Imaging a War on Terror

Two days after Osama bin Laden was killed by American forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan, President Barack Obama announced that he would not to release photos of the Al Qaeda leader’s body. He said the releasing gruesome images could incite anger against American troops abroad and create unnecessary risks to national security. He also said that displaying bin Laden’s dead body runs counter to American ideals:  “That’s not who we are,” Obama told 60 Minutes. “You know, we don’t trot out this stuff as trophies.”

But America’s use of images has not always been so high-minded. W. J. T. Mitchell’s Cloning Terror takes on the issue of how images have been used in the so-called “war on terror,” which he describes as a “metaphor run amuck.”  Footage of the Twin Towers falling on 9/11, the televised “shock and awe” bombing of Baghdad, a statue of Saddam Hussein being destroyed, and the much-criticized 2003 photo of Bush on an aircraft carrier in front of a banner that read “Mission Accomplished”– these images resonated during the Iraq War and, for many Americans, solidified the misguided notion that terror could be an actual enemy in a war.  Launching a conventional war against a concept was a fool’s errand, Mitchell writes, “a misbegotten fantasy from the first.”

Deeper Reading: Recent Titles on Islam around the World

If you are reading and watching American news in the last few weeks, you are probably simultaneously seeing a lot and very little about Islam in America today. The conversation surrounding Park51, the Islamic community center slated to be built in Lower Manhatten, is often very shallow, with little explication of terms and nuance. Words are being thrown around — Muslims, freedom, the Muslim Brotherhood, jihad  — as though they are self-explanatory and monolithic. Here are a few titles I have reviewed recently that might give a deeper understanding of the issues behind this politicized debate:

Stephen Farrell, Sultan Munadi and a panel on war correspondence

Yesterday’s news that The New York Times correspondent Stephen Farrell was freed from captivity in Northern Afghanistan has been met with mixed emotions. His fixer, journalist Sultan Munadi, was killed in a raid of the compound where the two were being held.

George Packer at The New Yorker explains the often precarious position of fixers–the locals who help foreign correspondents with everything from translation to logistics–and expresses his frustration at what happened to Munadi in a blog post called, “It’s Always the Fixer Who Dies.”

In the course of the work, the fixer is relied on so heavily by the foreign correspondent that an observer who didn’t understand the system might assume that it’s the fixer who is in charge. After all, it’s the fixer’s country, and he or she knows it so much better. And yet the foreigner has the money, the name, the infrastructure, the power to hire and fire, and the ability to come and go, especially if things get sticky.

Packer’s post is exemplary of growing discomfort amongst foreign correspondents about safety for themselves and their fixers. Panelists in the first session of the Edward R. Murrow Press Fellowship 60th Anniversary Event, four seasoned conflict reporters moderated by CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, discussed the risks of reporting on wars.

Clinton on Pakistan

A quick post — I was really surprised to hear Secretary of State Hillary Clinton being very forthright about America’s errors in Pakistan and Afghanistan. “Let’s remember here,” she told a congressional hearing, “the people we are fighting today, we funded 20 years ago.” She links the problems in the region now, in part, to America’s policies in fighting the Soviet Union. “Let’s be careful what we sow, because we will harvest,” she said. Here’s the clip from CNN:

 

Front page, DawnThe major English-language daily in Pakistan, Dawn, highlighted her comments: US created Taliban and abandoned Pakistan: Clinton. Reporter Anwar Iqbal writes the lead, “Two days of continuous congressional hearings on the Obama administration’s foreign policy brought a rare concession from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who acknowledged that the United States too had a share in creating the problem that plagues Pakistan today.”

While it is significant for Clinton to have made such a blatant statement, the U.S. policy on Pakistan is still problematic, according to a Saturday editorial. Dawn writes: “Secretary Clinton may well be right in saying that the Pakistani people ‘need to speak out forcefully’ against the government’s policy of appeasement in Swat. But this amounts to going over the head of the government it claims is an ally and undermining its authority among the people. And all the tough talk against Pakistan cannot conceal that the Americans are themselves puzzled about how exactly to approach Pakistan.”

Update: Turns out, the State Department is looking for suggestions.

Global Lives #1: Project Kashmir

I did a story about the documentary film Project Kashmir for Asia Pacific Arts. You can see the story and all of APA’s coverage of the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival in their website. I also made my first attempt at making a podcast start-to-finish. I hope these will become more engaging as I keep practicing.

I’m working on getting my buggy website to work with a player, so for now you can listen and subscribe directly from my site on mypodcast.com. UPDATE: It works now!

Here’s the intro:

Welcome to the first episode of Global Lives, a show about the kinds of people who make the whole world their home. Today, I’m talking to Senain Kheshgi and Geeta Patel, the filmmakers behind the much acclaimed documentary Project Kashmir.

For more information about the film, visit projectkashmir.org. This episode is co-produced by the online magazine Asia Pacific Arts, asiaarts.ucla.edu. You can discover more Global Lives on my website, angileeshah.com.

You can easily subscribe to this podcast or share it on your own blog or website.

Listen to Global Lives #1: Project Kashmir

the games

I’ve been thinking about the Olympics torch relay. It seems to be rousing deep emotions — perhaps some kind of opportunism, or maybe pent up frustrations. But one thing’s clear: Even before the Olympic Games begin, there are some serious political games going on here. Just look at the torch’s run through India and Pakistan (not to mention the way each country’s national press covered it).

My roommate, who is from Japan, told me a about a Japanese website that chronicles the extreme sport of Olympic torch relay races. (Japan will run the torch in Nagano “inside a security cordon of Japanese riot police.”) Then I found this little wiki. I don’t know who is running the page, but I hope it stays updated and gets more details going.

Update: I am told that the Japanese version of Uncyclopedia is much more comprehensive, and I’m guess by the images, much funnier.

Pakistan on my mind

I’ve been pretty consumed by blogging lately.

bangkoksunset.JPGI started a blog for my students, to get them more interested in reading. Not sure if it will take off or how invested the other contributers will be, but I thought I’d give it a shot. I spend a lot of time in the library here, and thought I’d make better use of my reading time if I had a platform for discussion. The blog is called npREADS. There’s just one substantial entry so far, but I’m working on building it up. The entry is about Benazir Bhutto’s memoir, which I picked up after she was assassinated.