeted Killing.’

Billed as an oration on the criteria of targeted killing, Guiora highlights the ‘moral’ frou-frou of state assassination:

Targeted killings represent both the contemporary weapon of choice and, and likely, the weapon of the future. From the perspective of the nation-state, the benefits of targeted killing are clear: aggressive measures against identified targets can be carried out with minimal, if any, risk to soldiers. But while the threat to soldiers is minimal, there are other risks that must be considered. Particularly, there is a high possibility of collateral damage as well as legitimate concerns regarding how a target is defined. Clearly broad legal, moral, and operational issues are at stake when considering targeted killing.

Amos Guiora will discuss why targeted killing decisions must reflect consideration of four distinct elements: law, policy, morality, and operational details, thus ensuring that it complies with principles of domestic and international laws. Based on personal experience and an academic perspective, Guiora will offer important criticism and insight into the policy as presently implemented, highlighting the need for a criteria based decision making process in defining and identifying a legitimate target. [emphasis added]

The word ‘drone’ never appears anywhere on the event announcement even though Guiora, a 19-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces as lieutenant colonel, military law school commander, and legal adviser on Gaza, is ‘an expert on drone attacks.’


Neither will Guiora ever mention that Israel Aerospace Industries, what the Washington Post called the ‘cradle of the modern drone,’ operates 30 miles north of Gaza.

Guiora has kept busy since Israel unleashed on Operation Pillar of Cloud on Gaza in November 2012, striking at least 1,500 sites in Gaza, killing upwards of 158 Palestinians, and injuring at least 1,000. During that onslaught, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon pointed out that ‘most of the people that were hit in Gaza deserved it.’ Chemical weapons are believed to have been used in the attack as they were during Operation Cast Lead; further, Reporters Without Borders called Israeli attacks on journalists in Gaza ‘deliberate.’ As recently as February 2013 a child survivor of 2009’s Operation Cast Lead, in which 21 members of the al-Samouni family were killed in a single airstrike, was denied medical treatment by Israel.

Guiora has a distinguished career as a spokesman for Brand Israel in higher education. In a November 2012 talk at Western University (oo:14:09; Guiora’s lecture was interrupted at 45:50.) Guiora cracked sarcastic jokes about the alleged Israeli bombing of the Yarmouk factory in Sudan (last checked, a sovereign country).

A bomb-making factory in Sudan went up in smoke and that’s a good thing, whoever did it, good for them. I assume it wasn’t the government of Canada.’

That attack was at least the third semi-secretive Israeli scheme enacted in Sudan. Curiously, each one bookended a military operation against Gaza, making Guiora a winsome mouthpiece for Netanyahu, from whom he appears to have borrowed his speech about the triumvirate of threats against Israel nearly word-for-word:

Israeli media has reported that the Israeli air force carried out at least two secret operations in Sudan in January and February 2009. The first involved the bombing of a convoy carrying arms through Sudan to Gaza, in which 119 people were killed. And a ship at a Sudanese port was bombed from the air. Sudan accused the US of carrying out these attacks. In June that year Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, told US officials there was ‘a steady flow of Iranian weapons to Gaza through Sudan or Syria and then by sea.’

In December 2012, Guiora gave an interview on ‘cyber terrorism’ to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, completely devoid of any reference to the obvious.

Interviewer: If a cyberattack were to happen, where might it come from and who might the attackers be?

Guiora: First of all those who are engaged in cyber terrorism are seriously are seriously smart, sophisticated people.

The greatest moment in Guiora’s Greatest Hits PR blitz came in February 2013, when he claimed that the U.S. could be doing a much better job of extra-judicial killing, if only it followed Israel’s model.

In Israel because of the High Court of Justice, which is a branch of the Supreme Court, there is very engaged and robust judicial review of the executive decision-making process. That’s in direct contrast to here in the United States, where frankly there really is, in context of something like the drone policy there is no robust judicial review.

Guiora’s call for judicial oversight citing the Israeli example is rich given the Court’s ignominious history. In 1987, for example, the Israeli judicial system had the distinction of becoming the first state in the world to officially and publicly ‘legalize’ torture by ‘endorsing the use of “moderate physical pressure” in the interrogation of Palestinians as a “necessary” and thus legitimate means of combating “hostile terrorist activity”’ (see ‘On Torture,’ report produced by Adalah, Physicians for Human Rights, and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights).

Beyond Michael Oren, who is at the very least an official ambassador to Israel, Guiora will remind observers of Gabriella Blum, another former IDF legal adviser/booster club member (now tenured at Harvard Law School). Her ‘Invisible Threats‘ essay for Stanford’s Hoover Institution, featuring an ‘drone assassin spider’ is not to be missed.

But to those who do wish to conceal their involvement, microrobots, like cyber attacks, offer invisibility. Being near-impossible to regulate, monitor, or detect, they empower perpetrators not only to strike with impunity, but in some cases, to cover up the very occurrence of the attack. Absent the ability to attribute an attack to its source, human violence becomes no different from natural disasters—a harmful event for which the only effective remedy is preparedness, recovery, and prayer.

In nearly 20 pages of writing Blum mentions ‘Israel’ exactly once, commenting dryly that the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai was ‘caught on tape almost from beginning to end, probably affecting the planning and execution of future operations of this sort.’ In the ‘fight against terror’ by the Most Moral Army in the World, the un/official legal and academic enforcer’s of the the Israeli army’s ‘ethical code’ are indispensable salespeople.

Meanwhile on the western homefront, President Obama continues to recycle the ‘most transparent administration in history‘ line, this time in a ‘fireside hangout’ hosted by Google: ‘[W]hat I tried to do coming into the office was to create a legal and policy framework that respected our traditions and rule of law.’ Previously I pointed out the managed technophilia characteristic of his administration, such as virtual chats on drone policy, and ‘showing off this with-it-ness in the middle of the most shrouded and large-scale assassination racket in memory’ (the first time the President acknowledged the use of U.S. drones in Afghanistan was in a 2012 Google+ Hangout).

At a February 2013 White House press briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked repeatedly about judicial review in so-called targeted assassination.

Question: I mean, you’re taking away a U.S. citizen’s due process. And nobody is questioning particularly this President’s good intentions, but you’re establishing a precedent which will last beyond this administration. You’re pointing to various legal decisions to back it up, but doesn’t it deserve a broader debate and a broader court hearing?

Mr. Carney: Well, I don’t know about a specific suggestion like that. I can tell you that the administration has—and I think this is demonstrated by the public comments of senior administration officials on this matter—reviewed these issues—I think that’s demonstrated by the so-called white paper that was published today—and is continually reviewing these matters. How that process moves forward from here I’m not going to speculate.

This blanket non-answer is what Guiora pointed to when he questioned the ‘extremely broad definition by the Administration through the DOJ memo.’ The accompanying question, however, is whether moral arbitration about state assassination is Israel’s to give.

This first appeared at The New Inquiry.

Above: Funeral inside Gaza City Mosque following an Israeli drone attack that killed three people, including a
five-year old child, during Operation Pillar of Cloud. Image by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.


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