Tag Archives: BBC

From Nauru to NYU: Picks of the Week(s)

24 Jun

Will new Nauru asylum centre deliver Pacific Solution?

The BBC recently became the first media org to gain access to the detention centre set up (or commissioned) by Australia in Nauru. This could be viewed as an important step towards transparency, and certainly the journalist is plenty critical of the whole Australian refugee policy, but I find the whole ‘opening up’ of the centre to be deeply suspicious. The reason that the media is being let in is to try to shift debate, and to cast Australian policy as a merciful and humanitarian, even as it imprisons refugees indefinitely.

Today Marks 20 Year Anniversary of Order that Closed “H.I.V. Prison Camp” at Guantánamo

This one is kind of cheating: I work with the Guantánamo Public Memory Project, and for the past week we’ve been focusing on an oft-forgotten chapter in the history of Guantánamo Bay.

In 1991 the U.S. Govt. began detaining Haitian asylum seekers at Guantánamo. The parallels between the plight of these detainees, and the current detainees at GTMO is striking. The parallels between the case of the Haitians and asylum seekers detained at Nauru by the Australian Govt. are equally so.

Objects of the Journey

Vela hosts work by a bunch of fantastic writers, but it is the power of images rather than words that made this article stand out to me. Undocumented immigrants face a whole host of troubles before they even make it to the U.S., and the way they are preyed upon remains for me one of the most terrible aspects of the Drug War as it has recently been fought in Mexico and Central America. This photo essay documents the undocumented, and does so in a concerned, compassionate way.

Yale, NYU sacrifice academic freedom

I love me some NYU bashing, and I couldn’t agree more that NYU is expanding globally so fast that it really has no idea at what cost (lack of academic integrity and quality of education seem obvious possibilities). However, I’m mostly including this link because I take issue with the sanctimonious tone of the article. Separating the world into free and unfree nations, and denying the possibility of freedoms being won in ‘unfree’ nations seems incredibly simplistic. The idea that the U.S. is a bastion of freedom and virtue rings pretty false, given recent revelations about surveillance, and the House’s decision to allow indefinite detention of citizens.

Web art by Josh Begley

I first learned of Begley’s work through his site that documented every single drone strike by the U.S., but have found his other projects equally compelling. The satirical edge to his activist art is really refreshing, as is the scope of his documentary projects (such as documenting the entire history of the race question on the U.S. census).

Mali’s First Suicide Bomber

11 Feb

On Friday the BBC ran a headline that reads Mali conflict: ‘First suicide bombing’ in Gao (note the inverted commas: they’re important).

The article went on to explain that this was actually the first known suicide attack since the French intervention in Mali began last month. Further into article came news that there had also been fighting between factions of the Malian army (red berets vs. green berets).

What galls me is the focus on a ‘historic’, histrionic suicide attack as the most important, and highly symbolic development in Mali. The description of the attack contains all of the usual tropes evoked by the ‘western media’: the sudden, furious strike of a lone assailant (in this case on a motorbike, with a belt of explosives); the reference to a mysterious, Orientalish extremist group (The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa – note that J-bomb) with a genealogy to a familiar, reviled group (“an offshoot of al-Qaeda”); a quote from the extremist group, demonstrating the depth of their irrational, West-exploding hatred, and their determination to inflict more harm (“against the Malian soldiers who chose the side of the miscreants, the enemies of Islam”); and of course, the connection somewhere in there between the bomber, the irrational violence, and Islam.

The suicide bomber, in this article and in other accounts, is a deranged lunatic, indoctrinated by shrewder lunatics who exist in the shadows of underdeveloped places plotting and preaching the downfall of the West in the burniest, bloodiest ways possible. In these accounts, the suicide bomber is inevitably a product of Islam. Only Islam, it is implied, can produce this degree of fanaticism and violence, this desire to kill, even to the point of destroying the self.

Prof. Banu Bargu (at the New School) offers a very different account of the suicide attack. Bargu argues that the suicide attack is part of a larger phenomenon that she calls the weaponisation of life, or perhaps more simply human weapons, a category that covers kamikaze attacks, hunger strikes, suicide bombings, self-immolations, and a range of other forms of sacrificial violence. Beyond this, Bargu argues that the suicide attack is part of the standard repertoire of modern warfare and violence. The suicide attack is the product not of rabid ideology, but of a calculation, the same calculation that every act of violence involves: how to achieve a suitable effect given the resources available and the factors in play. For some groups such calculations lead to the conclusion that drone strikes are the most efficient form of violence, giving the most bang for your buck. For other groups – state and non-state, religious and secular – the suicide bombing or other human weapon is the most effective, efficient option. Religious indoctrination is thus one variable among many within the calculus of violence.

Casting the Malian suicide bomber as exceptional, as the first (and by implication the vanguard of a wave of such attacks) suggests that there is a difference between this violence and all others. It also conveniently keeps the focus on the extremist threat (whether real or imagined) while sidelining what to me seems a far more urgent issue: infighting and bloodshed within Mali’s military.

Treating the ‘Mali conflict’ as the product of outside insurgents trying to topple a state plays into some very convenient rhetoric about this intervention. It also overlooks the fact that there are deeper fractures in the Malian state. A coup in capital precipitated the conflict that followed. Intervening against the outsiders, and chasing them to the borders of the state may make for a rapid victory, but it does nothing to address one of the root issues of the conflict, nor to acknowledge the full range of violence at work.