Tag Archives: race

Empathy; Rankine; Citizen

Elizabeth A. Povinelli. 2008. “The Child in the Broom Closet: States of Killing and Letting Die.” South Atlantic Quarterly. pp: 509-530. Here are some quick reading notes for the article I just found. They’re by Eric A. Stanley, a postdoctoral fellow in the Dept of Communication and Critical Gender Studies at UCSD.
Also worth looking at: Talal Asad’s 2009 lecture “Reflections on the Origins of Human Rights” at the Berkley Center. Asad discusses how empathy “can be a mode of manipulating others. What Lerner calls ’empathy,’ Shakespeare calls ‘Iago’.”“entering pleasurably into the pain of the other.”

A note in Claudia Rankine’s Citizen – An American Lyric reminded me of comments by E. Povinelli. In Citizen, among other incidents, Rankine writes about Mark Duggan, a Black man shot down in 2011 by Scotland Yard. Riots ensue in Hackney. Here is Rankine discussing the issue with another writer she has met at a house party in London:

Will you write about Duggan? the man wants to know. Why don’t you? you ask. Me? he asks, looking slightly irritated.

How difficult is it for one body to feel the injustice wheeled at another? Are the tensions, the recognitions, the disappointments, and the failures that exploded in the riots too foreign?

Rankine goes on to observe:

And though in this man’s body, the man made of English sky, grief exists for Duggan as a black man gunned down, there is not the urgency brought on by an overflow of compromises, deaths, and tempers specific to a profile work to and gone to sleep each day.

I mentioned in this post how some of the responses to Garner’s murder were oriented towards people for whom racism is largely a theoretical matter, that is, those who (therefore) lack the sense of urgency that Rankine discusses here. What struck me reading Rankine was the irritation of the man that she notes, when she asks why he doesn’t write about it. Why is he irritated? Where does he imagine himself to be located in relation to Duggan? Does he feel this is not a subject proper to him because he is neither Black nor a racist, that this, in other words, is a dialogue (for violence too is communication) between racist whites and people of color in which he, the empathizing liberal, has no part?

But, empathy as Povinelli and Asad separately have discussed, re-institutes the division between the self and the other that the empathizing liberal claims to be overcoming. “Empathy asks us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. What would it be like to be them?…And yet, this very act—this ethical gesture—initiates a separation between you and me.” (Povinelli 2008: 520). For, if one takes seriously that identities are co-constituted, then one is already located inside the dialogue–not beyond it. So, for instance, if whiteness and Blackness are co-constructed — one cannot have meaning without the other; being white exists only in relation to that which is not white: Blackness and vice versa — then the empathizing liberal is not beyond or outside of that conversation. The “man made of English sky” is co-constituted through and with Duggan.

Racism is not just something racist whites do to people of color. It is a systemic, structural system in which the distance the empathizing liberal feels to the subject matter of race or the way in which racism and race function largely as a theoretical matter for some — is a produced effect. It doesn’t just happen. A lot of work goes into co-constituting worlds in which so much distance can exist among people moving in the same sphere:

The distance between you and him is thrown in to relief: bodies moving thorugh the same life differently. –Rankine

Tagged , , , , , ,

Body Cameras & the White Gaze

In a sense the problem is even worse: to the extent that there is a racist organization and disposition of the visible, it will work to circumscribe what qualifies as visual evidence, such that it is in some cases impossible to establish the ‘truth’ of racist brutality through recourse to visual evidence. (Butler 1993: 17).
Even before the latest episode of Serial was aired in which white reporter Sarah Koenig just can’t quite believe Adnan’s mother, Jay Caspian Kang had written about white reporter privilege:
“I am still disturbed by the thought of Koenig stomping around communities that she clearly does not understand, digging up small, generally inconsequential details about the people inside of them, and subjecting it all to that inimitable “This American Life” process of tirelessly, and sometimes gleefully, expressing her neuroses over what she has found.”
On techno-fetish and questions of racism and who can be believed in the context of the “war on terror,” see my pieces, here and here.
“We revolt simply because for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.” -Frantz Fanon

The discussion about body cameras is taking off. Some liberals have responded to the criticism of techno-fetishism (see my prior post) by claiming that without the camera in Eric Garner’s case, we would be reduced to “unreliable” witness testimony and confusion — as in the Michael Brown case. Let’s unpack this a little.

The video footage made ZERO difference to getting legal justice for Eric Garner’s family. So, for Garner’s family, the footage meant nothing. For African-American communities too, the ruthlessness, racism and rank injustice of the police is not news. For segments of the Muslim community that have been subject to heavy surveillance, this is not news. In fact, I imagine this is not news to significant segments of communities of color who have had first-hand experiences with the police. So, really, when you talk about how “at least” this time Garner’s murder was videotaped so it can be proven, what you really mean is that it can be proven to the white subject, to those people for whom the racism of the police is largely a theoretical matter. That is the implicit subject towards whom you are oriented. And this subject, you say, can now judge for himself; he doesn’t need to rely on the “unreliable testimony” of witnesses. But, if you are a liberal, you know well enough that “unreliable testimony” here is code for testimony given by Black people. After all, the only testimony that actually mattered in both cases was that of the white cop. So, what you are really saying is let’s continue to invest in the racism that got Garner and Brown killed in the first place by continuing to legitimize the white gaze as the site of truth production.

I know this in the context of drone attacks. I have written about it a little here. It’s never enough for Iraqis or Afghans or Pakistanis to say that they are being killed, that their brother or sister or mother or father were killed by American bombs or American empire; it must always be supplemented by the voice/testimony/witnessing of the western journalist, or the voices of officials within the US government or western humanitarians. Those are the sites of production. It’s never the stories centered on people who have survived or families of the dead that make the front page; the big stories are the ones where officials, or some form of westerner leaks internal information. It’s as if we can see the boy with a glass eye and the prosthetic legs, but we refuse to believe his story until someone humanitarian lawyer or some official says, yes, we sometimes bomb young boys too. Journalists — white and otherwise — who are reasonably intelligent know this and discuss it. As one friend/reporter said to me last night expressing the dismal situation of magazine journalism in which the main character must always be white or western. “You have to ask yourself, if this story were a movie what role is Matt Damon going to play?” And that role, better be at the center of your story. Many of us have had stories killed for failing to abide by that rule. This is not a problem solely in the conservative media. This is a problem of the liberal media. This is even a problem of the most visible media on the liberal to left political spectrum.

So – I, for one, am absolutely sick of this shit.

It is not the duty of periled communities to make you the white/westerner believe. It’s not the duty of these communities to continue to be subjected to the white gaze so you can make your crap judgments at your own leisure. Wake the fuck up and confront your own racism. If you approach every testimony by people of color with suspicion, even as the pattern of racism is written in blood, you’re a racist. And, if you are juxtaposing the “clarity” of the Garner case due to the video as against the “confusion” of the Brown case due to the “unreliable testimony,” you’re a racist. Both of these cases are equally clear and are part of a pattern of racism. To sever the Garner case from Brown’s shooting or Travyon Martin’s or hundreds of other cases is to operate on racist assumptions that only things which can be witnessed by you — the white subject — are clear. You are making a highly racially charged argument that relies implicitly on a series of racist propositions in order to make it make sense.

Finally, you might want to ask yourself why it is that you are so hung up on body cameras, why it is that attempts to point out that body cameras won’t resolve structural racism, lead you to debate the issue of body cameras rather than think, discuss and organize against racism.

Tagged , , , , ,

We Can’t Breathe

After the injustices in Ferguson, a grand jury in New York piled it on by clearing the cop who put Eric Garner in a chokehold and killed him. Garner said “I can’t breathe!”  11 times. If the liberals of Northeast felt quietly smug about the situation in Ferguson, the failure to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the cop in question, should make it clear that when it comes to being Black in America, there is no safe space.

The sad, frustrating and perhaps devastating thing about the killing of Eric Garner is that it was all caught on video. It exposes why the campaign to put cameras on cops is not going to work. Its proponents misunderstand the issue as one of insufficient visual surveillance of the police. The actual issue is racism so deeply ingrained that it transforms the bodies of Black men and boys into “monsters” or, in the international register, the bodies of Muslim men and boys into terrorists. The Left needs to get over its techno-fetish. Visual surveillance by putting cameras-on-cops (or drone surveillance for human rights abuses or whatever) is neither here nor there when racism and empire have outposts in our heads.

Videos and images do not speak for themselves. After all, there was also a video of the beating of Rodney King. In an interesting deconstruction of what happened at that trial, Judith Butler has written about the contesting reads of the video: one that saw a man being beaten and one, the jury, who saw a man who was threatening the police:

From these two interpretations, emerges, then, a contest within a visual field, a crisis in the certainty of what is visible, one that is produced through the saturation and schematization of that field with the inverted projections of white paranoia. The visual representation of the black male body being beaten on the street by the policemen and their batons was taken up by the racist interpretive framework to construe King as the agent  of violence…(1993:16).


In a sense the problem is even worse: to the extent that there is a racist organization and disposition of the visible, it will work to circumscribe what qualifies as visual evidence, such that it is in some cases impossible to establish the ‘truth’ of racist brutality through recourse to visual evidence. (1993: 17).

That, in sum, is the difficulty of the problem: Racism conditions what we see.

Body cameras and increased surveillance of already surveilled communities. Streets, stoops and public space, particularly in poorer communities, is where a lot of life is lived. Whereas rich people can buy private space, construct gated communities and generally privatize their activities away from the surveillance of the state, activities from the mundane to the harmless but illegal, are often conducted publicly within poorer communities. Thus, structural economic inequality plays out in how space is lived, segmented and surveilled. Body cameras may surveil the police, but they will also increase the reams of surveillance data about these already heavily policed/surveilled communities — which is likely to render them subject to yet more policing. See how that cycle works?

The problem is structural racism and the maintenance of white supremacy, domestically and internationally. The problem is we can’t breathe.

Tagged ,

Surveillance, Late Liberalism & Race(ism)

If, as scholars have suggested, surveillance is no longer about speech (content) but about circulation (form), then the question “Can the subaltern speak?” is superseded by: how does the subaltern circulate? Discussing the new social networking app “Yo”, Robin James, draws on Jodi Dean’s notion of communicative capitalism to discuss how an emerging politics may be about circulation:

Speech, understood as the transmission of meaning, that might be relatively obsolete these days. But circulation might have its own politics, its own political possibilities. In fact, I would argue that most contemporary concerns about, say, data surveillance, these are actually contests over the politics of circulation, not the politics of speech. (Or, maybe more accurately, they’re primarily about circulation, secondarily about speech.)

(To be fair to Spivak, if I recall correctly, the essay was somewhat about the strategic circulation of the “subaltern” and not about recovering an authentic “subaltern” voice or speech.)

“Big data” has been critical to this project. In late liberalism, the goal of surveillance, as some scholars (Robin James, Jasbir Puar, among others) are pointing out, is calibration: to establish patterns of normalcy and weed out outliers. So, the US government’s claim that it’s not “listening” to us is somewhat correct. The point isn’t to listen to speech so much as it is to establish big data sets for the project of calibration. And, as with NSA surveillance, so with the drone wars: The former NSA director has stated “we kill based on metadata.” Thus, this calibration idea also underlies the imperial global policing regime, which is about constant and never-ending policing to continue calibration. Although we refer to drone attacks as “war” loosely, I think this project is conceptually different from “war.”

Going back to Spivak’s essay, the Subaltern Studies School was dealing with the silence of the archives — the figures written out of history. Now, we are dealing in a sense, with a different problem: an enormous archive. We’ve gone from questions about repression/silence/exclusion to questions about appropriation/manipulation/circulation.

This is, I think, partly a result of the success of humanitarian regimes to some extent, that is, the insistence that we are all human means that the ostensible logic of categories of killing must become ever more fine-grained and therefore, we must all get “heard”/surveilled. So, for instance, while the old orientalist trope about “wild tribesmen” is still around, the strongest argument on the (neo)liberal side is not that the tribesmen are all savage, but rather that the imperial state is conducting a “surgical” campaign to weed out the “militants” –i.e. calibration and policing which unlike war, are never-ending and pre-emptive projects.

This is partly what explains the sudden upsurge of interest in surveillance among white, upper-middle class Americans, those classes and groups of people who have historically been considered (and considered themselves) beyond the scope of activities and actions the government usually reserves for the marginalized. Thus, it was not the surveillance of Muslims, or the AP breakthrough reports on that topic, that spurred interest. It was Edward Snowden’s revelations of the systemic, widespread and mass nature of the surveillance that turned it into an issue. The NSA is surveilling everyone where everyone is code for white, middle-class America. In response, organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have made arguments that effectively seek to put into motion the old, race-based ideologies to argue against surveillance. Consider this article on their website titled “Tea Party, Taxes and Why the Original Patriots Would’ve Revolted Against the Surveillance State” about how the “founding fathers” would not have stood for this. The EFF mobilizes a whitewashed version of American history to argue that to ‘true’ American patriotism is being like the founding fathers — who would have opposed surveillance, a story that implicitly marks American origins and its founders as pure, beacons of the right and true and ethical. That leads one to wonder where the rest of us – who are subjects of racial profiling – might find solidarity, since EFF’s rhetoric is not meant for us.

For, if racism seems to disappear overtly, it has nonetheless become a standing procedure of governance, as Sherene Razack has argued. In her book, Casting Out: The Eviction of Muslims from Western Law and Politics, she writes that when racism “is systematized and attached to a project of accumulation, it loses its standing as a prejudice and becomes instead an organizing principle.” (9)

Those are my notes for now.

Tagged , , ,

Postscript: The Present through a PRISM

See also guest post by Jesse Stavis. He has also published an article about what happened at the Progressive here.

Since I posted about our engagement with NSA recruiters who were visiting the campus at the Univ of

Good Muslim anyone? (Internal flap of NSA brochure)

Good Muslim anyone? (Internal flap of NSA brochure)

Wisconsin, I’ve been inundated with hundreds upon hundreds of tweets, emails and messages from people, both Americans, but also folks from Germany, the UK, France, Pakistan and elsewhere. They have been overwhelmingly positive, heartfelt messages (with a few nastier comments thrown in, but I imagine that is par for the course). I’ve tried my best to keep up and respond to, and/or acknowledge the messages in some way, but once again: Thank you for all of your messages of support.

It has been inspiring for us to hear from all of you!

When we posed our questions to the NSA recruiters, we did not expect to go viral. But some time soon after tweeting out my post, my blog crashed. So did the blog PrivacySOS (follow @onekade!) who had posted about it. By next afternoon, Huffpo had picked it up. Numerous blogs, local sites and news sites also reported the story including: Business InsiderThe Guardian, Firedoglake, Sueddeutsche Zeitung (the largest German-language daily in Germany), WORT Radio, NBC15 (Wisconsin’s local channel which also features Jesse Stavis @tolstoved. Means one who studies Tolstoy), one of the other students who spoke), WeAct Radio, Isthmus, Wisconsin ReporterWonkette, ActivistPost, Daily KosTruthdig and RT America here and here (see below for one of the videos), among others. There have been some Youtube videos posted as well.

I’ve made the audio downloadable as per several requests.

Here, I want to add some things I left out in my initial post (because I wasn’t expecting so many people to read it), make some corrections, and finally make some notes on a few things I thought were interesting:

1. The recruiters in question were  seasoned employees of the NSA, not newbies. They told us that together, they had 55 years of experience with the NSA. The female recruiter worked on South Asia and implied that she was in a senior position in that office. That was the impression others I’ve spoken with also had. The male recruiter worked on China and Korea.

2. Anybody can be an “adversary.” That means foreign governments, allies, and American citizens. Anyone can become an adversary at any time as far as the American government is concerned. That means OWS anarchists, socialists, activists and leftists of various stripes, environmentalists or just stupid kids. That means Anwar al-Awlaki because his opinions were reprehensible, or his teenage son –also an American citizen– who was killed in a drone attack just because, or Tarek Mehanna, or Fahad Hashmi, or the Muslim Students’ Association, or Muslims generally, or me or you. As Atlantic Wire reported last month,

And the NSA would never abuse its awesome surveillance power, right? Wrong. In 2008, NSA workers told ABC News that they routinely eavesdropped on phone sex between troops serving overseas and their loved ones in America. They listened in on both satellite phone calls and calls from the phone banks in Iraq’s Green Zone where soldiers call home. Former Navy Arab linguist, David Murfee Faulk described how a coworker would say, “Hey, check this out… there’s good phone sex or there’s some pillow talk, pull up this call, it’s really funny, go check it out.” Faulk explained they would gossip about the best calls during breaks. “It would be some colonel making pillow talk and we would say, ‘Wow, this was crazy.'”

In a word: creepy. But, what’s more worrisome to me than the eavesdropping on the pillow talk of American troops is the differential burden that the surveillance state levies on the marginalized. For example, it is not accidental that the names on my little list above are largely Muslim. When bureaucrats or the government or the police are managing large populations, they narrow down categories of presumed suspects through racial profiling. That is why stop-and-frisk disproportionately

Sent to me by dminkler.com

Sent to me by dminkler.com

affects African-Americans and Latinos. And, it’s the same reason why –when hunting for ‘terrorists’– American security forces obsess over Islam, and the mainstream media tends to present Muslims as the face of terror even though white hate groups are on the rise. In fact in 2009, conservatives so heavily criticized the Department of Homeland Security when it “reported that white supremacy is the US’s biggest threat for domestic terror” (ThinkProgress) that Janet Napolitano ended up withdrawing its report.

So, there’s a racial politics to the surveillance state. The marginalized, poor and non-white are likely to bear the brunt of the state’s violence. But, in the end, it affects the entire social space. First of all, it has a chilling effect on dissent, particularly in these communities.

Secondly, for the police or the FBI or the NSA or the drones to come for some of us requires that the rest of us agree or at least, remain silent. I think that silence is produced: through the jingoism of television whether it’s the evening news or shows like NCIS, 24, or Homeland as well as through attacks on education, research and dissent. Finally, there are all the smaller ways of disciplining people into silence, things we even do to each other. You are told it’s rude to ask questions. This is not the right time. This is not the right space. Those are not the right people. Shut up. Shut up. SHUT UP.

That kind of social space kills independent thought. It produces thinking that is vehemently opposed to asking questions of NSA recruiters and by extension, the state. Such thinking is more angered by the whistle-blowing than what it reveals. To paraphrase a dead French guy badly, the surveillance state has to change people/populations into the kind of group that basically remains silent. That is what is needed first in order to make the unthinkable possible and finally, normal.

This is why, when they come for some of us, they actually come for all of us.

Therefore, a critical response can only succeed if it is able to understand the entire structure as a whole, that is, as long as we continue to draw distinctions between people that ought to be surveilled and those that should not be surveilled, we will fail. The point –and the real test– is learning to stand in solidarity with people who are not like you or me or us.

3. “The globe is our playground.” A little nugget of honesty about the worldview of the intelligence and military community.

4. They are just doing their jobs. I’m not sure why this is a defense. It didn’t work at Nuremberg. And, it shouldn’t work now. This is not to compare what is happening now as somehow equal to or better or worse than the German holocaust, but to underscore a philosophical point Hannah Arendt made about the nature of modern evil: It’s banal. That means it hasn’t got a pitchfork or horns sprouting out of its head. Rather, it is thousands of ordinary people just doing their jobs.

The question of whether they are “good” people and love their families or “bad” people is irrelevant here. The routinization of such work into small tasks turns the victims of that work into an

Sent to me by dminkler.com

Sent to me by dminkler.com

abstraction or a mathematical problem for the people-just-doing-their-jobs. (Thanks to a commenter at the Guardian, the prior link is to a discussion of how the NSA reconfigures issues into an abstract mathematical problem that is then handed over to its mathematicians –none of whom actually know the real-world ‘problem’ that they are working on or to what end their mathematical solutions will be applied. For another instance, take the discussion of drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. In the mainstream media, it is a discussion that lacks imagination and has been reduced to counting up the dead and categorizing them as “civilian” or “militant” –effectively turning it into a numbers problem: are we killing more of the “bad” ones than the “good” ones or vice versa? Needless to say, this is a terrible, even a horrifying kind of question.)

So, some people go on just doing their jobs and other people go on not asking questions for fear of appearing rude (Jesse talks about how the high school teacher sitting next to him during the session kept muttering about our ‘rudeness’), enraged, irrational, naive. This is how, together, we build monsters.

What has struck me about the anti-war movement in America in these last few years –perhaps it is different elsewhere and perhaps it was different before– is generally how polite it has been. How ironic to chant, “Whose streets! Our streets!” while politely walking into pens and free speech zones. How strange to demand an end to the war while politely conceding to the demands of the NYPD that protesters not use Central Park, that they only march on these streets and not those streets so that order can be maintained, so that things can carry on as if there were no protest at all. I am not arguing for blind rage, but I think anger –articulate, politically engaged, critically minded anger that holds the line– can be a virtue in these times.

5. Edward Snowden should’ve stuck it out instead of “running away.” This is interesting to me because I think this speaks to a kind of Christian imaginary: the hero as martyr, like Jesus, who should hang on the cross. That is apparently what will redeem the worth of these revelations. I am not saying that the people who make this claim are Christian; I am only observing that long after secularization, forms of Christian thought and habit hang around, and I think this is one of them. It is a very specific kind of typology for a hero, and one that only makes sense in a context where people (whether they be actually Christians or Muslims or Hindus or Jews or atheists or whatever) are habituated to the idea of Jesus’ martyrdom for our redemption. It’s out there in the social space. Hell, think about the end of Harry Potter.

6. To the people telling me to grow up, I’m 5 ft 1.75 inches, and I’m pretty sure I’m not growing any taller. And to those wondering if I’m a “foreigner,”  well, if I am one, so are you. I do get how my name trips up your black-and-white world though. If it helps, you can call me Maddie.

Some links I thought were worth sharing:

Prism Break

Restore the Fourth

Mass Surveillance in America: A Timeline

Let’s not forget about the corporations who surveil us too.

PRISM by the numbers

Security Data-Mining and Other Forms of Witchcraft 

Update: RT America video from the program “Breaking the Set”

Finally, once again thank you so much for your messages. It has been inspiring for us.


Tagged , , , , ,

Reporting Drones: Consent, Complicity & Racialized Media

Here are my quick observations (3 of them) on some of the articles that have come out in the last few days on drones. These are, I stress, musings/thoughts that I am working out/ notes to myself. So, if you read them, please take them as such–and not my final word.

1. Mark Mazzetti How a Single Spy Helped Turn Pakistan Against the United States (on Raymond Davis) Apr 14.2013

The interesting point about this article is it depicts, quite clearly, how little control the State Department has in trying to establish relationships in Pakistan. Shorter CIA to State: STFU. Why that’s relevant is below this quote:

Munter saw some value to the drone program but was skeptical about the long-term benefits…He would learn soon enough that his views about the drone program ultimately mattered little. In the Obama administration, when it came to questions about war and peace in Pakistan, it was what the C.I.A. believed that really counted.

Munter said he believed that the C.I.A. was being reckless and that his position as ambassador was becoming untenable. His relationship with the C.I.A. station chief in Islamabad, already strained because of their disagreements over the handling of the Davis case, deteriorated even further when Munter demanded that the C.I.A. give him the chance to call off specific missile strikes. During one screaming match between the two men, Munter tried to make sure the station chief knew who was in charge, only to be reminded of who really held the power in Pakistan.

“You’re not the ambassador!” Munter shouted.

“You’re right, and I don’t want to be the ambassador,” the station chief replied.

This turf battle spread to Washington, and a month after Bin Laden was killed, President Obama’s top advisers were arguing in a National Security Council meeting over who really was in charge in Pakistan. At the June 2011 meeting, Munter, who participated via secure video link, began making his case that he should have veto power over specific drone strikes.

Panetta cut Munter off, telling him that the C.I.A. had the authority to do what it wanted in Pakistan. It didn’t need to get the ambassador’s approval for anything.

“I don’t work for you,” Panetta told Munter, according to several people at the meeting.

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to Munter’s defense. She turned to Panetta and told him that he was wrong to assume he could steamroll the ambassador and launch strikes against his approval.

“No, Hillary,” Panetta said, “it’s you who are flat wrong.”

There was a stunned silence,…

There are a series of articles and news reports coming out now elaborating on the complicity between segments of the Pakistani state and the US. For example:

Nic Robertson Musharraf Admits Secret Deal with US on Drone Strikes Apr 12.2013

These reports are of import because there has long been the question of whether the Pakistani state has given consent to the US for drone bombing. First, as the article above clearly shows, the State Department doesn’t even have control of its own agenda, never mind Pakistan’s elected government when it comes to the machinations of the security establishment in the US. In Pakistan, (as in the US), the question of the state must be disaggregated into its various parts. The military, which is by far the strongest arm of the Pakistani state, has been funded, backed, armed and encouraged by the US. That has been the case for decades so much so that the only Pakistani military coup that wasn’t backed by the US was Musharraf. That changed after 9.11.

The structure of the Pakistani state is, therefore, thoroughly conditioned by the arrangements that have existed between the American and Pakistani security establishments. The Pakistani army has its own interests, independent of the US, but however fraught that relationship is, its continuance has been the overriding concern for much of Pakistan’s history.

To put it baldly, the US has spent billions bribing the Pakistani security establishment and thus fundamentally re-structuring the Pakistani state to the detriment of Pakistanis. In that context, talking about “consent” of one allegedly independent state to another, is laughable. These conditions structure the way drone attacks happen and who bears the responsibility. Darryl Li made this point with respect to US secret prisons in other countries.

Therefore contrary to the discussion of consent given, the discussion that ought to be had is about consent bought: from whom and to what effects. The American government dispenses with its responsibility and its crimes, displacing them onto other states. That does not, of course, mean that those governments are not complicit or war criminals. But, it does mean a discussion that is much closer to the character of the actually, existing relationships between the US and other countries rather than the pretense that we are simply dealing with independent, container states.

2. Mark Mazzetti A Secret Deal on Drones Sealed in Blood (on Nek Mohammed) Apr 6, 2013

The deal, a month after a blistering internal report about abuses in the C.I.A.’s network of secret prisons, paved the way for the C.I.A. to change its focus from capturing terrorists to killing them, and helped transform an agency that began as a cold war espionage service into a paramilitary organization.

Ok, this article shows what I have been saying for a while now. Accountability and transparency are weak procedures. The demand for these procedures in the context of secret prisons meant that the CIA shifted its tactics to drone attacks. The state learns, and adapts. Another example was Israel’s shift towards torture tactics that left no marks on the bodies of Palestinians following human rights reports documenting torture using bodily wounds, scars and marks as evidence.

3. Jonathan Landay Obama’s Drone War Kills ‘Others,’ not Just al-Qaida Leaders (on secret papers received by McClatchy) Apr 9.2013

Jonathan Landay US Collaborated with Pakistan Spy Agency in Drone War Apr 09.2013

Micah Zenko An Inconvenient Truth Apr 10.2013

Zenko’s article is subtitled, “Finally, proof that the United States has lied in the drone wars.” It’s useful that these reports are out there, but I find it troubling that liberals and leftists have been touting these reports as “Finally! proof!” which is how some have also tweeted about it.

For one, the bodies of dead kids should’ve been enough proof. Even the little wire service stories –even as they are largely driven by various interested parties –have also occasionally noted the confusion on the ground about who was killed. That these stories –those of the government’s own pronunciations and declarations– continually grab the major headlines when it comes to Pakistan rather than stories from the ground, perfectly rehearses the spectacle of secrets. It invests a kind of legitimation and power in the American government to determine the line between the truth and a hunch, between the visible and the invisible. I wrote about this in my New Inquiry piece.

This is also what happens when the major voices, even among liberals and leftists, are those of white males, with journalists or analysts from the country in question either entirely missing or brought on for bit parts in the narrative that is written largely by those in empire. I am not accusing Zenko or indeed anyone else of maliciousness or even support for American empire, but I do think these stories would look quite different if they were being told by people from the countries in question. It would shift perspective, and it would highlight as well as marginalize different aspects of the issue. As it is, the conversation is had among largely American, largely white, largely male voices, and the only real options for the rest of us are either to enter that conversation by agreeing or disagreeing, or risk irrelevance.

Finally, the intense focus on the government’s narrative lets journalists and the media off-the-hook for not doing the hard work of actually reporting the stories of those on the receiving end of America’s war in Pakistan. I say “in Pakistan” as a caveat because, interestingly, the recent gruesome, shocking murders of 11 Afghan children by NATO did get its own full-length articles, complete with photos. In the Afghanistan context, this happens much more frequently. And this is, I suspect, because there are western, largely white reporters on the ground. In other words, it speaks to the racist structural underpinnings of the modern media, and about those we think can serve as legitimate witnesses and those whose stories are always cast in doubt because there were no western (white) bodies in the vicinity to lend them credibility.

Tagged , , , , ,

The headlines according to race

Thousands of police stops and searches were done without the legal justification needed to do so, a new study conducted by a law professor at Columbia University finds. According to its findings, force was 14 percent more likely when police stopped Blacks and 9.3 percent more likely when stopping Hispanics as compared to whites. And–again in comparison to whites–weapons and other contraband were seized nearly 15 percent LESS often in stops of Blacks and almost 23 percent LESS often in stops of Hispanics. Blacks were 31 percent more likely to get a summons.

And if you go to prison: Inmates and employees at 10 federal prisons were exposed to toxic metals and other hazardous substances while processing electronic waste for recycling according to a report from the Justice Dept. And in case giving health problems and killing a disproportionate number of non-whites within the US wasn’t enough, unspecified amounts of that toxic waste has been shipped overseas, possibly to third-world countries where it can leach into the groundwater and harm local populations.

A white woman, who is named, surrounded by a halo of brown kids who are unnamed gets the cover of NYT’s Sunday Magazine. Racism works by saving brown women, hunting brown men and making sure none of them ever come over here.

Tagged , , ,

WTF. Seriously unfunny.

225px-MindOfMenciaI made the mistake of having Comedy Central on in the background a couple of days ago while I worked only to be assaulted by the unfunny and racist utterances of Carlos Mencia. The dim-witted comic had his own hour-long show on cable 2005-2008. This particular sketch involved him demanding that the Americans stop patrolling the Mexican border. The Mexicans, already know, according to Mencia, that should one of those crazed Arabs/ Muslims (he’s not too clear on it but that’s how racism works folks), cross into the US from Mexico, that the US-Mexican border will be closed. Mexicans don’t want to see that happen so they’d be the first to tip-off the US border guard. “Senor, senor,” Mencia mimes a Mexican tapping a US security official on his shoulder and pointing out the suspects, “those people they don’t speak Spanish.” Oh, it gets better:

Mencia says that his friend told him, Carlos, you should stop making fun of the Middle Easterners. They’re crazy. A “middle eastern” man who’s standing next to the two friends advises Mencia to listen to his friend pointing out that they are indeed crazy. Mencia responds by saying, no “my people” are crazy! “My people” here has suddenly somehow switched from Mexican to American. Then he treats the audience to the following sketch. These aren’t exact quotations, but pretty close:

Crazy Middle Easterner: We blew up two of your buildings.
Mencia’s punchline: Oh yeah, bitch, we blew up two of your countries! [applause]

Crazy Middle Easterner: We killed thousands.
Mencia’s punchline: I was like, bitch, we killed millions! [applause]

Crazy Middle Easterner: We’re looking for the atomic bomb.
Mencia’s punchline: ooh, you’re looking for one atomic bomb. We already got those. And, guess what bitch we already used it and if you dont believe it, call Japan and talk to the man with 3 penises and 5 balls. That’s how we roll baby!…And we named it Enola Gay, because we wanted them to know they were about to get boned in the ass. That’s how we play the game! [applause. Camera pans to a wide shot and there are some audience members actually standing and applauding Mencia.]

Now, in case, I actually need to explain what’s wrong with this: it’s not satire when you make unclever jokes that dump on those who are already oppressed.

Tagged , , , , , ,