[-empyre-] Fwd from Naeem: on 'disappeared'

Christina McPhee christina at christinamcphee.net
Wed Jan 30 06:56:13 EST 2008

dear -empyreans-,

Naeem is having internet difficulties in Dhaka.  I am posting for him  
a new essay he just sent me a few days ago.  Your reactions, examples,  
counterexamples, most welcome.


Begin forwarded message:

> From: "Naeem Mohaiemen" <naeem.mohaiemen at gmail.com>
> Date: January 24, 2008 12:37:01 AM PST
> To: "Christina McPhee" <christina at christinamcphee.net>
> Subject: Re: on 'disappeared'
> I could send out this text about another project....or did I send it  
> already?
> So who are those subtitles for..?
> Muslims Or Heretics: My Camera Can Lie starts life in 2003 as a
> polemical human rights documentary about Ahmadiyyas. The Ahmadiyyas
> are a disputed sect within Islam. Originating from India, and
> spreading through proselytization, it became one of the beachheads for
> conversion of African Americans to Islam (until the rise of the
> competing Nation of Islam). After years of anti-Ahmadiyya protests,
> the sect was banned in Pakistan in 1973. In the 1990s, a similar
> protest movement flared up in Bangladesh. The core controversy
> revolves around whether their belief in a prophet after Mohammed is
> heresy. What could be a nuanced, layered conversation around
> interpretations of/from Arabic (e.g., does khatme nabuwwat mean final
> prophet or seal of the prophets?) has degenerated into an anarchic mob
> movement which also serves as a trojan horse for the Political Islam
> project.
> The 2004 screenings of my "finished" film ran into a Dhaka audience
> that is hyper-aware of other, future audiences. The coincidence of
> showing the film at the same time as the global media flap over Abu
> Ghraib turned it into a referendum on the War On Terror (WOT').
> Audiences refused to give any approval or "authenticity" blessing.....
> After my naive opening statement that this was a film for "us" (who
> exactly is?), one viewer taunted me: "bhaishaab, we all understand
> Bengali, so tell me, who are those subtitles for? And how many times
> must we see that Twin Tower footage...that's always designed for a
> western film festival circuit!"
> In this first iteration of the film, there is grainy, out of focus
> footage of "militant" rallies shot filmed a great distance. Supposedly
> clandestine work with a subject so "ferocious" they can only be viewed
> at a distance.  But when I returned to the project in 2005, I found
> rally organizers welcoming the press. Their fierce expressions,
> funeral white garb and angry signs were all an extended form of
> performance art, designed to give the BBC-CNN-SKY camera crew exactly
> the right, ready for prime time visuals. This time, I noticed a camera
> mounted on the truck of the protesters.  It was filming the fiery
> speeches and filming us. Where was that tape going, who was its
> audience?  Michael Ignatieff once described plane hijacking as auteur
> filmmaking with real people.  Here too, the militant groups are in
> control of their own image production.
> John Gray points out that "projecting a privatized form of organized
> violence worldwide was impossible in the past.  Equally, the belief
> that a new world can be hastened by spectacular acts of destruction is
> nowhere to be found in medieval times...." Egyptian radical theorist
> Sayyid Qutb borrowed from European anarchists like Bakunin ("The
> passion for destruction is also a creative passion"), especially the
> idea of a religious vanguard that would bring a world without rulers--
> something with little precedence in Islamic thought.
> On an individual level, militant groups in Bangladesh have rejected
> the escalating "modernity" project represented by the mushrooming of
> an aggressive consumerist culture. The madrasa recruits can't afford
> to drink Coke, download Josh ring tones, buy bar-coded fruit at Agora
> or wear jeans from Westecs.  Within their violent program (what some
> mistakenly call "Islamo-anarchism") is fury at an economic system that
> has left them behind. But you could also argue that it is
> hypercapitalism that has rejected them, because it doesn't know how
> bracket in communities of intense, rigid faith. Perhaps, those you
> cannot sell product to cannot be allowed to exist.

Christina McPhee

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