One of the fascinating dimensions of the battle between Israel and Palestine is how Israeli leaders and their American apologists keep changing their propaganda message aimed at generally ignorant Western audiences. The core, but always evolving, message that Zionists keep sending out is that Palestinians who challenge Israel are part and parcel of a larger universe of frightening figures that espouse criminal values, and represent a direct, mortal threat to Israel and also to all Western civilization.
The latest version of this fear-mongering campaign of lies and fantasy seeks to paint Hamas and others militant Palestinian resistance groups in Gaza as integral elements in the world of vicious actors and terrorists who fight in the name of Islam, such as the Salafist-takfiri extremists Islamic State in Syria-Iraq, Al-Qaeda, or the Taliban in Afghanistan. Most people in the United States or other Western lands who hear these messages lack the base of factual knowledge to understand that Israel’s accusations are bold and ridiculous lies; yet these lies often strike a receptive chord among uninformed audiences that only have two images drilled into them year after year: Israel and Jews are threatened with death and extinction in the Middle East, and the region is full of rabid killers who want to kill Christians and Jews and turn the world into one big Islamic society that enslaves women and martyrs its children.
The problem with this latest twist of Zionist propaganda is that it tries to put into a single basket a series of very different groups with totally unrelated inspirations, agendas and operating methods. It aims to tar Hamas, and also Hizbullah in Lebanon, with such extreme attributes that foreigners refuse to deal with them, and only see them as part and parcel of that frightening body of Islamic State and Al-Qaeda killers who claim to speak in the name of Islam and go around crucifying and cutting people’s heads off.
This strategy has actually worked for some time, as most Western powers have shunned dealing with Hamas or Hizbullah. Yet that pattern has started to break down in recent years, as foreign governments and civil society activists alike come to understand that groups like Hamas and Hizbullah essentially are locally anchored, state-based resistance groups that fight two battles at once: They seek to reverse the Israeli occupation, colonization and subjugation of their countries (Palestine and Lebanon), and they seek to create a more efficient, less corrupt domestic governance system that responds to the needs of all its citizens. (On balance, they have done much better at fighting Israel than at generating better domestic governance).
Resisting and reversing Israeli actions forms the core of Hamas and Hizbullah strategies, therefore the Israeli spin masters try at all costs to prevent anyone abroad from seeing these Lebanese and Palestinian groups as having been born primarily to fight back against Israel’s excessive occupation and colonization. The easiest way to do this in the fact-light minds of many Western citizens and politicians is simply to associate Hamas and Hizbullah with Al-Qaeda, Islamic State and Taliban.
This strategy has started to wear thin and collapse in places because reasonable people in the world have repeatedly seen the overwhelming evidence of Israel’s own violence and occasional criminal atrocities in Lebanon and Palestine. The many pictures of Lebanese and Palestinians simply protecting their lands from repeated Israeli attacks — including by attacking Israel with small rockets and as yet mostly harmless projectiles — have been coupled with repeated Israeli destruction of thousands of Arab homes, and many schools, hospitals, power plants and other civilian facilities.
More and more governments and observers around the world have realized that Hamas and Hizbullah have nothing to do with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, whose agendas reflect bizarre religious fantasies rather than state-based resistance goals. We started to see this rejection of Israeli propaganda over a year ago when Americans and Europeans ignored the wild scare tactics of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and went ahead with negotiations with Iran on nuclear and sanctions issues. The Western ability to ignore Zionism’s wild men in favor of a more rational approach to the world was also evident after the formation of the Palestinian national unity government several months ago, which the United States and EU among others accepted to engage with, rather than to boycott, as Israel desired.
Israel and its howlers in Washington will continue to try and lump nationalist resistance groups like Hamas and Hizbullah with criminals like Al-Qaeda and its offshoots, but the efficacy of such crude propaganda is steadily decreasing. This means we should be alert to the next set of exaggerations, diversions and lies that Israel and its Western hit men and women will use in their attempt to prevent any rational accountability of Israeli actions.
In one study, published in April in the Journal of Research in Personality, 159 people were given two New Yorker cartoons, one with a caption and one blank. They rated the captioned cartoon’s funniness on a scale of 1-7, then tried to caption the other cartoon, in what was basically a scientific version of the New Yorker back page contest. The captions were then judged by four independent judges on two measures: general coherence, to see if participants were even able to generate something that could credibly be called a joke, and the caption’s actual funniness.
The researchers found that humour appreciation was in fact negatively correlated with humour production. The people who laughed the most wrote the worst jokes, while those least amused by the cartoons wrote the best captions (people, presumably, like this guy). Here, the idea that someone with a “good sense of humour” is someone who both laughs at your jokes and makes their own gets complicated.
Another study, recently published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, attempts to unpack various types of funniness and how they’re perceived. Studies have long shown that “a good sense of humour” consistently ranks as one of the most important qualities in a romantic partner, with people’s happiness in a relationship linked to how funny they find their spouse, and men more likely to get a woman’s phone number when they were funny with their friends. But “a sense of humour,” as an umbrella term, encapsulates any number of different joking styles, not all of which seem obviously desirable.
The researchers used a formulation that divides humour into four broad categories. “Affiliative humour” is the kind of joking around that amuses people without insulting anyone, strengthening social bonds, while “Aggressive humour” is the teasing, jousting sort often used to subtly display your superiority. “Self-enhancing humour” is an attempt to use humour to make the best of a bad situation, while “self-defeating humour” is the self-deprecating, Woody Allen-ish joking that attempts to wring laughs out of the joke-teller’s own humiliations and shortcomings.
Participants received the “Humor Styles Questionnaire,” a personality test that attempts to determine your style of humour by asking you to rate how much you agree with statements such as: “Even when I’m by myself, I’m often amused by the absurdities of life,” or, “I will often get carried away in putting myself down if it makes my family or friends laugh.” In one study, 50 students used the HSQ to judge whether each action described showed someone with a good sense of humour or a bad one. They also rated how “socially desirable” each action was. Is the person who says that, “If I don’t like someone, I often use humour or teasing to put them down” a lovable clown, or just a jerk?
The results indicated that being aggressively humourous was actually social disadvantageous; quipping about your friend’s disastrous fashion makes you seem like an asshole. And self-deprecating humour, whatever its charms, generally made the joker look unattractive—belittle yourself too much and your audience starts to believe it. The results, the researchers argue, show that “a more nuanced view of humour is needed to appreciate its tactical uses and its multiple roles in social interactions.”
This isn’t the most earth-shattering conclusion; at times, both studies can feel as hopelessly literal and earnest as the wikiHow guide—written with the same joke-deflating seriousness and from the same man-from-Mars perspective. But, as they argue, if we’re consistently talking about the importance of “a sense of humour,” surely we should at least know what that means. These studies are a start, and don’t call me Shirley.
The troubling trend of increasing militarization is made more so by how political leadership has displaced responsibility for such violence. In Ferguson, as in Gaza, official US demands for peace ignore the fact that the supply of military weaponry negates such a call to action. This irony has not been lost on residents in Missouri and abroad. One Palestinian tweeter, displaying an empty tear gas canister reading “Made in USA,” offered satirical assurance to the citizens of Ferguson, saying that there should be no worry because the tear gas they faced had been tested on Palestinian civilians. If, as Missouri Congressional Representative Emanuel Cleaver rightly states in TheGuardian, that it is “unconscionable that we would convert a city in the middle of America into a war zone,” it is equally unconscionable that we would provide Israel with the means to do so in Gaza.
This drawing of connections between Ferguson and Gaza also offers important critiques of power, space, and the politics of occupation. In Ferguson, a town where seventy percent of residents are black, yet the power structure is predominantly white, protestors have readily evoked the language of an “occupied territory,” reminding those watching that their citizenship has always been second-class. The language of occupation signifies an appraisal made long ago by Marcus Garvey, the Black Panthers, and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, among other civil rights organizations, who have used such a concept to critique the relationship of US power to communities of color nationwide. As residents of Ferguson chant “Gaza strip” at local police forces, they also connect to present-day struggles for liberation worldwide; they seek not only justice, but also self-determination.
Representing police activity in Ferguson as a colonial occupation brings to bear the connections between occupied spaces such as Gaza and low-income communities of color in the United States, where residents have been physically barricaded from resources, denied access to education, redlined from housing opportunities, stripped of citizenship, and segregated in apartheid-like conditions. The kind of outrage growing in Ferguson, Palestine, and other colonized spaces responds not only to the immediate events that have triggered action, but to decades upon decades of repressive occupation and the denial of social and political enfranchisement.
Similar divergences mark the discourse on Ferguson, where "good" protesters are those who march in line and start community groups, and "bad" ones are those who engage in confrontational street actions, throw Molotovs, and remain leaderless and unpredictable. Such false distinctions began to surface after Ferguson police occupied the town and needed a justification for having turned it into a war zone. Public officials affirmed citizens' right to protest but still blamed "bad protesters" for threatening the social order and necessitating blanket police violence.
It's not the first time that "social order" has been invoked to justify the silencing of dissent. Social control is the opposite of social change. And it is the opposite of democratic freedom. Yet the contradictory idea that we must impose controls on ourselves and each other as a requisite for freedom remains a primary force in America -- and, not incidentally, a key to maintaining our woefully inegalitarian order.
Most often, social control is achieved through self-regulation, in which people buy into false narratives about themselves and their powerlessness. Our entire system of gender, race, and class inequality is propped up by these wrongful ideologies of personal culpability and self-help, in which people are led to believe that women are overly emotional, black men are dangerous, and poor people are just lazy, and that we are all personally responsible for our place in society, with history and biography playing no role.
But sometimes these narratives fail, and when they do, police brutality and threats of incarceration serve as backups. The truth is that police militarized Ferguson not because of "bad protesters" but because people in the town were outraged enough to contest the narrative of black men as thugs who get shot by police because they somehow deserve it. In doing so, the people of Ferguson challenged something even larger: the fairytale of American democracy, which says that our country is better run by elites than by everyday people acting their conscience.
The history of movements in the U.S. is rife with tensions over these dynamics. Protest movements are indeterminate by nature -- organic expressions of the desires of everyday people that manifest in various forms. The town of Ferguson has undergone significant demographic shifts over the last two decades, and its social institutions bear the mark of severe racial inequality and disempowerment. Expressions of anger and frustration are rational responses to such power inequality, not to mention to the cold-blooded killing of a member of their community and the heinous treatment of his body.
They are also rational means through which publics engage in political life. Ferguson was not just an event in which police overreacted to heated demonstrations; it's a symptom of a generalized hatred of democracy in this country -- the hatred of the truly bold idea that politics should be the work of everyday people and that power should not be concentrated in the hands of a few.
Franz Fanon, a trained psychiatrist and prominent revolutionary, theorized that political violence is a life-affirming force in anti-colonial struggles -- an expression of counterviolence that constitutes a therapeutic moment in the cleansing of the psyche of the oppressed. Colonized people exist within structures of power that condition their behavior, their psychology, and the content of their struggle. Fanon believed that the profound rage and resentment that infuse the daily existence of oppressed people could be channeled into a collective, liberating force.
Hannah Arendt disagreed with this view. A renowned political theorist in her own right, she argued that violence is strictly a means to an end -- not a source of power but a marker of its absence. Real power is its own end and is the basis of political life: "Power springs up whenever people get together and act in concert, but it derives its legitimacy from the initial getting together, rather than from any action that then may follow," she wrote. Violence, on the other hand, is never an instrument of freedom, since violent means tend to overwhelm their ends and just unleash more violence into the world.
The dominant media is itself a tool of white supremacy: it repeats what the police deliver nearly verbatim and uncritically, even when the police story changes upwards of nine times, as it has thus far in the Brown killing. The media use phrases like “officer-involved shooting” and will switch to passive voice when a black man is shot by a white vigilante or a police officer (“shots were fired”). Journalists claim that “you have to hear both sides” in order to privilege the obfuscating reports of the state over the clear voices and testimony of an entire community, members of which witnessed the police murder a teenager in cold blood. The media are more respectful to white serial killers and mass murderers than to unarmed black victims of murder.
And yet, many of the people who perform this critique day-in, day-out can get jammed up by media perceptions of protesters. They want to correct the media’s assertion that protesters were all looters for good reason: the idea of black people looting a store is one of the most racially charged images in the white imaginary. When protesters proclaim that “not all protesters were looters, in fact, most of the looters weren’t part of the protest!” or words to that effect, they are trying to fight a horrifically racist history of black people depicted in American culture as robbers and thieves: Precisely the image that the Ferguson police tried to evoke to assassinate Michael Brown’s character and justify his killing post facto. It is a completely righteous and understandable position.
However, in trying to correct this media image—in making a strong division between Good Protesters and Bad Rioters, or between ethical non-violence practitioners and supposedly violent looters—the narrative of the criminalization of black youth is reproduced. This time it delineates certain kinds of black youth—those who loot versus those who protest. The effect of this discourse is hardening a permanent category of criminality on black subjects who produce a supposed crime within the context of a protest. It reproduces racist and white supremacist ideologies (including the tactic of divide-and-conquer), deeming some unworthy of our solidarity and protection, marking them, subtly, as legitimate targets of police violence. These days, the police, whose public-facing racism is much more manicured, if no less virulent, argue that “outside agitators” engage in rioting and looting. Meanwhile, police will consistently praise “non-violent” demonstrators, and claim that they want to keep thosedemonstrators safe.
In working to correct the white-supremacist media narrative we can end up reproducing police tactics of isolating the individuals who attack property at protests. Despite the fact that if it were not for those individuals the media might pay no attention at all. If protesters hadn’t looted and burnt down that QuikTrip on the second day of protests, would Ferguson be a point of worldwide attention? It’s impossible to know, but all the non-violent protests against police killings across the country that go unreported seem to indicate the answer is no. It was the looting of a Duane Reade after a vigil that brought widespread attention to the murder of Kimani Gray in New York City. The media’s own warped procedure instructs that riots and looting are more effective at attracting attention to a cause.
But of course, the goal is not merely the attention of dominant media. Nor is the goal a certain kind of media attention: no matter how peaceful and well-behaved a protest is, the dominant media will always push the police talking points and the white-supremacist agenda. The goal is justice. Here, we have to briefly grapple with the legacy of social justice being won in America: namely that of non-violence and the civil rights movement. And that means correcting a more pervasive and totalizing media and historical narrative about the civil rights movement: that it was non-violent, that it claimed significant wins because it was non-violent, and that it overcame racial injustice altogether.
In the 400 years of barbaric, white supremacist, colonial and genocidal history known as the United States, the civil rights movement stands out as a bright, beautiful, all-too-brief moment of hope and struggle. We still live in the shadow of the leaders, theory, and images that emerged from those years, and any struggle in America that overlooks the work (both philosophical and organizational) produced in those decades does so at its own peril. However, why is it drilled into our heads, from grade school onward, in every single venue, by presidents, professors and police chiefs alike, that the civil rights movement was victorious because it was non-violent? Surely we should be suspicious of any narrative that the entire white establishment agrees is of the utmost importance.
Today in Gaza, the Israeli military is fighting not only in underground tunnels, but also against the natives of the land. They are fighting not only against Hamas, but also against Palestine itself. They –alongside the West– are fighting against a nation that they have tried to expel from the land for almost 70 years now. They are fighting not only because of these tunnels, but also and precisely to conquer the land within which the tunnels were dug. The refugee camps in Gaza are living evidence of this enormous land robbery, the original sin. Since 1948, there’s been an attempt to divide the Palestinian people, to deprive them of all national consciousness; there’s been an attempt erase their memory, as if memory were the inalienable property of only Judeo-Christian thought. It was assumed that afterwards they could be branded with a new, divided consciousness as Arab-Israelis, Arab-Jerusalemites, fundamentalist Gazans, West-Bankers, and exiled Palestinians without the right of return. But we in the West didn’t anticipate that the Palestinians would still see themselves as one people. And yet, despite the attempt to erase their collective memory, they are reunited again. That’s the real reason for the missing fourth beat [i.e., Israel's refusal to release the fourth and last batch of Palestinian prisoners in March 2014 as guaranteed during US-backed peace talks], and that’s the main reason for the war and the killing. All of the rest — footnotes.
And so it was discovered that the more we attempted to expel them from on top of land, the more the Palestinians united to burrow underneath and wrap themselves in it, like a Jewish prayer shawl. While we thought they were digging themselves a grave, they thought they were digging an opening for life. This is the essence of tsumud [Arabic word for the fidelity of Palestinians to their land], and it’s bigger than all of the factions — bigger than Hamas and Fatah, bigger than farmers and urbanites, bigger than secular and religious alike. In the context of tsumud, it doesn’t really matter who you are. Because at the end of the day, you are Palestinian, a child of this land.
Most Palestinians are willing to share the land — many, not any more. But no Palestinian will give up on it. The attempt to expel them from the face of the earth was an attempt to erase them from our consciousness. But they migrated to the belly of the earth and the heart of our consciousness. They are the children of the land, the land where they are buried and resurrected inside of tunnels. Tunnels in which they roam as living-dead refugees, looking for an opening to roll up and reincarnate into their homes and villages.
When they are used to smuggle food, tools, or a bride and a groom, the tunnels can function as a manifestation of life. Or, when armed militants emerge from them, they can be conduits for death. They can be tunnels of salvation here on earth, salvation of life as such. Or they may become apocalyptic salvation, salvation by weapons and destruction. We can help to define the future meanings of the tunnels. We can help determine whether through their gates will come the messiah of peace and justice, or the angel of death. They are very heavy on us, the gates of Gaza. Maybe if we open them together to life, the mechilot (underground tunnels) will become mechilot (forgiveness).
Almost 2 million people in some 80 nations currently claim membership in 12-step programmes. Members belong to what’s called the fellowship, a convening of men and women trying to recover from addiction through peer support. There are no membership fees, no formal membership, no official leadership. The adherents of Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) live by 12 principles first set out in 1939 in what’s known as the Big Book, a conversion story written largely by a layman, Bill Wilson, a Wall Street stockbroker from rural Vermont who wrenched himself free from the clutches of alcoholism.
Wilson’s 12 steps are a set of spiritual principles meant to teach alcoholics how to tame their darkest impulses. The first step involves admitting powerlessness over the addiction. The second and third steps involve turning oneself over to a higher power, some form of God. Other steps include a ‘fearless moral inventory’ of the self, a deep relationship with a higher power through prayer and meditation, and subsequent reckoning with those who have been harmed. The act of making amends, step eight, is perhaps the best known of the 12. A final step involves carrying the message to other alcoholics and practising ‘these principles in all our affairs’.
Wilson’s treatise has long served as a template for deliverance, and not just from the bottle, but also drugs (Narcotics Anonymous), gambling (Gamblers Anonymous), overeating (Overeaters Anonymous) and other destructive behaviours. The teachings of the Big Book are the basis for treatment at many rehab facilities operating today. Across these programmes, the onus of recovery rests with the addict – if he fails, he must not have worked the steps hard enough and should try again.
Throughout the 20th century, before the addict’s plight could be explained by neuroscience or subdued by medication, the AA philosophy of liberation was embraced. Compelling tales of recovery were justification for the 12-step programme’s adoption into the criminal justice system as well. In towns and cities that lacked drug courts or funding for substance abuse treatment, AA and NA were the affordable choice.
The surprising thing is how dominant the approach remains. Even though the literal circuits of addiction in the brain have since been found, and a host of new cognitive and drug therapies can help those with specific issues such as impulse-control, or with accompanying psychiatric disease, AA remains the overwhelming treatment of choice. ‘Standing up and saying AA doesn’t work at a science meeting is like standing up at an atmospheric conference and saying climate change doesn’t exist’, said the Stanford University psychiatrist Keith Humphreys, who takes a more nuanced stance. Humphreys told me that the programmes can work, but calls it ‘terrible’ to ask people to rely on a single recovery method, including AA, when there are so many variations and causes of this neurobiological disease.
Filmmaker: It seems like this story as opposed to your previous three films centers on certain aspects of rural life. What drew you toward this place and the people within it?
Ceylan: I don’t know really. More than the characters, there are so many characters in life. Sometimes you cannot know them in certain situations. You have a girlfriend once. You are with her for three years. One day, you go on a trip with her. In three days, you get more information about her than you did in the previous three years. In my last film and in most of the films, there are situations where through those situations you know the characters better. I think in this film something like that is happening. Searching for the body, you can see many characteristics, many properties, of these people more easily. I am fond of situations like that. In Anatolia, I was so interested by showing the different sides of the human soul through life and death. You see the reflections of the characters on many things throughout the story. So that’s what interested me more than the rural element.
Filmmaker: The characters are constantly sharing things about themselves with each other, but also withholding things, including relatively petty things that somewhat consume them.
Ceylan: I remember many events for years in the city life — you go to a cafe with a friend and you drink and talk. For five years, there is no problem. One day, you make something together, maybe a small business. Suddenly, your friendship ends! You need something, a kind of catalyst, to really test the relationship.
Filmmaker: Your films have a formalistic quality to them. It seems you’re more interested in mise en scene, in the formality and temporarily within your frames, than in editing and the relationship of shots. Does that have anything to do with your background in photography?
Ceylan: I do not know. I can not be sure. There is a certain kind of education in my background. Beyond photography, I used to like painting a lot. My motivation was more painting than photography. Of course I’m always going for a certain kind of effect, still I don’t spend a lot of energy thinking about that in particular. The form comes from trying to create a certain kind of atmosphere. Atmosphere is very important for me. If I don’t feel the atmosphere for a certain scene, I really don’t shoot that scene. To create that atmosphere, I think you need a certain kind of performer; they are really connected on a certain level. Also, when I read novels, for instance, if there are scenes that I really feel the atmosphere within them, I’m more influenced by those scenes. So form is of course not free of content.
Filmmaker: They are married to each other.
Ceylan: Yes of course, but more than the content, the atmosphere. Form itself creates a kind of content. Form is not something, however, that controls the content. Form is in the center and in some ways, for some artists, content emerges from the form. Its certainly very important for me. Content is not content without the form. There is a certain type of event for instance. Different people tell the same event differently. Yet one person tells the event much more clearly, with much more meaning. It’s because of his form. The form is what convinces you. Where he puts the silences, whether he looks at you or doesn’t at certain points in the story, this is crucial. Somebody tells you a story in person, even if it is a very unimportant thing, if it is done well, you are very interested. They can make the thing really valuable for you. There is always something like that. The form has the ability to make the content more mysterious, more powerful, more real, more light, to imbue it with more truth. It’s everything really.
Filmmaker: You don’t shoot a scene unless you’ve found that atmosphere, but in the context of a film shoot, where there is a schedule and money is being spent to allow you to have the infrastructure to make the film, how do you achieve that sort of freedom? How do you know when the atmosphere isn’t there and you have to change directions, perhaps change the nature of the content because of it?
Ceylan: You are never sure, never ready, in filmmaking. You expect to find a method within the shooting. When you don’t have all the elements with you, you cannot be sure of anything. So I prefer remembering the atmosphere and try to find a way to express this atmosphere in the shooting. I do my best to do it, and I shoot a lot of things, and I’m always suspicious, I’m never sure. I shoot out of order, of course. In the editing of course, is the only place you can really resolve some of these issues. Something works or it doesn’t. You try to find a way. Sometimes, what we expect to work really doesn’t work in the editing. In general, if you like something in the shooting very much, you don’t like it in the editing. Generally, unexpected things create the miracles in the editing. Knowing this reality, I shoot many different things, so that I can find good surprises in the editing. Sometimes I shoot just the opposite of what I intend to use, only if I feel it, if I feel that I have to shoot that. If there is even very little suspicion in me that something won’t work, I shoot something else in the shooting. I’m not the kind of director that only shoots what I wrote. The script is only a guide, only something to make me feel safe in the shooting. I put the script aside at many times in the shooting.
Of course, white America has always used violence to create wealth. This country was built by stolen labor with stolen lumber on stolen land. Periodic phases of unrest have been met with concessions and legislation meant to appear revolutionary. But disguised by this hologram of progress, the power brokers have found new ways to extract wealth from the bodies that built this country for free. Under Jim Crow, lynch law kept the labor costs down, murdered those organizing for real wages and real life, and scared others into accepting the debt and social immobility of a sharecropping system that looked a lot like things before the slaves were freed. In her famous “Lynch Law in All Its Phases,” Ida B. Wells told the story of two black friends of hers, successful business owners, being murdered by their white competitor, who then took over their grocery store.
I get so pissed when people say they can’t believe this is happening in America. Americans had pics of lynchings on greeting cards.
In this country, black and brown bodies have always been viewed as a natural resource to be extracted and monetized like oil or steel. In 1970, economist William Tabb argued that the nation’s relationship to its black ghettos was of an imperialist power to its colony, extracting wealth. In 1994, critical theorist R.A.T. Judy described this phenomenon in the words of Ice-T, if Ice-T had rapped his 1991 album O.G. Original Gangster in the language of theory. Judy extrapolates from a song called “Escape from the Killing Fields.” Judy sees William Tabb in Ice-T: a recognition of the political economy of the ghetto, which is to say, its value. “The killing fields,” Judy writes, “are the place of non-work for complete consumption of needless workers.” That is, the ghetto is where the country leaves its surplus workers to die.
According to Judy, “black folk have always been defined in relation to work.” The work is gone, but people of color are still appraised on the open market, and that logic is built into our racial slurs: A nigger was “the energy, the potential force, that the body contains…That force is the thing that the planter owns. It is the property of the planter that is the nigger. The nigger is that thing.” Black folks were defined in their value as work. But after the work disappears, what happens to the worker? It’s in the context of postindustrialization that Judy locates the nigga: “a nigga is that which emerges from the demise of human capital, what gets articulated when the field nigger loses value as labor.” That is, the nigger becomes nigga when he no longer has any work—when he becomes, economically at least, worthless.
This is the logic against which we proclaim that #BlackLivesMatter.
But matter is different than cost. Because the brilliant businessmen of America—the John Galts who make the world go round—have found value in the most neglected of Americans. In our abandoned Americans, those at the highest risk of incarceration and death-by-cop, there is value. There is value where prisoners mean prison contracts, and criminals mean fighting crime. And if fighting crime pays, then criminals are worth money—and criminalization is an economic imperative.
Even though people across the country suffer from poverty, addiction, and violence, the face of criminality is still black. User-generated media have shown how efficiently the media demonizes black victims of violence. Judy’s theory helps us see the clean economic logic behind this racism. To be proper targets for the enormous business initiative that is the War on Drugs—and the war on immigration, while we’re at it—people of color must be dehumanized, criminalized. They must be shot by the police. Judy says the role of the police, “as agents of the state, is to enforce the laws of property. In other words, the role of the police…is to turn the negro [subject] back into a nigger,” that is, a person who can be exploited for someone else’s gain. Unarmed black men continue to be murdered by white cops—at a rate of two a week, we learned today, and who knows about the border—because the great horses of our economy depend on it. The murders announce that these bodies are for sale. The murders mark them as criminal and thus available for destruction. The payoffs are enormous.
When it comes to the Israeli enforced organization of space in the West Bank and Gaza, one can always turns towards the UN Office for Coordination of Human Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian territories and the regularly updated maps they provide coupled with a multitude of important data. OCHA just released a 120-page “Gaza Crisis Atlas” that superimposes recent satellite photographs of the Gaza strip and their analyses in terms of damage imposed by the Israeli army bombing/shelling of this last month. Each red dot on these documents represents a destroyed structure, and it does not take much time to realize the amplitude of the bombings’ impact on the ground as red dots populate each page of the ‘atlas.’ What the precision of OCHA’s mapping fails to represent however, is the fact that a bombing is not confined to the violent physical destruction of a localized building, it also corresponds to an atmospheric volume of impact that I will try to expose in this article. In order to visualize this ‘atmospheric’ impact, I selected four pages of the OCHA ‘atlas’ and augmented each ‘red dot’ with a 200-meter radius circular red area. What this means is that everyone who lives inside one of these red areas has been experiencing at least one (often more) bombing in her/his immediate proximity — we can probably all agree that 200 meters equals immediate proximity when it comes to war. These four maps were selected for their representative characteristics in that some areas of the Gaza strip have been so heavily and systematically bombed that their maps would have been fully red, while a few other areas were more sporadically bombed, in particular in the less densely populated zones where the former Israeli settlements were situated. One of the map is in the North of Gaza, two others in the middle area, and the last one is near Rafah in the South, in order to illustrate how the totality of the Gaza strip was heavily affected.