Category Archives: Arab Spring

News from Gezi Park, Istanbul; Don’t Forget the Penguins as the Ice Floes Melt

Mick Taussig 
           The Occupy Idea took off in Istanbul like wildfire, albeit with its own trajectory and historical roots.  I have been here five days since June 14 and every day, or rather night, something new happens. I cannot pretend to give a synthetic overview, of which I am sure there are many on the internet, but bearing in mind our little book on Occupy being launched tonight in Chicago, I will try to make a rough sketch of what I have been part of and has been told me by Turkish friends, emphasizing what could be learnt by people in the USA.

            It may seem strange to begin by saying that Istanbul hands down is the most beautiful city I have ever visited and I mention this not only because Istanbul deserves this accolade but because of the threat posed to this historical crossroads by the voracious  capitalist development now tearing at its heart.

            The plan to radically alter the main square—Taksim Square—and demolish adjoining Gezi Park with its lofty trees so as to build a shopping mall in an area saturated with malls and no green space, gives you an idea of what I am talking about.      

            You also have to understand that Taksim Square is like the nerve center of the nation, symbolically, with its monument to the founders of modern Turkey and the scene of bloody battles on May Day over the decades.  You might also note that Gezi Park was built over a military establishment, itself built over an Armenian cemetery, destroyed many decades back as part of erasure of memory of genocide on which modern Turkey was built.  The symbolic weight of the site is crushing and awe inspiring.

            The festive and pacifist air of the sit-in to protect the trees starting May 27 took a radically different tone when the police raided the protesters and forced them out a few days later using a hurricane of tear gas and water cannons. But as people poured into the area, the protesters regained the park and held it in a most extraordinarily carnivalesque way for some ten days during which it became like Occupy in Zuccotti Park, except that Gezi Park is ever so much larger and there were ever so many more people.

            There was no mic check—the crowd is huge—hand made signs were everywhere, an organic garden and flower garden was made in one corner with IV drips for the plants, innumerable tents were pitched, there was a free book exchange, and many posters of political parties. Turkey is alive with political tensions as the Islamist party in power is challenged by the old secular nationalists of the founding of modern Turkey thirsting for revenge, with the Kurdish party in the wings, all taken by surprise by this new uprising.

            Throughout my time here I hear of protesters wishing to form a new party, but the overwhelming sense I get is that that is considered a joke for, like Zuccotti, the movement is largely outside that idea and practice of politics. It is, rather, a deeply rooted, cultural movement that no one could have predicted. Like Marx’s Old Mole of Revolution, Occupy type movements surface in unexpected places throughout the world.

            The size of the crowds pouring into Gezi Park in the ten days, especially after work hours, was overwhelming. I cannot possibly do justice to this. It was like the sea had broke loose. Watching TV it seemed like most of Istanbul was pouring into the park walking in on freeways and across the bridges over the Bosphorous. 

            The park was filled with free water bottles and food and on the steps many street street vendors set up stalls selling swimming goggles for protection against tear gas and water cannon spray (said to contain pepper spray as well), and hard hats. I saw one display of hard hats for sale in a wide arc on the ground, white hat, blue hat, white hat and so forth.

            Outside the park felt like May 68 in Paris to me. Reality had cracked. There was the ordinary everyday sitting in the cafes drinking a beer, listening to stories about the past few days, and yet there was also this air of unreality seeping through one’s body. A beauty parlor had a sign in the window: “Pepper Spray is Good For Your Skin.” You always feel on edge, that everything could change in an instant. This is not just war, I think, but the whole so-called system is ready to explode and a new way of life. The imagination has been unleashed. At the same time the government is rounding up radical leftists from their homes and disappearing them.

            People walk past in the brilliant sunshine with hard hats on, side by side with the occasional tourist and curious citizen. Shopkeepers stand in their doorways. The large luxury hotels around the park allowed protesters to use their bathrooms and in some infirmary’s were installed—later attacked by the police using tear gas. Starbucks was smashed for not providing refuge

            Strange things happen. Many signs in the park declared the president to be the “son of a whore.”  Next day a number of prostitutes turned up saying “we would never give birth to such a monster.” It became un-cool to use sexist language in the park and at the barricades when the fighting started again. For the first time (I believe) the LGBT presence was made manifest, as well. There were as many women as men in the park and fighting on the streets after the park was attacked the second time.

            A striking feature was the role of football club fans with their chants and maneuvers rooted not only in team support but in the neighborhoods from which the clubs sprang, something we never saw in Zuccotti. At one point a mobile crane was stolen by the Bashiktash fans and used to attack a police water cannon truck, rocking it from side to side until the police fled. Next day the truck was for sale on ebay.

            Then there was the pianist in the park. A friend writes me: On Wednesday night, a day after the big police attack of Tuesday and the night when we thought they may empty the park because there had been a lot of police presence, there was a piano concert. The pianist was Davide Martello who left from Sicily with his piano in his truck, travelled through various countries in Europe. His concert started in front of the statue in Taksim but then the piano was carried to the barricade at the Gezi Park entrance and became part of the barricade. He played songs from “Imagine” to “Ciao Bella” and the group of football fans around him cheered him on. He was wearing a helmet against tear gas canisters like the rest of us and right behind this in the tent of the Kurdish party, there was halay (Kurdish folk dance, which is part of every demonstration and is thus extremely politicized). Later when the police kicked us out of Gezi on Saturday the piano, along with the pianist, was “arrested” too.

            The street fighting was intense, as you must have seen. There were direct confrontations all night long for many nights with police using tear gas, and the demonstrators building barricades and hurling stones. Protesters were very afraid because arrest could mean disappearing forever. The battles would rage down side streets with people drawing the police into a cat-and-mouse game. The Governor of Istanbul—made famous for ordering massacres in Kurdish areas of eastern Turkey—said on TV that police would be using live ammunition.

            Then last Monday things seemed to change. A General Strike was called by many unions (with limited success) and people walked around Taksim square and adjoining streets in small groups but not fighting. Bear in mind that just like in guerrilla warfare in which the state can never tell who is a peasant and who is a rebel, so here they could not tell who is “just a pedestrian” and who is a street fighter.

            Then a 34 years old performance artist and dancer, Erdem Gündüz, stood sock still and expressionless for many hours at the square. Others joined.  The streets filled with these (barely) living statues. Talk about uncanny! And what were the police going to do. Arrest stiller than still people. Well, that’s what they did but still more people joined in this death-in-life tableau. It was amazing to walk past row after row of deathly still, erect, unmoving people, and this happened, I believe, in many other parts of this city of 14 million people.

            Then the forums started at 9 at night in different neighborhoods, rich and poor, throughout the city. They had begun, tentatively in Gezi Park before the final attack. Then the brilliant move was to fan out in the neighborhoods, First there were three and last night twelve. The crush of the one I attended in a park with a deep amphitheater was intense. The moon was getting full, the night balmy, and people enjoying each other’s closeness. They used the hand signals of Zuccotti park—but far more enthusiastically and on a grand piano a Kurdish song was played and also a piece written especially for the struggle. It was wonderful to hear that music, so precise, so other-worldly, floating through us into the dark sky. The national anthem was sung which angered my friends greatly. (Note that there is an intense libidinal attachment to the current prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan. TV caught a 70 years old woman supporter of the prime minister saying “We are the hairs around Tayyip’s arsehole.”) Using a battery powered megaphone people debated whether to figure out the next move or whether to engage in a more philosophical discussion. The night before, so I was told, gay issues, previously taboo, had been aired. At another moment a young man with long hair said he felt uncomfortable about standing under the national flag for which he was expected to die (remember military service is obligatory for men, and conscientious objectors, I am told, are likely to be tortured and raped in prison).  

            Then a group of people dressed as penguins made a brief appearance before marching away in Chaplinesque fashion, the penguins having become a proliferating, albeit comical, symbol of the mighty power of this proto-fascist government, every day more sinister, because CNN-Turkey had days earlier refrained from showing the intense police violence by showing The March of the Penguins.

            Don’t forget the penguins as the ice floes melt.

 

           

 

 

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June 24, 2013 · 12:59 pm

Democratic Rhapsody and Anxiety in Postrevolutionary Tunisia

 

Danny Postel

 

“[Tunisian dictator] Ben Ali’s departure on January 14, 2011 released a host of formerly unaired and long-suppressed grievances. After decades of repression, many Tunisians are talking openly across the political tablehearing one another’s views in an atmosphere of free debate for the very first time. This process of self-reckoning has proven both exhilarating and immensely frightening for many Tunisians, some of whom are shocked to see their so-called Islamist party rejecting a fully sharia-based constitution, others of whom find it difficult to fathom that their seemingly secular state could be the site of antiblasphemy protests and pro-niqab rallies.”

This observation from the Tunisia scholar Monica Marks remains as relevant today as when she made it six months ago and very much resonates with my own experience over the last ten days in the small but hugely pivotal North African country. It was here, after all, in December 2010, that the cascade of uprisings that would convulse the Arab world got going.

 

This was my first time in a country so soon after a revolution. I was in Cuba forty years after its revolution and Iran twenty-eight years after its own. But in Tunisia the revolution is hot off the presses—literally. Since the dictatorship of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was toppled just over two years ago, Tunisia has seen an explosion of newspapers, TV stations, and websites giving voice to a plethora of opinions. Under the twenty-three years of Ben Ali’s rule, Tunisian media were purely an organ of state propaganda. No independent outlets were allowed, no dissent tolerated.

Image 

I never visited Tunisia before the revolution, so I can’t speak from first-hand experience, but Tunisians are quick to emphasize how different the atmosphere is today. Last Monday I spent the afternoon with Mongi (pronounced “Moan Jee”) Smaili, a professor of economics at the University of Tunis and a researcher with the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT). We were discussing Tunisia’s increasingly contentious political landscape while strolling down Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the central thoroughfare of Tunis, when he paused to reflect on the experience. “Before the revolution,” he remarked, “this conversation that we’re having would have been dangerous.” Ben Ali’s security forces, he said, would have approached him after our visit and grilled him about who I was, how he knew me, why we were together ,and what we were talking about.

 

“Now,” he explained, “we’re free to talk to anyone we want, about anything we want, without fear.”

 

And this from someone who is sharply critical of Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party that has been at the helm of Tunisia’s current governing coalition since winning the country’s first postrevolutionary elections, held in October 2011. But on this point every Tunisian I spoke with, across the political spectrum, agreed: the one unquestionable achievement of the revolution is the freedom of expression now enjoyed in the country. And Tunisians are taking advantage of that new breathing space. This new spirit in the country was palpable everywhere I went. Taxi drivers, students, waiters, bureaucrats, intellectuals, housewives, and trade unionists all volunteered passionate opinions about the current political situation, and dramatically different ones. Some expressed strong approval of Ennahda, others strong disapproval. And Ennahda’s opponents claim allegiance to several different parties: some to the centrist secular party Nidaa Tounes, others to the Popular Front, a coalition of left-wing parties. For all the challenges Tunisians face—and there are many—they have now entered the realm of multiparty democracy and are engaged in a spirited debate about the country’s future.

 

Anxiety is also widespread, and on the rise—particularly since the assassination in early February of leftist opposition leader Chokri Belaid. The investigation into his murder is ongoing, and impatience is growing. This event has rattled Tunisian society, in part because political violence is so rare in the country’s history. The last time a Tunisian political figure was assassinated was sixty years ago, shortly before independence, when the trade unionist and anticolonial leader Farhat Hached was murdered, and agents of French colonialism are widely believed to have been responsible. Many Tunisians were left wondering who might be next.

 

“People are really freaking out,” one young Tunisian told me. And not just over Belaid’s assassination, but over the growing atmosphere of violence and intimidation in the country. Salafists, though small in numbers, have been making their presence felt, staging attacks on cultural events and fellow Tunisians they deem un-Islamic. This too is something that many in Tunisia, where secularism enjoys deep roots—and where the practice of Islam has historically been decidedly unextreme—find perplexing. Then there are the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution, vigilante groups of morality police who patrol the streets to keep people in line, in a manner evocative of Iran’s thuggish basij militias.

 

A debate is now raging among Tunisians over Ennahda’s role in these developments. Many blame the Islamist party for fostering this climate of intimidation or at least for turning a blind eye to the rampages of such groups. Why, many Tunisians ask, hasn’t Ennahda disbanded or at least reigned in the Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution? Why has the party not cracked down on these thuggish elements who seem to be roaming more freely than ever before?

 

Ennahda counters that Tunisia under its rule is no longer a police state, and it can’t control everything that goes on in the country. “If crimes are committed we should prosecute them, but we can’t arrest people for their beliefs,” Rached Ghannouchi, Ennahda’s leader, has said. The party officially denounces Salafist violence and complains that these groups, which outflank Ennahda on the right, are a thorn in its side. But Ennahda also points out that there are divisions among Salafis, and not all of them are engaged in troublemaking. Secular and liberal Tunisians are unsatisfied by this response and hold Ennahda responsible for the climate of fear that has begun to permeate everyday life and polarize the society.

 

The good news is that because Tunisia is now democratic, these disputes are being hashed out in the court of public opinion and will be resolved at the ballot box. Elections are likely to be called in November or December.

 

At a conference on “Democratic Transitions in the Arab World” I attended in Tunis over the weekend, the comparativist Marina Ottaway observed that conflict grows out of all democratic transitions. All revolutions, she pointed out, produce winners and losers, and postrevolutionary situations involve clashes of visions. The war of position in Tunisia between Islamists and secularists today is nothing unique. Indeed it’s a vital sign for a postrevolutionary society. The fear is that the growing climate of violence, intimidation and polarization could rip the fabric of Tunisian society apart, just as this new democratic space and culture of pluralism are forming. But I left the country feeling optimistic that, despite all its challenges, Tunisia will navigate these waters and find its way forward.

 

My next post will feature my interview with Mongi Smaili, the economist and labor researcher I mention above, about the state of the labor movement in Tunisia and the Ennahda-led government’s economic policies. Stay tuned for that.

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Further Thoughts on Occupy: Open Letter to W. J. T. Mitchell

 

I’ve just been catching up on my journal reading and very much appreciated the recent bundle of articles on the Occupy movement in Critical Inquiry. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/668047 But I also have one critique. Initially I hesitated to write, but I realized I was reading something that was very familiar to me, not only in your writing but in many others, that bears commenting on. Your preface offers an overview of the Occupy movement from an almost invisibly American perspective. Of course you are American, and so you may argue that this perspective makes sense. But I think there is a problem when it leads to misrepresentation. I especially think there is a problem in our current world of geopolitical inquiry, globalization, and transnationalism.

            As I’m sure you know, the Occupy movement took its name from the Vancouver-based magazine Adbusters. Occupy movements were present in every major city in Canada. In my city, Ottawa, which also happens to be the nation’s capital, the movement produced controversy as well as assent, a space for debate and gathering as well as a space of occasional violence. But when you reference the Occupy movement geographically you interestingly “confine” it primarily to the US. Consider your references. Occupy moves “from highly particular events in New York’s Zucotti Park” (this is true enough), to its relation to “American politics,” to “uprisings that spread like a virus across the Middle East to Europe, the United States, and beyond.” This virus apparently bypasses Canada, the US’s closest neighbour. Later you note that “protests spread from Zucotti Park to scores of cities all over the US.” Later still you refer to “nonviolent protestors across the US.” Of course it is fine to discuss the Occupy movement in its American context, but it is just the assumption that this context is the context for the movement that troubles me.

            I want to be clear: I am by no means calling for national inclusion; my point is not that Canada was left out of your narrative. I am not suggesting that you add “and Canada” to your lists. Rather I am making a plea for rethinking and reframing the way that nation is discussed, in general, and the way that the US is referenced, in particular. Too often, it seems to me, American intellectuals read large political and social movements only through the lens of American geopolitical identity. The imagination of a broader context does not even enter the discussion (or, if it does, it is captured by the vague and uncritical “and beyond.”)  

            You are in a prominent position to make an intervention here. When a leading intellectual participates in and reinforces this sort of partial, geographically bounded, description of a major social movement, it limits the way that we think about the issues. I am making a subtle request but I do believe it is hugely consequential for the ways in which we understand our roles in the academy and our vision for the future of intellectual inquiry. For, as you suggest, a shift in language can trigger shifts in our conversations that expand the limits of what is both thinkable and possible. 

             

Barbara Leckie
Associate Professor & Graduate Chair
Department of English &
Institute for the Comparative Study of Literature, Art, and Culture

Carleton University

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Hugo Chávez and the Middle East: Which Side Was He On?

 

Danny Postel

 

     Most of the postmortem commentary on Hugo Chávez has focused on his domestic legacy in Venezuela, his wider regional legacy within Latin America, and what we might call his hemispheric legacy—his “special relationship” with the United States. And for good reason: these were the principal realms in which he operated during his fourteen years as Venezuela’s president (1999–2013), and it is for his accomplishments in these domains that he will be remembered and the Chávez Era (it was, to be sure, an era) will be evaluated.

     But there’s a less discussed dimension of the Chávez legacy that I’d like to examine briefly: his relations with the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, a story whose significance became more salient with the onset of the momentous changes the region has been undergoing over the last few years—not merely since the “Arab Spring” or Arab revolts starting at the end of 2010 but going back to the upheaval in Iran in the summer of 2009.

     But, first, let me be clear that I admire a great deal of what Chávez and his Bolivarian Revolution accomplished in Venezuela. As Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research points out, the Chávez government

reduced poverty by half and extreme poverty by 70 percent.  Millions of people also got access to health care for the first time, and access to education also increased sharply, with college enrollment doubling and free tuition for many. Eligibility for public pensions tripled.

And it’s significant that Chávez did all of this through the ballot, not the bullet. He was elected and reelected repeatedly, and by wide margins. I’ve praised the experiments with alternatives to neoliberalism in Venezuela, suggesting that other movements around the world study and learn from them. I’ve even been taken to task for being too pro-Chávez.

     It’s precisely because of these positive accomplishments that Chávez’s record on the Middle East and North Africa is so disconcerting.

Chavez-AhmadinejadChavez-Qaddafi2
  Chávez had been an enthusiast of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad since the latter became Iran’s president in 2005. In 2006, while Ahmadinejad presided over a massive escalation of repression against dissidents, trade unionists, and human rights activists in Iran, Chávez awarded him the Order of the Liberator medal, the highest honor Venezuela bestows on foreign dignitaries. In June of 2009, as millions of Iranians took to the streets to ask Where Is My Vote? Chávez was among the first world leaders to congratulate his ally in Tehran on his reelection, and the Venezuelan foreign ministry issued this statement:    

The Bolivarian Government of Venezuela expresses its firm opposition to the vicious and unfounded campaign to discredit the institutions of the Islamic Republic of Iran, unleashed from outside, designed to roil the political climate of our brother country. From Venezuela, we denounce these acts of interference in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, while demanding an immediate halt to the maneuvers to threaten and destabilize the Islamic Revolution.

     This provoked widespread dismay and appeals to Chávez from Iranians, many of whom sympathized with the ideals of the Bolivarian Revolution, to stop supporting their reactionary president. Those appeals, alas, went ignored, further damaging the standing of the Venezuelan leader among progressive Iranians.

 

“Complicated”

     “In Egypt, the situation is complicated,” Chávez pronounced during the Tahrir Square protests that brought down Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. He remained conspicuously silent on the Battle of Cairo, one of the great democratic uprisings of recent times, remarking merely that “national sovereignty” should be respected.

     But silent he was not as the Arab revolts spread to Libya and Syria; he spoke out emphatically in support of Muammar Qaddafi and Bashar Assad. Chávez had been chummy with the Libyan leader before the 2011 uprising against him; in 2009 he regaled Qaddafi with a replica of Simón Bolívar’s sword and awarded him the same Order of the Liberator medal he’d bestowed on Ahmadinejad. “What Símon Bolívar is to the Venezuelan people,” Chávez declared, “Qaddafi is to the Libyan people.” As the Libyan revolt grew and Qaddafi went on a rampage of slaughter, Chávez was one of a handful of world leaders who stood by him: “We do support the government of Libya.” That support, as one observer noted, was “politically costly and proved to be an embarrassment to many of Latin America’s erstwhile revolutionaries who now share a vision of a democratic future.”

     “How can I not support Assad?” Chávez asked last year as the body count in Syria approached sixty thousand. While the regime bombed bread lines and hospitals, Chávez shipped upwards of 600,000 barrels of Venezuelan diesel to his ally in Damascus. Meanwhile, the Chávez-inspired Bolivarian Alliance for Latin America (ALBA) denounced a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution that condemned the Assad regime for the horrific massacre of over one hundred noncombatants, including forty-nine children. The UN resolution, ALBA protested, was an attempt to “interfere in Syria’s internal affairs.”

     Chávez’s support for despotic and murderous regimes isn’t limited to the Middle East; he also hailed Zimbabwe’s dictator Robert Mugabe, the late Ugandan tyrant Idi Amin, and Alexander Lukashenko, the repressive Belarusian leader known as “Europe’s last dictator.”

     These international alliances raise troubling questions about Chávez’s judgment and legacy (a legacy that awaits, and deserves, a thorough historical reckoning along the lines of Perry Anderson’s magisterial retrospective on Brazil’s Lula), especially for those of us who do admire many of the Bolivarian Revolution’s accomplishments.

     Some of Chávez’s defenders chalk these unsavory alliances up to realpolitik calculations that a Third World leader has no choice but to make in dealing with a global hegemon hell bent on undermining all alternatives to its dictates. But this only goes so far. Lula’s foreign policy involved lots of deals and alliances—the Brazilian-Turkish attempt to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue, for instance—but, unlike Chávez, he never defended the repressive domestic policies of the Islamic Republic or denounced Iran’s democratic movement.

     A group of Iranian leftists who support the goals of the Bolivarian Revolution made this point in an open letter to Chávez. “To us,” the letter reads, “it is possible for the Venezuelan government to have close diplomatic and trade relations with the Iranian government without giving it political support—particularly where domestic policy is concerned. Above all, endorsing its labor policy is in complete contradiction with your own domestic policy.”

     Dealing with ambiguity has never been a particular forte of the Left. Yet assessing the legacy of Hugo Chávez requires nothing so much as a sense of ambiguity. I thus find Bhaskar Sunkara’s observation that the Bolivarian Revolution contains “both authoritarian and democratic, demagogic and participatory” elements most refreshing. I know from personal conversations with countless progressives that ambivalence about Chávez, particularly on the international front, runs deep—but the critical conversation has yet to reflect that ambivalence.

     Theorizing Chávez’s international relations—examining the ideological affinities between his left-wing populism and the right-wing populism of Ahmadinejad, exploring patterns between his domestic and foreign policies, comparing his international dealings with those of other progressive leaders in the Global South—remains to be done. I don’t think any complete reckoning with the legacy of this historic political figure can be complete without confronting these questions, thorny though they may be.

     Rather than draw any grand conclusions on this phenomenon, though, I’d love to hear what thoughtful admirers of Chávez like Ernesto Laclau might have to say on the subject. Perhaps we can enter into a critical dialogue on this theme.

 

     Danny Postel is the associate director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. He is the author of Reading “Legitimation Crisis” in Tehran (2006) and the coeditor, with Nader Hashemi, of The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran’s Future (2011).

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THE ARTS OF OCCUPATION

The Arts of Occupation:  A Call for Crowd Sourcing

Critical Inquiry announces a call to assemble a virtual archive of the Arts of Occupation.  We invite our readers to send images in all media, as well as links, anecdotes, brief essays, reports, games, scripts for performance, and videos that will document the aesthetic as well as the tactical and political side of practices of occupation.  We are interested in the “creative” aspect of the global occupation movement, the ways in which it produces new forms of spectacle, space, face, and inscription.  We are asking for our readers’ aesthetic judgments, not just their political views.  What images and statements have impressed them as especially elegant, powerful, salient, eloquent, penetrating, and—well, yes—beautiful?   What specific images (both metaphors and visual images) have had the most impact, and why?    Is there a new image of the crowd  itself, as a bodily presence in a real place, and as a virtual entity, a mass  social movement?  Is there a new image of the individual, at once non-subject and non-sovereign?  How have the media, both old and new, from Twitter to the People’s Mic, produced and reproduced the emergent forms of democracy?   How is the “sensible,” meaning both sensuous and thinkable, re-distributed by the actions and images of the Occupy Movement?

We do not wish to limit the archive to 2011, though this year just past will clearly stand as the historical beginning of a new sense of the words and images associated with “occupation.”  After a half century of thinking of this word as invariably coupled with military occupation, and with landscapes of  conquest and colonization, a new meaning has suddenly imposed itself.   At the same time the image-concept of the camp and encampment has shifted from a site of detention and dehumanization to one of insurgency and non-violent resistance.  “Occupation” has turned from the sphere of power to that of weakness, disenfranchisement, poverty, as well as resistance, insurgency, and creative direct action.   What are the aesthetic aims and effects of lying down under a red carpet at the entrance to a Chamber of Commerce gala? Camping in a public park until the police remove you?  Erecting a tent city in the midst of Tel Aviv?  Shutting down harbors in Oakland, Long Beach, Portland, and Seattle?  Opening free clinics, libraries, clothing exchanges, media centers, educational projects?  Scribbling slogans, questions, declarations, accusations,  demands, and jokes?  Assembling as an embodied movement on symbolic sites—capitols, city halls, banks, museums, schools, and foreclosed homes.

And, finally, we invite critical and theoretical reflection on the Arts of Occupation.  There needs to be some recognition of the “black arts” of occupation (violence, exploitation, domination) that have mostly characterized the preceding era.  We want to know which arts, and which specific performances, have had the greatest effect in mobilizing this counter-movement?  What have been the failures and successes, and what can we learn from them?

Submit your entry simply by responding to this post.

And to follow Critical Inquiry contributors Slavoj Žižek and Judith Butler on the Occupy movement, click on the following links:

Žižek  in the Guardian

Žižek  in the Observer

Žižek on YouTube

Žižek  on Verso Books

Butler on Salon

Butler on Occupywriters.com

Butler on Worlds of Change

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Filed under Arab Spring, Arts, Critical Inquiry, Criticsm, Media, Occupy

REPORT FROM CAIRO–FURTHER THOUGHT

One more furious thought.
The formation of the government is nothing but an outloud catastrophy. In addition to the “ancient” PM, there is a scandal about the minister of Interior Affairs. He was the assisstant of the security head general in Alexandria. For those who are not aware what Alex stands for please recall the murder of Khaled Said, the precursor of the Revolution; and the brutal torture of Sayed Belal for 9 hrs as a suspect of explding the famous Church “the Saints”, that was on the eve of the New Year!! This is just a tiny example of the “new” government. Indeed those people who have been anti the Revolution should relax now, the scene looks familiar. To add more to the farce, this minister is to perform the oath today and soon on the 25th Dec he is to go to court to answer to the accusations of “murdering” protesters of Alex in last January. And…we are still receiving the blessings of the West…
Sent from Etisalat Misr by Shereen Naga, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Cairo University

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Filed under Arab Spring, Critical Inquiry, Revolution

REPORT FROM CAIRO ON THE ELECTIONS

I believe these elections should be listed as one of the biggest treasons in history. While we were being attacked in Tahrir Square, completely desrted by all the political parties, and accused of all nasty things in the media, the voting polls opened and received people who were standing in lines (out of fear from paying the fine which is 100$). All legal violations were allowed by the police and military, i.e., the Muslim Brotherhood were waiting at the gates for the people telling them whom to vote for. Nontheless, all the world raved about the Egyptian elections!! The final results are not out, all we know is the results of the individual candidates (not the lists), and it is apparent that the MB and the Salafis (the very strictly fundamental ones similar to those of Pakistan_) are gaining ground. While the whole society is in panic, the US issued a statement to bless them: “we are proud of democracy and we are able to deal with any government”!! The problem is that nobody is paying attention to the real problem: it is the military rule!! This parliament is absurd, here is the funny process as designed by the military council: elections of the MP’s, writing the constitution, presidential elections, then again elections of a new parliament. Can you believe that? So this parliament is nothing since it is not going to stay, it does not have the authority to dismiss the military council, and it is not allowed to make any decisions concerning the government. Talking of the government, they (MC) resurrected a prime minister who has been a member of Mubarak’s gov., his discourse and rhetoric are poorly senile, his weakness cannot be mistaken, he held a press conference yesterday and it was pathetic.
As I told you the situation is very fluid and every 5 minutes there is something new, and so the head of the Culture Council has become the Minister of Culture! Just like that, over one night…
As we have been completely dumped by all politicians and parties we decided- after a voting- to suspend the sit-in. Many of us have died and several are dangerously injured, not to mention those who lost their eyes permanently.

To be cont.

warmest regards

Shereen Aboueinaga

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Filed under Arab Spring, Consitution, Revolution

Civil Awakening

Ariella Azoulay

…and while you are returning home,
your home,
think of others
don’t forget the people of the tents…

(Mahmoud Darwish, tr. Fayeq Oweis)

One summer day in July 2011, without any particular previous sign, masses of civilians appeared in the streets and public squares all over the State of Israel. Continue reading

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Filed under Arab Spring, Palestinian protest

Annals of Philosophy in Libya

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and the Libyan Constitution

Ned McClennen

In 2002 Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of Muammar Gaddafi, applied for admission to a Master’s program in philosophy, policy and social values I was teaching at the London School of Economics and Political Science.  Continue reading

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Filed under Arab Spring, Libya, Libyan Constitution, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi

POETIC JUSTICE: 9-11 to Now

W. J. T. Mitchell

Was the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011 an act of justice, as Barack Obama claimed? Continue reading

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Filed under 9-11, Arab Spring, Arts, Critical Inquiry, Criticsm, death of bin Laden