In 1985 Jamal Sati loaded 400 kilograms/880 pounds of dynamite onto the back of a donkey, dressed himself as a local sheikh, led the donkey past three South Lebanese Army barricades to the headquarters of the Israeli Military governor in Hasbayya and detonated himself and the donkey. In the hours prior to his mission as a member of the pro-Moscow wing of the Lebanese Communist Party (LCP),[i] Sati had made a video recorded message[ii] about his mission and his role in the militant party. The “final cut,” of his message aired the evening of his mission on Tele-Liban, the Lebanese public television station and the only functioning station in Lebanon at the time. Tele-Liban, which was government owned, aired the Sati video and other martyr videos during their eight o’clock evening news hour. The success of the mission of the suicide bomber was inconsequential to the airing of the tapes; the only factor that mattered in deciding if the tape aired was if the martyr was dead.[iii]
In 2000, Elias Khoury and Rabih Mroué found the unedited tape made by Sati prior to his mission. The tape showed that Sati made three versions, three ‘takes’,[iv] before settling on the version that most suited him. Khoury and Mroué used the three takes as a way of arguing the nature of suicide bombing videos and to question how the secular acts of the LCP ended up apart of the Islamic fundamentalist movement of organizations such as Hezbollah. Their subsequent performance entitled, Three Posters, enacted in September 2000 at the Ayloul Festival in Beirut[v] centered on a tripartite breakdown of the suicide bomber as The Actor, The Martyr, and The Politician.[vi] Central to Khoury and Mroué’s examination of martyr videos is the nature of video documentation itself; usually reserved to convey the past, what has[vii] happened, the martyr video breaks the mold, by documenting the future. For Khoury and Mroué the question was about two things: what does the martyr leave behind? Is it what he takes from his enemy, or is it the video? In turn the video itself must be reexamined in light of its prophetic nature – for it seems to Khoury and Mroué that the moment Sati made his video he became a martyr, as if the mission was secondary.[viii]
In Three Posters, Khoury and Mroué presented three videos to an audience. One video was Sati’s unedited video, one video was an interview Khoury and Mroué conducted with Elias Attallah, the LCP leading figure and the man responsible for Jamal Sati’s mission, and the third video was a live feed of Rabih Mroué pretending to be a martyr. The premise of the performance was that Mroué would open the door separating himself from the audience thus breaking the suspension of belief held by the audience that they were watching two martyr videos and an interview, all in the past, and instead showing them an actor pretending to be a martyr. It would almost be like the martyr had come back to life.[ix] The ultimate goal for Khoury and Mroué was to show in their performance that the actor could eventually become the martyr. They achieved this, in their minds, through the repetition of such phrases as, “I am the martyr.” By repeating these phrases they hoped to show that the repetition of the act of suicide bombing is as a part of the performance as the repetition of the phrases by the actor:
“Over the course of the performance, we hoped to convince an audience that recognized the “actor” through the use of repetition – especially of the sentence “I am the martyr” – that the performer could eventually be the martyr. Because we have been conditioned to believe that a video is a recording of a moment in the past, a dead moment, the medium represents the recovery of such moments – moments that by definition have already passed. This is exactly what used to happen: one day, suddenly, we would see the poster of a friend hung on the walls of Beirut, or a photograph or video on the TV announcing his or her death. The redundancy, created in the performance, helped the audience accept this idea.”[x]
The redundancy Khoury and Mroué speak of is ultimately what lies at the heart of this project as well. The intent of this paper is not to read suicide bombing through Three Posters, but rather to use Three Posters as a springboard into a discussion of the representation of the suicide bomber before, during, and after the bombing has taken place. More specifically, this paper argues that a visual culture of suicide bombing has emerged through the use of martyr videos and martyr posters as means of remembering the dead and promulgating a collective identity to those who seek to be suicide bombers. Whereas Khoury and Mroué focused on the nature of the martyr video – what it means, what it signifies – this paper focuses on the full cycle; the video before the mission, the mission, and the poster to remember the bomber after the mission. Therefore, this paper argues that there are three states of the suicide bomber: first, commemoration through documentation, the video, typically made the day before the mission and always sent to a televised media outlet to be aired following the mission, or in some instances posted to an internet website. Second, evisceration through detonation, the martyr as cyborg,[xi] a physical hybridizing of the body into weapon; and lastly, distribution through replication, the creation, dispersal, and posting of martyr posters on the streets of Beirut, Ramallah, Nablus, so on and so forth.
By examining the practice of suicide bombing in this way, this paper hopes to show that the western mediated image of suicide bombing as part of a mass conspiracy of fundamentalist Islamic doctrine[xii] belies a greater issue of colonialism, military occupation and exile and of the emergence of a collective identity among the disenfranchised. This paper will begin with a brief historical contextualization before discussing in depth the three stages of the suicide bomber explained above. Lastly, the paper will touch upon gallery and museum works created by artists from the region that address the issues of the Israel-Palestine conflict or suicide bombing.
This is not a paper about suicide missions or the vast array of militant wings of political parties, which have sprung up about the Near East with fundamentalist rhetoric in tow. This is not a paper about the media coverage of suicide bombings, per se. This paper aims to show through a brief historicizing of the modern phenomenon of suicide missions in the Lebanese and Palestinian conflicts, civil in the case of Lebanon and with Israel in the case of Lebanon and Palestine, that the mediated image of Islamic fundamentalism is not the catalyst for missions but rather the occupation of land, the destruction of villages, the loss of jobs and the access to new or different jobs as well as basic resources.
While this paper began with a discussion of the suicide mission carried out by Jamal Sati in southern Lebanon against the occupying Israeli forces, this paper will not spend much time on the Lebanese civil War (1975-1990), beyond a brief mention. The emergence of suicide missions in Lebanon came from such complete desperation on the part of the Lebanese who lacked the infrastructure and resources for any other method of attack than suicide missions. In the case of early Lebanese suicide bombing, as in the example of Jamal Sati, the emphasis was not on a particular theological position, but rather a secular message from a secular member of a secular political party. By the time Sati carried out his mission, Hezbollah had emerged and the power the LCP had once had was dwindling in the face of fundamentalist movements against the occupation of southern Lebanon by Israeli military personnel as well as against the Israeli state in general.[xiii]
Having touched upon the issue of Lebanon and the role suicide bombing played in the decline of secular conflict and the rise of fundamentalist organizations, this paper would like to turn to Palestine which occupies the bulk of the scholarly focus as well. Today Palestine is divided into two lands – Palestine and the state of Israel, founded in 1948.[xiv] The Palestinian territories consist of three areas: Golan Heights to the north, tucked up against Lebanon and Syria, the West Bank including eastern Jerusalem, surrounded by Israel to the north, west, and south and Jordan and the Dead Sea to the east, and the Gaza Strip occupied by Israel in 1967, on the Mediterranean on the border of Egypt. The conflict between the two countries has been long and bloody – for the Palestinians it is a century of colonization, expulsion, and military occupation followed by a long and difficult co-existence with a country and a people they hold responsible for their suffering. For Israel it is a desire to return to the land of their forefathers.[xv] The armed conflict between Israel and Palestine has produced a great deal – bloodshed, refugee camps, militant political parties; the list goes on continuously. This project is focused on the visual culture that the struggle has produced in relation to the act of suicide bombing. Let us first examine the nature of the martyr video.
In his video prior to his mission, Jamal Sati introduces himself to the video and before announcing the mission he is about to undertake he contextualizes his involvement in the conflict:
“I am the martyr comrade Jamal Sati, from the village Kamed El-Lawz; I enrolled as a member of the Lebanese Communist Party in 1978. I witnessed the civil war of 1975-1976 and saw how principles and morals fell apart: how someone might martyrize for the sake of those principles, morals, and ideas.”[xvi]
He goes on to talk about the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, the destruction of Lebanese villages and his happiness in his success as a member of the communist party. Before ending his message, Sati speaks of the happiness he felt when his party called upon him to carry out a martyr mission:
“My happiness was supreme when I was informed that I was to fulfill a suicide operation. I send my heartfelt greetings to the martyrs who were killed in this holy resistance, sacrificing their noble blood to enlighten us on our path toward freedom and dignity, such as Yasar Mrouch, Bilal Fahs, Wajdi Sayegh, Sanaa’ Mohaidly, Lola Abboud, Wafaa’ Noureddeen, Muhamad Younis, Mohamad Mahmoud, and others…May others soon follow my example in more suicide operations that will surely lead to victory. Greetings to those who would not rest until they expel the last soldier of the Israeli Occupation forces.”[xvii]
We can see that Sati’s sense of personal fulfillment and success is directly tied to his success within the LCP as well as his identity, which is linked with the identities of those who have carried out similar missions before him and those that will follow in his wake. The collective whole of the LCP and the ‘suicide bomber’ is contained within Sati; reflexively, Sati has given his identity over to that of the collective. It is in this vein that I believe we can call ‘suicide bombing’ a relational art[xviii] practice. The success of the practice is measured in two forms: one being the collective feelings of terror evoked in the attacked, and the second being the collective identity of the whole of the attackers. Furthermore, the collective whole of the attackers exists to communicate the collective as well as the individual identity – each martyr is a part of a group of martyrs, a group of noble men and women who have worked collectively towards an end while still maintaining their individuality as themselves through identifying themselves and each other by name. In his catalogue entry on images of terrorism, Eric M. Stryker[xix] notes that any perceived violent act by an individual towards a ‘public’ incites a sense of fear or terror in the public witnessing the act. Even though Sati’s video does not document his actual mission, the actual bombing, the visual created in the mind of the viewing public of the attack is enough to incite terror – when we watch his video we are all the attackees, and he is, figuratively speaking, all the attackers; in a pan-terrorism sense. Our sense of his level of destructive capability is tied directly to our understanding and knowledge of all terroristic activities. Again, it is the individual as sign of the collective that is prevalent in the martyr video, which is what establishes the element of terror.
Jamal Sati’s video was mailed to the one and only functioning television station in Lebanon at the time of his attack. He was dependant on the discretion of the station to air his video. Sati sat before a wall of martyr posters to record his video, Elias Khoury and Rabih Mroué staged a similar set when enacting their performance of Three Posters.[xx] Today, the availability of the Internet and more technologically advanced video software has transformed the martyr video. For instance, these five stills from the 9/11 attackers show generated images of their impending attacks behind them as they give their anti-western, anti-American speech in the foreground. The Internet has provided martyrs and recruiters alike a viral forum for the posting and transmission of their videos.
In the case of the 9/11 attackers their videos were released by government officials after the attack and were not released to the media until significantly after the attacks when al-Jazeera[xxi] was allowed to show them. The faces and upper torsos of the men are superimposed over generated images of the buildings that they will be attacking and the nature of the attacks. For instance, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Wail Alshehri, and Hamza Alghamdi sit in front of images of airplanes flying into skyscrapers, no doubt alluding to the planned mission of flying to airplanes into the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York. Similarly, Saeed Alghamdi sits before an image of the Pentagon building in Washington D. C., the third target of the attackers. It is unclear from these video stills if the images are personalized for each man according to their individual target or if it is a running stream of images representing the attack as a whole. The latter appears as a possibility particularly sense the stills of Wail Alshehri and Hamza Alghamdi appear to have the images rotating changing from one to the next, behind them as they speak. This may indicate that the men were considered one entity in their mission that they acted as a group rather than individuals engaged in individual missions. This is relatively unclear from these few examples since the video messages of the men were recorded in March 2001 before they left Kandahar, Afghanistan.[xxii] The images seen behind the men were inserted digitally later, according to al-Jazeera.
In another example of martyr videos we see a young man named Muhammad Nasr praying, holding a machine gun, intercuts of his brothers in arms, a representation of the intended victim, and lastly his face surrounded by the flames of his impending detonation. The captions read:
“Muhammad, Oh Muslim Jihad Warrior! Tell them Muhammad how you proceeded crying “Allah is Great!” Muhammad! Oh Jihad Warrior! Of the caravan of brave suicide bombers. And how you fired at the heresy and treachery. Muhammad Nasr, blessed martyrdom.”[xxiii]
As seen in the 9/11 video stills, the martyr is intercut with the attack – the martyr’s identity is interlaced with their mission, the mission defines part of their identity. With the 9/11 attackers the images are of the American buildings that they plan to bomb, in the case of the Muhammad Nasr it is the source of his martyrdom, the killing of heretics, namely Jews. This sentiment is common in Palestine in which the only concern is the loss of Jewish lives.
When the body of the bomber is gone, all that is left is the video and the martyr posters on the streets of the cities. The posters are easily faded, damaged by weather, posted over with other posters, or destroyed when the building is destroyed by a bombing or to make way for new construction. The video, it appears, is all that is permanent. It is a constant reminder of the martyr, of their life and actions, it is – as Khoury and Mroué noted – as if the martyr comes to life in the video.
The second form of the suicide bomber is the mission itself, the martyr as cyborg, the martyr as bomb. In the case of the suicide missions themselves, little documentary evidence is circulated of the bombers themselves either during or in the aftermath of the bombings. What is circulated printed continuously or televised endlessly, are images of the physical destruction caused by the bomb to both human life and the destruction of property. The mission is the ultimate goal, to reach martyrdom one just be martyred. While the collective identity of the whole is reflected in the rhetoric of the martyr video message and the construction of the martyr poster, which will be examined momentarily, the ultimate purpose of the martyr is to perpetrate an attack and to die in the process. The hybridizing of the human body is the most efficient and most destructive way of doing so. In the case of Jamal Sati, it was the donkey that was the cyborg, the donkey was the primary martyr and Sati the secondary martyr; he did not carry the explosives himself, but he detonated the bomb. In the case of most single person suicide missions the explosives are strapped to the waist or around the chest of the bomber and then detonated with a hand held device. The martyr, in these instances, is both the vehicle of the explosives and the explosive device. By uniting their organic body with the inorganic explosives they, the martyrs, become cyborgs.[xxiv] The body of the suicide bomber morphs into a mechanized entity of warfare; no longer is their identity contained to their humanity or to the theoretical collective that they belong to, now they have become a mechanized cog in the warfare machine. They, the body of the martyr and the explosives combined, are as much a weapon as the explosives are on their own. They have adopted the identity of the weapon and hybridized it with their own identity as a participant in their coalition.
The third and final piece[xxv] of the puzzle is the martyr poster, which is created after the mission and used, in a similar fashion as the video in serving as a reminder of the martyr and their actions. Martyr posters are printed in Palestine and distributed in the cities of the martyrs or of the organization the martyr belonged to. In cases in which the martyr killed himself or herself on a mission for the organization, the group chooses the photo and the layout of the poster, the family has no say. One of the most active organizations in the West Bank is a group called the al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade,[xxvi] a typical poster for the organization contains an image or images of the martyr with a superimposed assault rifle and an image of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem or of Muslims in prayer. Often times Qur’anic verses or bountiful lines of praise are printed on the poster around the image of the martyr. The inclusion of the al-Aqsa mosque on the posters makes reference to the al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade an arm of the Fatah[xxvii] party of Yasser Arafat, which is prominent in Palestine. In instances in which a non-combatant is killed a host of local Islamic charities pay for the design and run of the print.[xxviii]
While Golan Heights in Palestine receives little coverage, the West Bank and Gaza Strip receive considerable coverage particularly since the Israeli military occupation is strongest in these regions and the Palestinian opposition to the occupation is quite fervent and frequently erupts in armed skirmishes. The Palestinian city of Nablus is one of the hardest hit by suicide missions because it is on of the cities hardest hit by the occupation.
Martyr posters on the walls of the city of Nablus in Palestine show examples of al-Aqsa brigade posters. In the poster in the upper left hand corner we see three pictures of the martyr, one in the center holding a gun in each hand, and two images on the left hand side depicting him in what could be an ordinary day of his life.[xxix] The right of the central figure of the martyr is an image of a man’s face superimposed over the minaret of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Even without being able to read all the Arabic on the poster, the image of the al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade emblem is clear in the upper right and upper left hand corners of the poster. It is clear that this martyr was a member of that organization and that the organization is responsible for the design and printing of the poster. Therefore, we can infer that the unknown gentleman in the poster is connected somehow with the al-Aqsa Brigade.
In the poster located adjacent to one just discussed, in the lower right hand corner of the image, we see a similar construction as with the first example. In the center of the poster is an image of the martyr with gun in hand, hat on head, and ‘war paint’ on his cheeks. This central image is his role as martyr, as cyborg. To the right of the central image is a more relaxed, more ordinary photo of the martyr, with the exception that he has a machine gun resting in his lap. This construction, while similar to the first poster in all other instances including the emblem of the Aqsa Brigade in the top corner and the superimposed face of the same mystery man as in the first poster, differs here. In the second image of the martyr we still see him in the role of martyr, we still see him as a member of the Brigade and not just as himself, the individual. Here, there is a complete hybridizing of the martyr in which individuality is completely subsumed by the collective: the collective group, and the collective weapon.
There are other reasons why posters are produced: to remember non-combatants who are killed in Israeli attacks, to remember anyone who dies as a result of the incursion and occupation of Israeli forces into Palestine, the deaths of those who opposed the Israeli occupation but who were not actually killed by the Israelis,[xxx] and lastly to remember those who served a special significance in the opposition of Israel. Another example of posters is for martyrs who have been assassinated, they have no video to leave behind, no loss to the enemy, but they do have posters. Here we see posters for Pierre Gemayel, a member of the Kataeb party assassinated a year ago in Ashrafiyeh. We see small postcard sized posters arranged in the shape of a cross on one wall and larger posters on the neighboring wall.
The last example that I would like to discuss, having discussed in depth the three stages of the suicide bomber that were laid out at the beginning of this paper, is the role this same discussion has taken in he work of artists in the museum and gallery worlds. For example, in her piece, Homebound, Mona Hatoum, demonstrates a specific example of her involvement with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Homebound features a table with ordinary kitchen gadgets displayed with lights illuminating the objects from the inside. The table is situated behind a wire fence, keeping the viewer away from the piece as well as highlighting the duality of the Palestinian situation. Palestinians exiled from villages now in the state of Israeli live in refugee camps, in tents, lean-tos and other temporary housing. Homebound’s duality lies in the wire fence, which serves to keep both the viewer and the theoretical Palestinians assumed into the piece away from resources of livelihood, as well as to keep exiled Palestinians in their refugee camps and out of Israel.
A similar discussion occurs in visual culture in the form of stenciling and graffiti on the walls in both Lebanon and Palestine designed to control movement of both the Lebanese and the Palestinians. For instance, a stenciled design on a wall on Ras Beirut in Lebanon by an organization calling themselves 3dom, an obvious play on ‘freedom’, shows three human figures crouching behind spray painted prison bars. The group is criticizing the implementation of cement barrier walls to control the flow of traffic around the areas where high profile politicians live.
Similar to Mona Hatoum, the piece: Memorial to 418 Palestinian Villages Which Were Destroyed, Depopulated and Occupied by Israel in 1948, by Emily Jacir,[xxxi] is an installation in which herself and others sewed the names of 418 villages onto the side of a refugee tent, which speaks to the overwhelming feeling of loss and displacement Palestinians feel from their land and their livelihood. As Jacir notes in a discussion of the piece:
“For two months, I opened my studio to anyone who wanted to sew with me on this Memorial. Over 140 people came, the majority of them I had never met before. They came as lawyers, bankers, filmmakers, dentists, consultants, musicians, playwrights, artists, human rights activists, teachers, etcetera. They came as Palestinians (some of whom come from these villages), as Israelis (who grew up on the remains of these villages) and people from a multitude of countries.”[xxxii]
Jacir’s quote highlights Palestinian land conflict, one in which their identity as Palestinians is adversely affected by their lack of their own land, their villages, their country. Palestine has been subsumed into the fabric of the Israeli state; it is a land without a people or people without a land, depending on one’s perspective. This conundrum of Arab relation to land in the Middle East is one that has colonial roots which needs to be noted but cannot be explored further in the scope of this project. What can be briefly mentioned here, before advancing to the next section of this paper is the Oslo agreements of the 1990s in which Palestinian cities and the 19 refuge camps were transferred to Palestinian control, however, the land remains heavily occupied by Israel with the bulk under Israeli military control.[xxxiii]
The contemporaneous overlay of Islamic fundamentalism on the process and act of suicide bombing is one that many rebel against. For instance, in 2005 Ghada Amer[xxxiv] created a series of paper works, most notably a poly-chromed wallpaper, as part of a series she called The Reign of Terror, in which she looked up every word pertaining to terror and terrorism in English, French, and Arabic dictionaries.
The piece, Terrorism is not indexed in Arabic Dictionaries, speaks to first the lack of terrorism as concept and action in Arabic as well as the sentiment that terror comes from an object rather than a practice. For instance, something can be an agent of “great fear, shock, dismay, etc.” without conveying the kind of terrorism mediated in western news outlets. This is a bit nebulas in the scope of the project, but the intent is to show a sentiment similar to Emily Jacir – who is friends with Ghada Amer – that the terroristic activities undertaken by suicide bombers are the result of a misappropriation of frustration and anger on the part of young disenfranchised Palestinians by religious fundamentalists, and the continually perpetuated assumption that suicide bombers seek payment in heaven of 70 virgins. In reality, many martyrs are paid by the organizations that recruit them, or payment is made to their families for the martyrdom of their children. In the West Bank in particular, staggering poverty makes this a lucrative and very attractive option to many young people who see little hope for a successful future.
The blurring of the line between life and art in the works discussed by these artists parallels the blurring of the lines between individual and collective and individual and weapon discussed earlier in the paper. The hybridizing of the human body is as effective to the suicide bomber in accomplishing their mission as the hybridizing of the discussion over the Israel-Palestine conflict is to artist seeking to address their positions. The central issue is used to convey each perspective in radically different ways. While Elias Khoury and Rabih Mroué wanted to use suicide bombing to explore the nature of the video as documentation, this project sought to explore the issue further, parsing out the question of what form does the suicide bomber take and what is their role once the body is gone?
[i] The LCP, الـحـزب الشـيـوعـي اللبـنـانـي, was founded in 1924 by writer and reporter Youssef Ibrahim Yazbek, and Fou’ad al-Shmeli a tobacco worker from Bikfaya. The party was active in the areas of the French mandate (Syria and Lebanon) and wanted to oust the French colonial presence and establish a democratic government in the region. The French declared the party illegal in 1939, but this was relaxed during World War II. By 1944, the party had split into the Lebanese Communist Party and the Syrian Communist Party. The party was very active in the fighting that led up to the Lebanese Civil War, but by the 1980s their influence waned.
[ii] It is this recorded message that will heretofore be referred to as the ‘martyr video.’
[iii] Elias Khoury and Rabih Mroué, “Three Posters: A Performance/Video by Elias Khoury and Rabih Mroué” in TDR: The Drama Review 50:3 (T191) Fall 2006, pp 183. The same text is repeated in: Tony Chakar, Tamáss: Contemporary Arab Representations [Beirut Lebanon]. Barcelona: Fundació Antoni Tàpies; 2002.
[iv] The cinema references, the use of “takes” in this paragraph and “final cut” in the previous paragraph, are used by the author to reference the language that Khoury and Mroué choose to use when discussing the methodology of Jamal Sati of producing several options and then selecting the best version of the recorded message. The author is indebted to them for this inclusion.
[v] Khoury and Mroué enacted the performance/video at the following festivals: Ayloul Festival in Beirut (September 2000), Vienna Festival (2001), Welt in Basel (2001), KunstenFESTIVALdesArts in Brussels (2002), In Transit in Berlin (2002), Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona (2002) – see footnote 3 for citation for this catalogue, Theatre der Welt in Bonn (2002), and Witte de With in Rotterdam (2002). The performance has never been enacted in North America or the United Kingdom.
[vi] Khoury and Mroué, Three Posters, pp 184-185.
[vii] Emphasis here is the author’s.
[viii] Khoury and Mroué, Three Posters, pp 184-185.
[ix] Khoury and Mroué, Three Posters, pp 184.
[x] Khoury and Mroué, Three Posters, pp 184.
[xi] See, Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” in Simians Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge; 1991, pp 149-181.
[xii] The use of the phrase, “mass conspiracy of fundamentalist Islamic doctrine” is used to place the general, historical act of suicide bombing in its proper historical framework and not just within the space of contemporary Islamic religious organization aimed at pan-Islamic fundamentals, such as Hezbollah, the Taliban, or al-Qaeda. The promulgation of all acts of violence enacted by Muslims in the name of an Islamic state being for the institution of an Islamic fundamental state negates an historical discussion that is central to understanding violence between Lebanon, Palestine and Israel. The fundamentalist message now espoused by organizations like Hezbollah is rooted in the historical discourse between the colonized and the colonizers and between the occupying forces of Israel and the peoples of Palestine and Lebanon (Lebanon in the case of Hezbollah, Afghanistan in the case of the Taliban, and Palestine in the case of Hamas). For example, Hezbollah emerged in Lebanon in the mid-1980s during the third phase of the Lebanese civil war (ca. 1983-1984). Hezbollah, at the time, was an emergent Shi’a group who splintered from the two main Shi’a parties and who took their influence from the Iranian revolutionary tactics. Hezbollah quickly became a strong player in the Lebanese process. Political parties with religious undertones continue to produce isolation abroad and fragmentation at home for Lebanon and especially Palestine with the election of Hamas in January 2006. For more on the rise of fundamentalist groups in the near east after the failure of post-war secular governments see: Jeroen Gunning, Hamas in Politics: Democracy, Religion, Violence. New York: Columbia University Press; 2008, Yonah Alexander, Palestinian Secular Terrorism. Ardsley, NY: Transnational Publishers; 2003, Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, Hizbu’llah: Politics and Religion. London: Pluto Press; 2002, Hala Jaber, Hezbollah. New York: Columbia University Press; 1997.
[xiii] For information on the Lebanese civil struggle as well as Lebanese/Israeli/Palestinian struggles see: David Kimche, The Last Option. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons; 1991, Benny Morris, righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999. New York: Alfred A. Knopf; 1999.
[xiv] The state of Palestine was once Transjordan, it is now divided into Palestine and Israel.
[xv] For more on the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict see: James L. Gelvin, The Israel-Palestine Conflict. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2005, 2007, Riad M. Nasser, Palestinian Identity in Jordan and Israel: The Necessary ‘Other’ in the Making of a Nation. New York: Routledge; 2005.
[xvi] Khoury and Mroué, Three Posters, pp 188.
[xvii] Khoury and Mroué, Three Posters, pp 188.
[xviii] “Relational Art is an art that takes as its theoretical horizon the sphere of human interactions and its social context, rather than the assertion of an autonomous and private symbolic sphere.” Nicolas Bourriaud, “Relational Aesthetics” in Participation, Claire Bishop, ed. London: Whitechapel Press; 2006, pp 160-171.
[xix] Eric M. Stryker, “The Assailant Image: The Visual Tactics of Terror” in Simon, Joshua and Manon Sloame, eds., The Aesthetics of Terror. (New York: Chelsea Museum of Art, 2008), pp 24-33.
[xx] Khoury and Mroué, Three Posters, pp 182.
[xxi] Al-Jazeera, الجزيرة al-jazirah, in English “the island” or as it is more colloquially known, “the peninsula” a shorthand for the Arabian Peninsula where it is headquartered in Doha, Qatar. The news station began as a cable television station in 1996 when a $150 million grant was provided by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, the Emir of Qatar. The news station now, is one of the largest in the Arabic speaking world, offering numerous specialty news channels in multiple languages, as well as the controversial call-in shows that allow for public dissent of Islamic regimes (this in particular has caused problems for the organization with the Saudi government which strictly squelches dissent within its borders and with the Algerian government due to callers implicating the Algerian government in a series of massacres). The news outlet gained international notoriety when it aired taped messages of Osama bin Laden and other members of al-Qaeda following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Al-Jazeera aired the tapes of several of the 9/11 attackers after the tapes were cleared by the US government, the dates are listed under each video still.
[xxii] CBS News, “60 Minutes II: The Plot,” October 9, 2002. Also see, Julian Borger, “Chilling, Defiant: the video suicide message of a September 11 Killer: Arab TV network broadcasts first taped testimony by a hijacker,” Guardian, April 16, 2002, Salah Nasrawi, “Al-Jazeera: Bin Laden heard on tape,” Associated Press, September 9, 2002, Peter Finn, “Hamburg’s Cauldron of Terror: within cell of 7, hatred toward US grew an September 11 plot evolved,” Washington Post, September 11, 2002.
[xxiii] Captions read by the author.
[xxiv] Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” in Simians Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge; 1991, pp 149-181.
[xxvi] Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, كتائب شهداء الأقصى, is a coalition of Palestinian militias in the West Bank. The group’s name refers to the Aqsa mosque on the Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem, a sacred site in Islam and one which access is restricted to by the Israeli military laws about Palestinian access to Jerusalem. The group is not Islamicist, such as Hamas, but has been reported to have carried out joint missions with Hamas and has sympathized with Fatah in the past.
[xxvii] Fatah is an acronym for: حركة التحرير الوطني الفلسطيني, Harakat al-Tahir al-Wataniyyeh al-Falastiniyyeh, The Movement for the National Liberation of Palestine, in reverse. Fatah translates to “conquest” in English. Fatah was formed in 1958 by: Yasser Arafat (Abu Ammar), Khalid al-Wazir (Abu Jihad), Salah Khaleb (Abu Iyad) and Faruq al Qaduwi (Abu Lutf) while they were students at the University of Cairo. Their goal was to create a Palestinian organization dedicated to an armed struggle against Israel. In the beginning, Fatah stood in opposition to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) controlled by then Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser. Arafat was upset over the fact that the PLO was not organized out of the Palestinian populace but rather out of Nasser’s pan-Arabism. After the Six Day War with Israel in 1967, Fatah and PLO reconciled with each other, Fatah merged with PLO to become one of its largest members and in 1969 Arafat became the president of the PLO. See, Yonah Alexander, Palestinian Secular Terrorism. Ardsley, NY: Transnational Publishers; 2003, pp 1-32.
[xxviii] Interview with Abu Hamza, owner of one of two print shops in the Palestinian town of Jenin who runs Palestinian martyr posters. He notes that the Jenin chapter of al-Aqsa is one of his biggest repeat customers. Interview with Abu Hamza as reported in “Waxelastic” blog, April 28 2004: http://www.waxelastic.com/blog/000076.php.
[xxix] Not to belabor the point, but again, we see the merging of the individual identity of the martyr and the collective identity of the organization. Not only does the image of the martyr on the poster indicate his involvement with the organization and his role as suicide bomber, but also his individual life and his personal identity, represented in the images that do not indicate him in the group. He is both himself and the collective simultaneously in both the poster and the video.
[xxx] For instance, when Amjad Faraj died of cancer in October of 2001 his poster went up all over Deheisha refugee camp, announcing the passing of “the Martyr of Suffering and Political Prisoners.” Even though he had not died due to a military event, his passing was still considered apart of the resistance and his life was honored with a poster. Lori Allen, “There are Many Reasons Why: Suicide Bombers and Martyrs in Palestine” on SSRC: Social Science Research Council Online: http://programs.ssrc.org/gsc/gsc_quarterly/newsletter5/content/allen/.
[xxxi] All of Jacir’s work involves her feelings towards the Israel-Palestine conflict, such as Sexy Semites a piece enacted by Jacir and 60 other individuals over a two year span (2000-2002) in which they submitted personal ads to the Village Voice seeking Jews to return to Palestine with using the Israeli “Law of Return.” Examples include: “You stole the land may as well take the women” and “You claimed our falafel…”.
[xxxii] Emily Jacir as quoted on www.stationmuseum.com regarding her work Memorial to 418 Palestinian Villages Which Were Destroyed, Depopulated and Occupied by Israel in 1948, in her exhibition Made in Palestine on view at the Station Museum in Houston, Texas from May 3, 2003 to October 3, 2003.
[xxxiii] For more on the Oslo process see, Edward Said, The Politics of Dispossession: The Struggle for Palestinian Self-Determination, 1969-1994. New York: Pantheon Books; 2004, Edward Said, Peace and its Discontents: essays on Palestine in the Middle East Peace Process. New York: Vintage Books/Random House; 1996, Jimmy Carter, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. New York: Simon and Schuster; 2006.
[xxxiv] Ghada Amer is best known for her polychrome embroidered panels, which from a distance, appear to be abstract paintings, but up close revel the hidden subtext of erotic images. She is a multi-media artist who often employs the theme of incursion in her works, such as: I ª Paris, a series of photographs depicting women covered from head to toe in black burkhas in outdoor social spaces in downtown Paris. The photos obviously play on the tussles between the French government and traditional Muslim dress. See, Brooklyn Museum for a discussion of Ghada Amer: Love Has No End,the first exhibition of the artist’s work in the US (February 16-October 19, 2008). Online at:
See related visual culture posts: “The Sight of Blood: Vision, Violence, and the Temple in Etruscan Etruria;” “Oriental Nationalism;” and “In Vogue: Women, Beauty, the Grotesque, and the Other.”
6 responses to “Body As Weapon: The Mediated Body of the Suicide Bomber”
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Great work. The intersection of life and art is something near and dear to my heart as a persona scholar – in some ways it’s our raison d’être – but I haven’t actually gotten to read the work done on it in visual media and certainly not on modern visual media such as video.
You again show a particular strength for helping an untrained audience (i.e. me) engage with the material. The jargon you use throughout you define or couch in previous contexts so that the reader can pick it up and move right along.
I think I was particularly interested (as usual) in a bit of a side note: the intersection between organic and inorganic you mentioned when speaking of how martyrs make themselves cyborgs. It was a completely new note for me and quite notable as one, and as a science-fiction fan it definitely got me thinking.
All in all, good stuff.
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