Category Archives: Politics

Politics, #p2, and Being Purposefully Pugnacious

Yesterday I unfollowed a whole host of “#p2” tweeters. For those unfamiliar to the “#p2” concept on Twitter, allow me to briefly explain. The “#p2” hashtag is used by progressive, liberal minded/leaning, lefties to denote a tweet espousing political and social beliefs related to such positions.

As a woman of highly liberal and left leaning politics and social concepts, I was an ardent follower of many members of this Twitter community. These are people who believe in the same style of politics, the same social obligations and policies that I believe in. Following them, conversing with them, debating with them is one of the main reasons I was drawn to Twitter in the first place and the reason I have stayed on Twitter for nearly a year.

But I have noticed that in the last few months the tone, method of communicating one’s point and debate styles have changed. Once open minds now seem closed to opinions other than their own. Tweets between tweeters have been filled with nitpicking, backbiting, brazenly rude and personal attacks. Rather than foster open debates about the Left, Democratic Party, and President Obama, his administration, and policy decisions, “#p2” has fractured. Now splintered into several camps, each with their own de facto leader and list of persons who the group must be unanimously opposed to, civility, it seems, is gone. Rather than fostering an environment of: “We can all support a common aim whilst being critical of that goal and the means by which we achieve it,”  “#p2” has become a land of “with us or against us.” When did the national left become the flag bearers of post-9/11 Bush doctrine? When did we buy into the “if you don’t agree with me 100% you’re the enemy”?

I support President Obama. I supported him in 2008, I voted for him, and I have in the time since then, been an ardent fan and believer in the progress and change brought about by his administration. But what is missing from “#p2,” what has become a prickly point of contention is whether or not one can be a supporter of Obama whilst being critical of him. Since the spring this has led to numerous eruptions within Twitter-land. While I understand the sentiment by some Obama supporters that many have turned on him at the first sight of something they disagree with (and certainly the “primary Obama” mess was just stupid), support for Obama can’t be so unwavering that it comes without critical examination.

Is Obama our savior, here to deliver us ponies and rainbows? Hardly. But support of a party, a candidate, an administration has to be critical in order to be effective, otherwise we begin down a Stalinist slippery slope towards zero political dissension. Someone voicing concern or consternation over an Obama decision, or lack of one, isn’t a sign that the party is falling apart and the GOP is going to take over the world. It’s a sign that members of our electorate care enough not to follow blindly, not to fall lockstep behind the loudest or most obnoxious voice. Obama isn’t infallible. His administration isn’t infallible. The Left isn’t infallible. Criticism doesn’t expose infallibility to the sharp knife of a take over. No. Criticism fosters analysis. Criticism asks all participants to constantly strive for better.

I can be critical of Obama without being anti-Obama. I don’t vote based on what someone says on Twitter, so why would I attack someone on Twitter simply because he or she is disliked by members of “#p2”? I thought the Left was better than this. I thought we were better than the cheap-shot taking, chew-up-and-spit-out-anyone-with-a-different-opinion Right. Clearly I was wrong.

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Why “The Arts” Matter

This has been percolating for some time – in my heart, in my head. I have found myself in numerous situations, with academics and non-academics alike, trying to explain why I do what I do, why I love what I do. As I find myself at a professional crossroads I have considered this subject more than ever before. In a country were Wall Street and Google are more respected than the Smithsonian, is a life devoted to the arts wise? Manageable?

Art. The Arts.

I breathe it. I taste it. I cannot live without it.

I have devoted the last eight years of my life to studying the history, theory, and criticism of: art, art history, history, urbanism, architecture, urban planning, religion, philosophy, law, economics, etc, to better understand the development of the Western and non-Western worlds. How is the canon defined? How can we create a new canon to end the great white-western-tradition that excludes minorities, women, and the non-Western world. How can an understanding of the history of Cairo, for example, lead us to a better understanding of the development of Islamic Architecture and vice versa? How does the trade of silk fabric from China to Denmark impact Dutch woodcut prints, paintings, fashion, and their cultivation of Latin American colonies? This world systems analysis approach to the history of the arts and cultures is the basic tenet of the liberal arts and humanistic studies in the US, Canada, Europe and a rapidly growing university tradition in the non-Western world.

In a year where the GOP, Tea Party, and Conservative media et all, has called for the intellectual beheading of this country (defunding NPR, PBS, NEA, destruction of teachers unions, the abolishment of arts education in primary and secondary schools, etc) the slow-building anti-intellectual movement in this US has ramped up their destructive calls for further skepticism of American universities and their dislike, distrust, and further desire to de-emphasize the importance of an educated populace. It has become socially and politically acceptable to dislike and distrust educated people – the better the education, the more degrees the greater the skepticism. Sarah Palin, a woman who barely managed to scrape out a degree in journalism after attending five colleges, is a poster woman for many in this country. The term “elite” has come to serve as an acceptable degrading hiss of a pejorative in a country that has a great national distaste for the educated.

It has become so easy to dismiss the arts, to brush them aside with a flick of the wrist. So easy, in fact, that even Bill Maher made the case for defunding the NEA. For Maher, the NEA doesn’t save lives, doesn’t accomplish anything tangible, like say the EPA, and is thus expendable. This mentality of the “the arts don’t matter, they aren’t important, they don’t contribute or have an economic incentive to exist” is rampant in this country. Libraries close without a blink of a community’s eye. Universities slash humanities budgets but never touch athletics. Generations of parents scoff at the idea of an English or Women’s Studies major, pushing their children to major in computers or business instead. Universities close Latin, Classics, and Area Studies programs (to name only a few of the affected liberal arts) without any protest.

And why should universities care about critical reasoning skills? Why should universities support programs that train students to read within a critical, theoretical discourse, analyze the material, and produce a cogent, pointed argument or debate? Why should universities support philosophy, english, history, and art history majors? Wall Street isn’t interested in hiring from these majors, so why are they important? Perhaps because these majors score highest on the GRE and LSAT exams. Perform better in graduate and law programs than other majors. Have superior critical reasoning and analytical skills than mathematics and business majors.

The reason it is so easy to ignore and dismiss the arts, the humanities, is because Americans have become detrimentally separated from the history of education, from the history of what it means to be educated. Each generation, since the beginning of human existence, has sought to pass on cultural and social values, traditions, morality, religion and skills to the next generation. The passing on of culture is also known as enculturation and the learning of social values and behaviors is socialization. The history of the curricula of such education reflects human history itself, the history of knowledge, beliefs, skills and cultures of humanity.

Education creates vessels of humanity out of every student. The history of this world, of our cultures is crafted and disseminated in education. Without an educated populace, how are we to survive? How are we to know what came before us, what shape us, and how we can innovate our future? The process of receiving knowledge, processing it, learning lessons from it, and critically using it as a tool of future development and growth is the keystone of every educational system. But it is most represented in the arts, in humanistic pursuits.

‘The Arts” encompasses visual arts and cultural practice, the literary arts (poetry and prose), theater, music, dance, architecture, television, radio, film, journalism, fashion and food. The arts are what we see, read, watch, taste, wear. It is how we move, what we listen to, it is what we live in from the design of our homes and furniture, our planned cities, our cars, our clothes, and what we read day in and out. The arts encompass every output of the human creative practice. Even if you’d like to think of the arts as only the imaginative, creative, and nonscientific branches of knowledge considered collectively and studied academically, you can’t help but note the broad sweep of your implications in our everyday lives and in every plane of our societal functions.

The arts are both a response to the world around as as they are catalyst for cultural change. Artists, of all media, serve as a mirror to the world. They examine our collective conscience. They ask us to question our beliefs, our actions, to rethink what we know and how we know it. The nature of our world is defined, refined, deconstructed and reconstructed through the arts. Paintings of rulers can serve simultaneously as a glimpse into a a moment of history and state-sponsored propaganda (see my piece on “Oriental Nationalism” and the role of Gros in the court of Napoleon here). The arts help shape gender roles, cultural predilections for body shape and notions of beauty (see my piece of the impact of fashion photography and fashion in Vogue here). Art and artists have impacted global politics at times as well (for instance, Surrealism, see my post here). The arts bleed into areas of our lives we wouldn’t even think that they would: such as science and war practices (see my post on Performance/Body Art here, and my post on the nature of video and suicide bombing in contemporary art practice here).

Arts education, museums, galleries, theaters, and libraries are the keepers, the vessels of these great, impactful forces in our world. They are the ultimate democratizing force in the world today. The easiest way to restrict growth of a society, critical dialogue, opposition of thought and diversity of opinion is to restrict education, namely critical reasoning skills, skills that are central and foundational to arts and humanities curricula. Why are we so accepting of their dismissal from our national priorities? Stephen Colbert recently joked with the director of a forthcoming documentary on imprisoned Chinese artist Ai WeiWei that: “In American we know to ignore [serious] artists…serious artists are a complete joke.” Naturally, the knowing audience member realizes the bit Colbert has perfected on his show, the pseudo-Right Wing position he takes to mock such figures, such positions. But his statement is no joke. To many it is all to true.

American capitalism has made a MBA more valuable than analytical skills, than the ability to converse cogently about the broad breadth of humanity. We care not what people know, what they are capable of thinking deeply about. We only care about the object, the dollar amount they can produce.

In a country built upon innovation, where we pride ourselves on pushing the next wave of global development, why are we so uninterested in creativity? Why don’t we fight tooth and nail to keep the great bastions of our history of our creativity alive and funding and staffed to the hilt? We are so cavalier with culture, so flippant about art and art education, I fear that it will slip through the sieve of time without our noticing its loss till it’s too late. We are only as great as our ability to progress. How can we do that without knowing from what we have evolved? Our libraries, our museums, they hold within their walls the great majesty of our collective human achievement. Without them, what are we? What will we become?

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Current Middle East Uprisings

The current events in the Middle East are disturbing for many reasons. Gruesome, indiscriminate violence by dictatorial regimes against their citizens is nothing new, nor is the desire by dictators to squash democratic uprisings. But never have so many democratic efforts occurred in the region simultaneously.

Uprisings in Bahrain, Libya, Syria, and Yemen come on the heels of successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year. You can read my post on the causes of the democratic effort in Egypt here, and my thoughts on the start of events in Libya in my show notes from Tim Corrimal‘s Episode 157, here.

Let me begin where I left off with Libya, then I’ll discuss Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria, last.

As noted previously, the current situation in Libya began with a series of protests and demonstrations on February 15. Within a week these protests had spread and Gaddafi’s regime was significantly challenged. Similar to the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the primary goal of the protests in Libya was the cessation of Gaddafi’s 42-year-long regime. Gaddafi has responded to the uprising with brute military force, censorship, and the blocking of communication outlets.

What has occurred since February 15 is essentially the devolution of Libya into civil war. Gaddafi has seen segments of his armed forces defect to a coalition of rebel organizations (a mixture of international entities (it’s alleged the Tunisia and Egypt are assisting financially and militarily), Libyan tribes, National Transitional Council, Free Libyan Air Force, Libyan People’s Army, etc). He has also seen the eastern third of his country fall out of his control and into the control of the hands of the opposition (this control is maintained in the coastal town of Benghazi). Gaddafi has maintained control of the western and central thirds of Libya and has maintained the largest city, Tripoli. I hesitate to call Tripoli the “capital” since it is becoming clear that Libya is divided in civil warfare and Benghazi is now the “capital” of the opposition forces’ National Transitional Council.

Gaddafi has tried to negotiate with the opposition leaders. But his continued use of international paid mercenaries, his violent attacks on his own citizens, and his and his son’s continued public petulance to calls for their resignation have kept the opposition leaders away from negotiations. The UN has taken several measures against Gaddafi and numerous members of his inner circle: freezing their bank accounts and restricting their travel. This was followed up with a resolution by member states to enact a no-fly zone over Libya. This was led, as we all know by now by France and the US (among others) before the US handed off control to NATO.

The efforts to squash political unrest in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt is no different then what is happening in the Arabian Peninsula, Jordan and Syria. Military dictators ruling in the Arab/Islamic World since the 1960s and 1970s under “emergency law” are rampant and have enacted vicious, heinous police states upon their people for decades. They have systematically raped their countries of financial resources and and have syphoned money away from their citizens and into their own pockets.

This is echoed through out the Middle East and is at the heart of the current uprisings. Take Bahrain, for example, a Sunni monarchy that presides over a predominantly Shiia population. While Bahrain is different from it’s neighbors, in that it’s protests are based prominently on religious minority ruling over a different religious majority, the concern is still over-extended leadership and the dangers that poses to a country’s citizenry. Bahrain’s protests were based on greater political freedoms and calls to end the monarchy. After all, as of 2010, more than half of the serving cabinet members in Bahrain came from the ruling family.

After a month of camping out in the Pearl Roundabout in Manama, the Bahrani capital, the monarchy called in troops to violently confront the protestors. On March 15, Hamad ibn Isa al-Khalifa declared martial law and a three-month state of emergency. This pattern of cause and effect – protestors gather, present their demands, state responds by trying to squash protestors, violence ensues, martial law or emergency law is enacted as last resort – has been used consistently by Middle East dictators and despots to control cyclical uprisings.

In Yemen, the current protests began on the heels of the Tunisian revolution and simultaneous to the Egyptian revolution. Starting in Sana’a on January 27, a protest of 16,000 Yemenis kicked off the effort which has been aimed at addressing concerns about unemployment, economic conditions, corruption, and the government’s attempts to modify the state constitution. Protests soon escalated to calling for the president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to resign.

Following the lead of Ben Ali in Tunisia, Ali Abdullah Saleh announced on February 2 that he would not seek reelection in 2013, but instead he would pass the role to his son. The following day, February 3, outraged Yemenis took to the streets by the tens of thousands in Sana’a and Aden, in a “Day of Rage” called for by Tawakel Karman. There were counter-protests organized in in Sana’a by pro-regime forces and organizations. Fridays of protests in Sana’a, in particular, but in other cities have continued throughout February and March.

The same concerns about a over-reach and a regime ruling under emergency law propelled Syria to unprecedented protests beginning at the end of January. After the Ba’athist overthrow in Iraq in 1963, the party took control in Syria. Hafez al-Assad and then his son Bashar have ruled Syria under emergency rule since 1970. Almost all of the constitutional rights afforded Syrians are squashed under emergency rule. It also squelches opposition to the party and the al-Assads. Furthermore, when Hafez al-Assad died in 2000 a controversial amedment was pushed through to lower the age requirement for president so Bashar could succeed his father. This kind of corruption and squelching of rights and free elections are at the heart of not only the current protests in Syria, but as I have discussed, all the protests, demonstrations and revolutions in the Middle East since the start of the year.

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Oriental Nationalism

Given the political climate in the Middle East since January, I have found some interesting parallels between this exploration of Napoleon and current discussions of despotism in the Middle East.

Oriental Nationalism: Gros’ Napoleon at the Pesthouse of Jaffa

Napoleon at the Pesthouse of Jaffa, Antoine-Jean Gros, 1804. Oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

In his now seminal canvas, Napoleon at the Pesthouse of Jaffa (1804),[1] Antoine-Jean Gros depicts Napoleon Bonaparte visiting French soldiers sicken by an outbreak of the bubonic plague in a mosque in Jaffa that had been converted into a hospital for plague sufferers. Napoleon stands just right of center, bathed in light, surrounded in front and to his right by Frenchmen succumbing to disease. At his immediate back stand two well Frenchmen in uniform, aghast at his bare, outstretched hand investigating the pustules in a sickened man’s armpit. To his right stand robed and turbaned men attending to the sick seated, slouched, and lying on straw mats on the floor of the mosque. In fact the few scattered non-European figures in the painting are all well-dressed and well-mannered figures attending to the needs of the sick. None of the sick are non-European. The human interaction between the well and the ill takes place in front of an arcade that opens onto the mosque’s courtyard. In the distance, the viewer discerns the other arcaded sides of the courtyard, the mosque’s minaret and the rise of a hilled and walled site in the distance, presumably the city’s citadel, complete with unfurled and full-masted French flag atop. The sky is turbulent with clouds, the sun breaking through only in scattered places, and the mysterious light source bathing Napoleon and those immediately around him in light is indiscernible and does not extend to the front or edges of the picture plane which are shrouded nearly entirely in darkness.

Napoleon at the Pesthouse of Jaffa, detail, Antoine-Jean Gros.

Napoleon at the Pesthouse of Jaffa was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte and overseen by the arts administrator Vivant Denon.[2] The painting was an “epic machine tasked with depicting, retrospectively, the Egyptian campaign to the French people.”[3] A carefully controlled amalgam of Napoleon’s Syrian campaign, the painting has served many historians in their bids to read Gros’ work as hero-worship of Napoleon and propaganda for his regime. It is easy, as many have done, to read Messianic imagery in Napoleon’s upright, contraposto stance with the out stretched hand touching, fearlessly, the wounds of the ill. He is, for all intensive proposes, Christ reaching out and laying hands on Lazarus. Similarly, as noted by Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby, he is Rationality touching irrationality.[4] Instead of a monarch touching the ill as means of healing through divine intercession, Napoleon is a mortal man reaching out and touching the sick to show his fearlessness in the face of the disease, but also to show that the disease was not transmitted through touch. Napoleon and his doctors, fearful of an even worse plague of fear and imagination among the troops, had long denied that the plague was what sickened soldiers but rather a fever, and that it was not contagious by touch.[5]

Napoleon at the Pesthouse of Jaffa, detail of Napoleon's hand, Antoine-Jean Gros.

Grigsby eschews the scholarship before her, which elucidates only a Christ-like reading of Napoleon without proper contextualization of why such an image was important at that time.[6] This paper, unlike Grigsby’s theses of sexualized imagery and homoerotic subtext,[7] is not concerned with the Orientalizing and feminizing of the sickened French soldiers but with the political and artistic climate of France, which made such an image successful. As Grigsby notes fleetingly, and off-handedly answers at the end of her essay: “What, one must ask, are the terms to which Napoleon’s authority are opposed?”[8] The answer lies, not in the French troops slouched, crumpled and supine on the floor of the mosque in the painting, but in the tightly controlled message of why the Egyptian expedition was embarked upon and what happened during the trip. The truth of what happened at Jaffa was controlled in France until Napoleon’s deposition when it became a rallying cry for his detractors.[9] Gros’ painting, as with Napoleon’s reign, was a amalgamation of dichotomies: rooted in classical language but also a deviation, heroic depiction of a leader while also revealing the crime, truth and spun propaganda. In the end it is not just the sick French soldiers who serve as the Other, it is Napoleon himself who is Othered, for he becomes the spitting image of the despot he rallied his troops against in Egypt.

Map of Napoleon's campaign in Egypt.

England and France had been vying for control of territories from India to North America to the South Seas since the 1600s.[10] The advantages of such control were obvious to all involved. France’s interest in Egypt has been noted by some to come after a consideration of invading the British Isles, which was dismissed given the size and might of the British Navy.[11] Rather, the French government entertained at least a dozen proposed exhibitions into Egypt between 1774 and 1798. After all, as noted by a counselor to Louis XVI, “Egypt belongs to nobody.”[12] Napoleon’s plan was brazen and ill timed. After all France was coming out of a Revolution that had left it’s economy and its streets trashed. The streets and alleys of Paris ran with sewage and smelled worse than they had in the Middle Ages. The anti-monarchist country that had killed its king was still faced with royalist nations pushing at its borders, a climate not traditionally conducive to launching a large military and academic campaign so far from the homeland. But the French wanted their piece of the colonial pie, and the hope was that Egypt would be the penultimate gateway to large swathes of Asian and African territories under French control.[13] As such Napoleon Bonaparte launched his campaign into Egypt, achieving early success in Lower Egypt but losing later when Admiral Nelson destroyed the French fleet, isolating Napoleon’s army from Europe.[14] Napoleon turned his attentions and his troops to the north, to Syria (modern day Israel), following the disastrous loss to Nelson. He advanced as far as Acre but could not take the city, even after a two-month siege. It was during this campaign that the plague struck, especially hard in Jaffa to the south, and forced Napoleon to retreat. Almost half of the men he had left Cairo with did not return.[15]

This brings us back to Gros and the now infamous depiction of Napoleon’s visit to the hospital in Jaffa where his sick and dying men were treated. The scene, purportedly, depicts an actual occurrence of Napoleon visiting his men. The battle of Jaffa was launched on March 7, 1799, where French soldiers killed at least 2,000 Ottoman soldiers prior to two days of raping and slaughtering of civilians.[16] Approximately, 2,500 to 3,000 Ottoman soldiers took to the citadel for refuge, refusing to surrender until the French assured them that they would not be killed. Napoleon, however, promptly ordered their slaughter once they left their refuge. To conserve gunpowder, Napoleon ordered his troops to take the Ottoman soldiers to the sea and kill them with their bayonets.[17] The most scandalous part of the Syrian expedition to Europeans was not the horrendous treatment of Syrian civilians and Ottoman soldiers, but Napoleon’s treatment of his own men.

The plague had initially broken out in the summer of 1798 while the French were still in Egypt. The plague became a significant problem for the French army only while in Syria when 1,300 of the 13,000 French troops[18] contracted the disease with 1,000 of them dying. A makeshift hospital was set up in Jaffa, but not in a mosque as is depicted by Gros, but in an Armenian monastery.[19] The magisterial image is constructed by Gros in more ways than just location. Upon retreat from the city in May of 1799, Napoleon ordered his doctors to poison all bed-ridden soldiers who remained. Doses of laudanum were administered to all who remain, but as noted by David O’Brien, some men vomited the dosage and lived to tell their tales to the English who occupied the city after the French.[20]

Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne, Antoine-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. 1806, Oil on canvas. Musée de l'Amée, Paris.

The Jaffa legend extends beyond the crimes committed by Napoleon and his men while they were there, especially for Napoleon’s detractors. As David O’Brien notes, “when Bonaparte abandoned his army in Egypt, leaving it to certain destruction, Jaffa became a synecdoche for the entire expedition, encapsulating the acts of betrayal and callous disregard for human life that characterized the whole affair.”[21] The Napoleon of Gros, Ingres, and David – a regal man, a messianic figure – is not representative of the fierce political environment of France at the time. Napoleon was presiding over a deeply divided country, torn between scheming Jacobin and Royalist groups both angling for power. France’s political and art worlds were equally torn between what was before Napoleon and what was during Napoleon. Politically, Napoleon wasn’t the secure authoritative figure presiding over a unified country. There were numerous failed assassination attempts and conspiracies, which “undermined the government’s ability to present an image of stability and permanence.”[22] The post-Revolution art world of France was weary of history painting, which it no longer trusted and was the subject of intense derision amongst Salon painters. The lack of government intervention into Salon artists’ work during and since the Revolution suited a cadre of Jacobin painters just fine, while others David included still sought up front government commissions with little intention of completing the work.[23] Even though the Salon itself was unclear on whether or not modern events belonged within the scope of history painting, Napoleon sought to invigorate such work. With his decree of October 1802, he wanted four large canvases produced every year devoted to French history. Even with the decree, no significant works were completed.[24]

Napoleon Crossing the Alps, Jacques-Louis David. 1800, Oil on canvas. Musée National du Château de Malmaison.

The enormous success of Gros’ painting at the Salon of 1804 changed the game entirely.[25] The immediate embrace of the painting by his peers established Gros as a major painter of his day and established the visibility of large-scale propagandistic representations of contemporary events depicted in the language of classical history painting. The chaos of the arts scene during the Revolution seemed over in 1804. Not only due to the appearance and success of Gros’ canvas at the Salon but also because Napoleon became a protector, of sorts, for artists, so long as they “only had eyes for him.”[26]

Napoleon at the Pesthouse of Jaffa was not Gros’ only work depicting Napoleon during the Egyptian campaign. Gros painted the Battle of Nazareth (1801), Battle of Aboukir (1806), and Napoleon Haranguing the Army Before the Battle of the Pyramids (1810). In these images, unlike Jaffa, Napoleon and his troops are violently clashing with Arab soldiers in with bloodshed and horrific carnage strewn around the picture plane. The intention in the battle scenes is clear: make Napoleon look like the triumphant general fearlessly leading his troops into battle. Do not let the salacious bloodshed fool you; these war scenes are as much operatic constructions of the Napoleon legend as Jaffa. As O’Brien notes, “Bonaparte was defeated in Egypt, and on some level that failure had to be explained in his propaganda.”[27] Gros and his fellow Napoleonic painters as well as the significant painters of the Restoration (1815-1830) never traveled to the Orient. These images were ordered by Napoleon, overseen by his administrator and then

The Battle of Nazareth, Antoine-Jean Gros. 1801, Oil on canvas. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes.

carefully, purposefully positioned in the Salon in such an arrangement as to effect the biggest impact on the public. His [Gros’] later paintings were no exception to this arrangement.[28] In the case of Jaffa, and the battle scenes, the aim of Gros’ brush was to craft an image that spoke to the larger cultural contrasts between the French and the Arab Other that they engaged while on the campaign. In the case of Battle of Nazareth, Napoleon skillfully insisted on naming the battle after the city of Nazareth (even though it actually took place in Loubia)[29] so as to conjure images of the Holy Family and to reinforce the notion of the campaign as a latter-day crusade.

The Battle of Aboukir, Antoine-Jean Gros. 1806, Oil on canvas. Musée du Château, Versailles.

Similarly, in the case of Jaffa the painting countered a number of charges lobbed against Napoleon: “instead of a general abandoning his army in a foreign land, it represented a caring leader risking his life to raise the troops’ morale, and instead of a ruthless, self-interested executioner, it showed a compassionate, humane man with seemingly supernatural healing powers.”[30] Unlike the Nazareth of Aboukir, where Napoleon is calm in the face of danger, valiantly leading his men into battle against fatalistic Arabs (their faces drawn in scowls to further set them apart), here Napoleon is not calm in the face of confrontation from an Other, but rather in the face of disease. It is his own men he must fear. O’Brien latches onto Grigsby’s astute theory that it is the sickened Frenchmen who are the Other, but neither discuss the presence of the Arab figure; which is present, is not threatening or attacking, and is upright, a point glaringly missed by Grigsby. In fact, here in Jaffa, by the brush of Gros, the fearsome Arab is turned savior, for he is the Turkish doctor lancing the bubo of the sickened Frenchman kneeling before Napoleon.

Napoleon Haranguing the Army Before the Battle of the Pyramids, Antoine-Jean Gros. 1810, Oil on canvas. Musée National du Château, Versailles.

Gros’ roots in the Neoclassical tradition, particularly due to his tutelage in the atelier of Jacques-Louis David, are noticeable in the composition of Jaffa. While Grigsby uses Oath of the Horatii as evidence of a tradition Gros deviates from in Jaffa,[31] I will use David’s masterpiece as a tradition Gros grows out of and whose charged narrative Gros capitalizes for his veiled critique of Napoleon.

Oath of the Horatii, Jacques-Louis David. 1785, Oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

The interior scene is set with an arcade in the background past which the viewer is unable to discern. Center stage: a man holding three swords aloft between his person and those of three Roman soldiers. Behind the central man, swooning, despondent women lean on one another, their eyes down cast, avoiding the scene. Though based on the account of the Roman salute by Livy, the scene is of David’s own creation. The men are upright and active, engaged in some kind of ceremonial process. A light shaft rakes across the scene from a source unknown to the viewer, filling the room with light casting the shadows to an even dark black. Gros, David’s student, takes up the foreground scene, employing the arcade as divider between that which is essential and important to the scene and that, which is not. A similar unknown light shaft rakes across Gros’ scene, though David fully illuminates nearly his entire cast while Gros leaves all but the central figures in shadow. Gros color palette is not the somber, subdued palette of the Neoclassical, which places the narrative above the painting itself. Rather, Gros embraces warm saturated hues, tones that feed a celebratory, Messianic reading of Napoleon.

The warmth of reds and golden ambers in Jaffa as well as the mysterious glow surrounding Napoleon further separate student from master. But the charged narrative remains in Gros’ work. In David’s painting it is a familial oath pledged before battle, in Gros’ painting the agonizing deaths of soldiers from the plague and the possibility of recovery at the hands of their leader.

It is here that Grigsby’s work fails most significantly. In her pursuit of evidence to support her claim that the sickly and dying French soldiers represent a feminized Other, she distorts the relationship between master and student. Gros was not deviating from the Neoclassical; he was implementing classical language and traditions anew. His painting of Napoleon at Jaffa was equal parts glory-filled propaganda, for the Messianic connections cannot be missed, and critique. Gros benefited from his relationship to power.[32] He was repeatedly asked to paint problematic subjects in which Napoleon’s crimes needed to be concealed and his triumphs exalted, or in this case created. In this vein, Gros was a sharpened tool of propaganda and of the nationalism prevalent in France during and after the Revolution. However, Gros’ response to these requests was a blending of both the heroizing of Napoleon and graphic depictions of violence.[33] For as much as Jaffa is about Napoleon visiting his troops, laying his hands on the sick, it is about the horrors of the Syrian campaign and France’ involvement in Egypt, and the process of colonialism generally, too.

Though Grigsby was right to identify the lack of explication of this work by Gros by other scholars and appropriately sought and elucidated alternative readings of the painting, she misses, nearly entirely, the political climate in France post-Revolution as well as the act of colonialism and the fallout thereof until the very end of her essay when the body politic is shoved gracelessly into the concluding paragraph. The wounded and battered body politic of France should, I believe come first. Any readings of the feminization of homoerotic subtexts of the painting should be second to the discussion of why Napoleon needed such a glorifying depiction of himself. The highly censored, repressive regime that Napoleon created had to be dominated by his message and his images to avoid unrest and to control his troops and the public at large. Napoleon became the very despot he went to Egypt to destroy. It is this contribution that keeps Jaffa from slipping into arid propaganda.[34] It is easy after Grigsby to read the plague ridden French soldiers as the Other, as the object of Gros’ Orientalist gaze; but it is harder though more important to see Napoleon in the same gaze. This time France had instead of a monarchy with divine pretenses an Enlightened despot who ruled with the same barbaric fist that colonialism was supposed to root out in the Orient. Therefore, it is of little surprise that anti-Napoleonic sentiment and detractors turned to this painting as a basis of protest against the Napoleonic regime.

The authors cited in this paper, with the exception of selected primary sources in footnotes and the inclusion of J. Christopher Herold, are all post Edward Said’s Orientalism. Be that as it may, none of the author’s question Said’s discussion of the French campaign in Egypt, nor is a critical light shone onto narrowness of Said’s telling of the French involvement in Egypt.[35] Grigsby not only cites Orientalism, but she also cites a passage from Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, a book and author Said worked with extensively prior to Orientalism. Heart of Darkness also deeply impacted Orientalism for Said, and for Grigsby, apparently. Grigsby’s argument benefits from the binary construction of Orientalism; she revels in flipping what she calls the Neoclassical binary of strong man-weak woman around and present dominate vertical Frenchman-supine subordinate Frenchman. But in doing so, as previously noted and cited above, Grigsby weakens her argument by not breaking out of binary blinders, as it were, and placing both Gros’ painting and the French Egyptian campaign in a broader context of French political upheaval during the Revolution that had to be squelched in order for Napoleon to be successful. Grigsby’s rush to seek an alternative reading on Gros from the previous (stale) scholarship labeling him a propagandist and nothing more, takes her out of range for a valid and needed discussion on the fraught tension between French Enlightenment despot and his public.

David O’Brien, writing after Grigsby, errs on the opposite side, too conservative. His introduction pushes at the tension between Napoleon and his deeds and the image he desired to present the public, but still perpetuates Gros’ role as propagandist.

Stuart Harten picks up Orientalism and agrees, whole cow, with Said’s position that “Bonaparte’s expedition to Egypt was the enabling project for all subsequent Orientalist enterprises.”[36]

The result is, that even after Said, even after a discourse has opened up to more honestly explicate Orientalist images, no such dialogue – with the exception of Grigsby – has dared to draw a new line in the sand. Grigsby’s argument may verge on irresponsible at times – with the lack of larger contextualization and political awareness – but at least her argument opens up new frontiers. The same cannot be said for other scholars operating with the same material.

Napoleon had to control his public French citizens were wary of political propaganda, tired of monarchical power gone too far, and thirsty for a champion of the people. With his ever-present starched uniform and fearless quest for France’s new frontier, Napoleon was the Messiah France needed. But all roads did not lead to Paris for Napoleon and the detours had to be glossed over if he was going to avoid the guillotine. Gros, eager to become the prominent painter he had toiled to become in David’s atelier, was all to eager to please. But Napoleon’s pleasure came at a higher cost than Napoleon bargained for. Jaffa was equal parts the desired gloss Napoleon needed to keep France’s attention tuned to the cultural accomplishments of the campaign and away from the failures, and scathing critique of a general who abandoned his troops in the care of the fearsome Turks they had fought.


[1] The oil on canvas, now housed at the Museé du Louvre, Paris, France, is 17 feet 5.5 inches by 23 feet 7.5 inches in size. It should be noted that the painting is known by a variety of titles: Bonaparte Visiting the Plague House of Jaffa, Napoleon Visiting the Pesthouse at Jaffa, etc. The title used in this project is the most frequently used title and the closet to the most popular variations.

[2] This point was clarified by David O’Brien in “Antoine-Jean Gros in Italy,” Burlington Magazine 137, no. 4, October 1995, 651-660. Prior to the publication of this article scholarship asserted that the painting was commissioned not by Bonaparte but by his wife Josephine. This was the case due to, as noted by Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby in Extremities: Painting Empire in Post-Revolutionary France (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), 66 n9, a letter previously published between Napoleon and his wife in which he chastises her for not getting Gros to agree to a better price. Further more, the O’Brien article reiterates the point that oversight of the commission was handled by Vivant Denon, Director of the Musée Central des Arts at the time. Grigsby also notes that Denon had previously promised the commission to another artist, Guérin, but that Napoleon announced one day in the Louvre that he wanted Gros to execute the work and as such Gros was given the commission. It should be noted, as David O’Brien does in After the Revolution: Antoine-Jean Gros – Painting and Propaganda Under Napoleon (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006), that Denon forged a relationship with Napoleon by “securing a position as a savant in the Egyptian expedition.” (92) O’Brien notes further that when he [Denon] returned to France in 1799, he wrote the immensely popular work: Voyage in Lower and Upper Egypt During the Campaigns of General Bonaparte (1802). Despite this accomplishment, when he received his post as Director it was quite a coup. He was put in charge of not only overseeing works of art commissioned by Bonaaparte but he was also in charge of selection and display on works in the Salon.

[3] Grigsby, 66.

[4] Grigsby 72-73 n34: “Emmanuel Comte de Las Cases: “Fear caused [the disease’s] spread more than anything else. The principal seat of the plague was in the imagination. During the Egyptian campaign all those whose imagination was struck by fear died of it. The surest protection, the most efficacious remedy, was moral courage.” … An Enlightenment model of rationality has been superimposed on the sacred tradition of the healing king…Physical contact with an ill man appears to be rationally justified (if ineffectual), not courageous…Napoleon’s heroism does not reside in his willingness to touch an ill man, who is, after all, not contagious. Rather, his heroism lies in his “moral courage” and his conviction – that is, his capacity to maintain his rationality – in the midst of horror.”

[5] Fear, notes Grigsby, was “palpable and pervasive.” She insists that this is the context with which the viewer must read the painting. The livret that accompanied the painting at the Salon read: “Bonaparte, general in chief of the army of the Orient, at the moment when he touches a pestilential tumor while visiting the hospital at Jaffa…To distance further the frightening idea of a sudden and incurable contagion, he had opened before him some pestilential tumors and touched several. He gave, by this magnanimous devotion, the first example of a genre of courage unknown until then and which has had imitators.” Grigsby, 72 and n30.

[6] See above, n4. Grigsby sees the heroism of Napoleon as an Enlightenment manifestation, not as a Messianic “laying of hands.” In this shift she negates all previous scholarship so as to assert her theories of eroticism and sexualization of figures, which she offers, in the succeeding pages of the chapter. Her failure to see that the ideas do not necessarily have to be mutually exclusive is one weakness in the chapter and in her thesis.

[7] Grigsby’s argument really begins in earnest with her discussion of Gros’ deviation from David (75-top of 76) by changing the male-female binary into a male-binary. This discussion feeds into her reading of the strength and phallic nature of Napoleon and his fellow upright, vertical troops juxtaposed with the nude, ‘reclining’ soldiers on the ground (76-77). Finally, the last piece of the initial argument is the argument that touching a male nude is laced with eroticism. Here (78-82) Grigsby creates a circle of nudity: Napoleon’s nude hand touching the pustule of a nude soldier, and the horizontal body of a nude soldier on the ground connecting the two vertical men.

[8] Grigsby, 71.

[9] David O’Brien, After the Revolution, 97-98.

[10] Nina Burleigh, Mirage: Napoleon’s Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt (New York: Harper Collins; 2007), x-xi.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Stuart Harten, “Rediscovering Ancient Egypt: Bonaparte’s Expedition and the Colonial Ideology of the French Revolution.” In Napoleon in Egypt. Edited by Irene A. Bierman (Reading, UK: Ithaca Press; Los Angeles: Gustave E. von Grunebaum Center for Near Eastern Studies, 2003) 33. “Bonaparte’s goal of setting sail for Egypt in May of 1798 was to establish a military protectorate in the Near East in order to impinge on Britain’s commercial trade routes to India…Egypt was also envisioned as a replacement for Saint-Domingue, the pearl of the French mercantile empire and by far the richest colony in the world. With the collapse of the Atlantic economy and the abolition of slavery during the Revolutionary wars, France increasingly looked to Egypt as a viable colonial alternative to what had been the most dynamic sector of French overseas commerce in the eighteenth-century.”

[14] O’Brien, After the Revolution, 94-95.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid. Also, J. Christopher Herold, Bonaparte in Egypt (New York: Harper and Row, 1962) 274-278; Joseph-Marie Moiret, Memoirs of Napoleon’s Egyptian Expedition, 1798-1801 Edited and translated by Rosemary Brindle (London: Greenhill Books; Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2001) 21-22.

[17] Ibid.

[18] This figure, notes Herold, does not include a bevy of Egyptian and Arab personnel attached to the army. Likewise, it does not include additional French personnel such as civilian commissioners. Herold, 264.

[19] O’Brien, After the Revolution, 97-98.

[20] Ibid.

[21]O’Brien, After the Revolution, 97-98.

[22] O’Brien, After the Revolution, 98.

[23] O’Brien, After the Revolution, 91-92.

[24] O’Brien, After the Revolution, top of 92.

[25] O’Brien, After the Revolution, 90.

[26] O’Brien, After the Revolution, 92. O’Brien quoting Quatremère de Quincy.

[27] O’Brien, After the Revolution, 96.

[28] See n30.

[29] O’Brien, After the Revolution, 96.

[30] O’Brien, After the Revolution, 98.

[31] Grigsby, 74-75.

[32] O’Brien, After the Revolution, 10.

[33] Ibid. “Gros also benefited from his unusual relationship to power. The government repeatedly asked him to treat problematic subjects in which Napoleon’s crimes were concealed and his failures construed as moral triumphs. Gros responded by combining the requisite, idealized vision of Napoleon with an astonishingly graphic depiction of the violence, suffering, and death that resulted from the French leader’s actions. It is especially this unexpected combination of elements that saved Gros’ work from lapsing into arid propaganda and that continues to fascinate viewers.”

[34] Ibid.

[35] Said’s discussion of Egypt: Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1978) 79-88.

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Body As Weapon: The Mediated Body of the Suicide Bomber

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]

Rabih Mroue in a still from Three Posters, Elias Khoury and Rabih Mroue, September 2000

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]

Stills from Martyr Videos

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.

Stills from Martyr Videos of 9/11 Hijackers: Top Left: Ahmed Alhaznawi (April 2002); Top Right: Abdulaziz Alomari (September 2002); Center: Saeed Alghamdi (September 2003); Bottom Left: Wail Alshehri (September 2006); Bottom Right: Hamza Alghamdi (September 2006)

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.

Aftermath of a Suicide Bombing in Tel Aviv

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.

Aftermath of a Suicide Bombing in Tel Aviv

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 in Nablus, Palestine

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.

Martyr Posters in Ashrafiyeh, Palestine of Pierre Gemayel, assassinated in late 2007, a member of the Phalange or Kataeb Party.

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.

Homebound, Mona Hatoum, 1999. Wood, stainless steel, electric wire, light bulbs, dimmer unit, amplifier, and two speakers. Table dimensions: 77 x 198 73.5 cm

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.

Homebound, alternate view, Mona Hatoum, 1999.

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.

Memorial to 418 Palestinian Villages Which Were Destroyed, Depopulated, and Occupied by Israel in 1948, Emily Jacir, 2001. Refugee tent and embroidery thread, 138" x 115" x 96"

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 Reign of Terror, "Terrorism is not indexed in Arabic dictionaries" Ghada Amer, 2005. Paper and plastic serveware and plastic dining tray.

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:

http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/ghada_amer/.

 

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.”

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Filed under Culture, Middle East, Politics

Japan and America’s Continued Othering of the East

I’m honored to host a guest blog from Alex Hunter (@robotbabybunnie on Twitter). Alex is from Chicago and has an M.A. in theology. Her undergraduate studies were in history, and her concentration within her M.A. is also one of the history of Christianity. In addition to studying history she also frequently studies and participates in inter-religious dialogue and attributes her desire to learn more about the division between definitions of sacred and profane to the environment in which she grew up. She enjoys the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore and Rumi. In an ideal world, she believes, people would know the difference between Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal.

This may be an emotional appeal. But perhaps emotional appeals are what are needed to engage in dialogue regarding statistics and truth and come into a spirit of reconciliation.

In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into action Executive Order 9066. While the language of this documentation did not specifically target Japanese Americans and Japanese nationals living in America, it did allow in the wake of the attacks on Pearl Harbor for any area that was deemed to be of military necessity to be assigned for the purposes of use for and by the military. In the end, it allowed for the relocation and internment of 120,000 persons of Japanese descent. Meaning I, who have 25% Japanese ancestry (and consider myself biracial), would have been in one of the many camps established during the duration of World War II. This was not a death camp. But it was kinda hellish, you have to admit. People gave up their entire livelihoods at a moments’ notice, and after the war, relocated away from their original homes with nearly nothing. Concentration camps of the Nazi variety are not comparable to what the Asian-American population experienced during this time. But Japanese-Americans were denied citizenship despite having one of the most decorated units in the history of the United States armed forces, the 442nd Infantry.  All this, and even so, even after the war in Europe had been surrendered, America dropped the bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. 160,000-246,000 people are estimated to have died, and the effects of the radiation have lasted through the generations, creating mental and physical defects and for some time devastating the environment.

As someone born in 1982, I avoided this affliction of Yellow Peril that affected my grandparents’ generation. My grandfather was stationed in Japan as an army officer, where he met my grandmother. They had my father, got married, and returned to the States. My generation has been one of reconnecting with our roots and remembering that yes, our great-grandparents spoke another language. But we all did at one point.

So today I’m greatly grieved that despite the fact that we should be focusing our attention on the devastation of a nation in light of a natural disaster, instead of reaching out as so many people did in solidarity with us in our time of national need only ten years ago, we instead invoke a “karmic retribution” ideal in social media regarding the tragedy that Japan faces. It’s sickening. Are we really so ready to make a joke at the expense of others instead of engaging our more socially conscious selves? This was not the result of a military attack; this is a natural disaster. We as Americans know in light of previous devastating natural disasters that timely response and compassion can be the difference between a city struggling to rise above despite all odds, and a city that thrives and triumphs. Some people lost their home and their livelihoods. So we have to pay .37 more cents for gas. Funny how the world works. By the way? Gas prices can go down. Lives are a bit more difficult to build.

Are we supposed to forget the past? Well hell no. As a historian, with an M.A. in theology, I can tell you quite succinctly that anyone who forgets the past is doomed to repeat it.

But imagine this: we are now living in an age where an entire religious or ethnic group, depending on however you choose to categorize them, can be summarily dismissed as terrorists despite misinformation and complete ignorance as to what is occurring on a daily basis in the lives of people that we have NOT, mind you, chosen to strip of civil rights this time around. Every generation has an opportunity to choose to either create a scapegoat out of fear, or create relationships out of love. An idea of “other” is only such as we are ignorant of the ways we actually are asked to be present to each other. This isn’t some hippie crap that I pulled out of my ass, people! This is about subjugating the sensational in preference of the humane. This is about knowing that when you see someone’s village on fire or being covered in a wave on the news, that’s NOT retribution for some past deed. That is someone in need of HELP. When a person is trying to live their life at no expense to yours, that is someone who could be YOU.

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Filed under Culture, Politics, US

TheChickAbides, Single Moms, and Women’s History Month

All this month I will be posting guest blogs about Women’s History Month. Our first guest blogger is the incomparable @TheChickAbides on Twitter and The Chick Abides. Chardon Murray is a political junkie, blogger, and researcher. She’s been a human and civil rights activist for over a decade, as well as working in broadcast media, government, and academia.  She lives with her childhood sweetheart and young daughter in a coastal town in North Carolina.

Mike Huckabee

“Most single moms are very poor, uneducated, can’t get a job and if it weren’t for government assistance, their kids would be starving to death and never have health care. And that’s the story that we’re not seeing, and it’s unfortunate that we glorify and glamorize the idea of out of children wedlock.[sic]”     –Former Gov. Mike Huckabee

I was 25 years old when it became clear to me that my (now ex) husband didn’t have the maturity, desire, or will to fight his severe drug addiction.  But it was the night he called me, high as a kite, and threatened to rape and murder me in front of our daughter that my decision was made for me.  I didn’t want my daughter to grow up thinking that that’s the way women are supposed to be treated, so I became a single mom.

Even so, it was an agonizing decision.  Not because of my ex-husband–his addiction and abuse had long since killed any positive emotion I had toward him–but because I was terrified of the prospect of becoming a single mother.  Growing up in the Bible Belt, I had been socialized since I was very young that women were incapable of raising a child on their own.  Becoming a single mother was not an easy decision to make, even if the alternative meant a lifetime of pain, abuse, misery, and neglect.

There were sacrifices:  I dropped out of grad school to take a job working in the State Legislature.  Unable to find affordable childcare, my parents and I got up early and made the 4 hour round-trip drive several times a week.

I worked so I didn’t have to suckle the government’s welfare teat.  I sacrificed so that I could provide a good life for her.  Of course, I relied heavily on my amazing family.  Their support was invaluable, and it has made us extremely close as a family.  My daughter has a relationship with them she might not have otherwise had, and my little girl and I are incredibly close.  We are survivors, we are strong women, and we did it together.

In the meantime, my ex-husband spent his inheritance, wound up in jail, and high-tailed it back home, 2000 miles away, without so much as kissing his daughter goodbye.  Responsibility was not his strong suit; neither was paying his child support.  (He has since had his parental rights terminated.)

Life as a single mother was hard, but not because of the sacrifices we made.  It was hard because of the judgments.

This is a sad image of the poor, unhappy, starving child of a single mother. Bless her heart.

When I told people about my situation, some were enormously supportive.  Others, not so much.  One of my fellow grad assistants, upon hearing of my impending divorce, mused, “Oh, that’s so sad! A child should never grow up without their father.”  One of my closest friends (at the time) told me, “I’m a Christian, I don’t believe in divorce.  You’re making a mistake.  He’s obviously crying out for help.  You made vows.  That child needs her father.”

Heh.  I don’t know about you, but when your “cry for help” involves threatening rape and murder in front of a toddler, which you blame on the fact you were high as soon as you got out from your 7th stint in rehab, I’d say you’re doing it wrong.

You see, in the Bible belt, it’s better for a child to have an abusive, manipulative, drug addicted father and a scared, lonely, beaten down mother than it is to have a hardworking, supportive, loving SINGLE mother.

People like Mike Huckabee don’t care that my ex-husband was abusive.  They don’t care that my daughter was an angry, impatient toddler prone to fits of rage which mirrored the temper tantrums her father threw…but suddenly transformed into a sweet, reasonable, loving child with no hint of her former violence once he was out of the picture.  All that matters to them is that I CHOSE to become a worthless, stupid, incapable single mother who was going to let my child starve…all the while giving a bad example to every female I came into contact with.

Mike Huckabee’s quote was wrong on so many levels.  “Most” Single Mothers are NOT everything he claims.  A Census report from 2009 found that 80% of custodial single mothers are employed and only 4.3% of ALL single parent families (including single fathers) are recipients of Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF).

I think Melissa Harris-Perry, Ph.D., said it best: “These data show that although they are more often poor, most single mothers work despite the obvious difficulties of working while raising children without a spouse. They further show that our government actually does very little to support these women. These moms are hardly cash-sucking drains on national or state economies. Many of these women and their children could use more support, not less.”

Huckabee needs to shut his big, uninformed pie-hole.  Making the ridiculous assumption that all single mothers are poor, uneducated, and suckling the federal teat is both incorrect and insulting.  Single mothers are a favorite whipping-boy of the Christian Right, and this habit of vilifying these women has horrifying consequences.

This AWESOME pic was used without permission (sorry!) from a BadAssFemmes.Blogspot.com post in honor of HER single mother!

I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that there are scores of women who are making the choice to stay in a horrible relationship because of their fears of how they’ll be treated as a single mother, and are unsure as to whether they’ll be able to cope.  To those women, I want to tell you that you don’t have to put up with misery and pain just to appease the pious.

Being a single mother made me a better woman, a better mother, and a better partner. (see post script below)  I was socialized my entire life to believe that, as a woman, I couldn’t survive without a man, much less provide a good life for my daughter.  I proved myself wrong, and I proved the Mike Huckabees of the world wrong.  With a lot of sacrifice, a LOT of help from friends and family, I did just fine.

So ladies, they’re WRONG.  For those of you who have been abandoned by the man who was supposed to help you provide for your child, know that you CAN do it.  For those of you who are in horrible situations:  You CAN get out.  You CAN raise your child on your own.  I won’t lie, it will be tough, but if you’re tough enough to survive pain, misery, addiction, infidelity, and/or abuse, you’re tough enough for this!

Today, on International Women’s Day, of all days, know that you are strong, you are capable, and you will overcome.  You can do this…not in spite of the fact that you’re a woman, but BECAUSE you’re a woman.  You go girl!


Required Reading: Melissa Harris-Perry: Mike Huckabee: Wrong on Single Mothers

Read ACTUAL Census Data Here (instead of relying on a subjective assertion by people like Huckabee): http://www.census.gov/prod/2010pubs/p60-238.pdf


Post Script: A year after my marriage ended, I reconnected with my childhood sweetheart, and I was able to rediscover what it meant to be in a loving relationship of mutual respect–without the addiction, the neglect, the violence.  @HarrisonMurray came into our lives and immediately became the father my daughter never had, but that I always wanted for her.  She was very young, and has no memory of her biological father.  @HarrisonMurray and I will celebrate our marriage anniversary next month, and should be able to afford to finish adoption proceedings sometime this year.

Raising a child with the love and support of a partner is, of course, much easier than doing it alone…but raising a child under violence, neglect, infidelity, anger, and/or addiction is MUCH more difficult than doing it alone.  All the time wasted in a bad relationship with a bad partner and a bad parent could be time spent improving yourself, your family, and creating relationships with friends, family, and partners that aren’t dysfunctional.

I’m thankful for Glenn and Leanne, my amazing parents who NEVER let me give up or believe that I was not good enough, my wonderful loving husband Harrison, and my absolutely fantastic daughter.  The true joy and wonder of those relationships would never have been fully realized had I chosen NOT to be a single mother.


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