Gita Hashemi on Thu, 16 Sep 2004 17:49:17 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Locating Afghanistan

Below is the essay from a recent publication, Locating Afghanistan, 
just released by Subversive Press, a new art book publisher. The 
publication accompanies an exhibition by the same title, currently 
showing at Gallery Subversive in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. 

A PDF of the book may be downloaded from Subversive Press website. 
However, we strongly encourage everybody to purchase a copy ($10, 
shipping included).  We particularly ask those of you with 
institutional affiliations to purchase institutional copies ($40, 
shipping included).

More info:
Subversive Press

Gallery Subversive



In the break between the U.S. and its former allies, the Taliban; in 
the passage from post-Soviet civil wars to post-September wars on 
civilians; in the breach between the politics of profit and the 
well-being of people; between the holes in the mountains where the 
Buddhas stood and those on the grounds where the bombs fall-

Where is Afghanistan?

|_ Infinite Injustices _|

If it is true that art is the medium of imagination, and if it is 
true that "only those who lack imagination cannot imagine what is 
lacking," then, in times of infinite injustices, the moral 
responsibility of artists is to incite public imagination.

Call this propaganda, if you will. And, if you have doubts as to why 
this must be, note the dominant tenor of our vernacular and contour 
of our imagination, of not just the people (living and dying) amidst 
ongoing wars (in occupied Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere) but ours: 
We who live in the West.

"Daisy cutters."
"Bunker busters."
"Smart bombs."
"Collateral damage."
Unscrupulous, deceitful words invade our language and our 
consciousness as so many occupying armies: They bury the dead and our 
awareness of their deaths (mass graves twice deep); and cover the 
de-humanizing truth of bombs and missiles-machinery, measured by 
range, speed, tonnage, destructive ability and dollar-cost, producing 
an immeasurable, unimaginable, hurtful legacy of shredded corpses and 
shattered survivors. On all sides.

All in "our" name.
Disguised as "our" security.
Masquerading as "our" freedom.

We who live in the West.

We who are forced to witness the callous disregard for the lives of 
civilian populations there and for the lives of those amongst us 
(mostly Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, Pacific Islanders 
and poor Whites) who (for the most) join the Almighty Military as a 
way of getting a college education and earning a decent living off 
the streets, those who are deployed to bombed out territories to 
secure gas and oil pipelines and highways. We who pay for the 
operations, the machinery and the foot patrols that guarantee the 
freedom and security of corporations to satisfy their lust for profit.

We who are subject to increasing and insidious surveillance. We who 
live with the knowledge and threat of secret detentions, 
disappearances, Guantanamo Bay, federal prisons run by private 
companies. This at the beginning of the 21st century that, in spite 
of or with all the pomposity of progress, is but a reincarnation of 
last-century's fascism staged by Disney and brought to us live by 
CNN: Hyper-real in style, with real impact on their lives there and 
our lives here:

We who took to the streets in thousands upon thousands intending to 
stop war and came away only with a more acute awareness of the limits 
of our "freedom:"

The "freedom" to be disenfranchised, to be excluded and ignored by 
(successive) political administration(s) that have bought and/or 
bullied their way into office without a democratic and legitimate 
mandate to act on our behalf.
The "freedom" to speak and see our voices sink under the deafening 
noise of live broadcasts of prime-time patriotic charades landing on 
the decks of warships.
The "freedom" to be lost in a total atmosphere: inside a sphere with 
reflective surfaces, from which, they say, there is no escape.
The "freedom" of the tree to fall into a black hole.
The "freedom" to be cynics.

|_ Enduring Freedom  _|

In a world that is colonized and saturated by image transmitted 
faster than the speed of critical reflection to our virtual and 
physical homes by corporate media-the very media that embedded 
themselves in the pockets of military-industrial complex and oil 
cartels more quickly than anybody could say "independent 
journalism"-we must reject and question any claim to mastering 
reality by image. We must scrutinize the image not only for its 
presences, but always and especially for its absences. In the age of 
representation as mass-manufactured commodity and profit-making 
spectacle, to arrive at reality through image we must interrogate the 
foundational processes of representation:

We must carefully see all that appears in the frame, question it and 
imagine all that was excluded, occluded or could not be included in 
the frame. We must see the order of things in the frame and ponder 
the multitude of other orders in which things could, might and 
perhaps must appear, in, off and without the frame.

In other words, the task of seeing critically must be conceived as a 
revolutionary enterprise for it must question authorities, reject 
imposed hierarchies and envision other possibilities. Such are 
practices that Locating Afghanistan aims to promote. In this age of 
fascist rule and empire-building packaged as "democracy," the 
fundamental differences between independent art-making and embedded 
journalism stem from the artists' will to dissent publicly as well as 
defend and preserve the space of public dissent, and in art's 
infinite capacity to elicit subversive questions and disrupt the ease 
and comfort of consuming pre-packaged answers.

These photographs were taken in March and April 2002, during Babak 
Salari's trip to Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, where large 
numbers of Afghani refugees live. This selection from the 
photographer's archive-over 5,000 analogue and digital shots-makes no 
claim to providing a complete picture of post-10/7 conditions of life 
and death for many Afghani civilians. Such claims are inherently 
false. No series of singular seconds snatched through the lens can 
capture the experiential or political dimensions of such human 
events: Real politics take shape in-camera, and trauma is experienced 
internally. And both are processes that in their temporal and spatial 
continuity fundamentally exceed photography's fragmentary shutter 
speed and fragmented frame, its limitations and fixations. As a 
recording medium, photography ultimately fails to capture and reveal 
"the real thing." As an art, it shouldn't need to.

These photographs were selected with an eye for the spaces they open 
through the absences to which they point. They must be read against 
the backdrop of all that we know or think we know or must get to know 
about Afghanistan. At best, they offer us indeterminate and 
inscrutable who, what, where and when, but not any answers to our 
inescapable why and how. This lack is characteristic of the medium 
before it is an authorial or curatorial decision. However, it is 
precisely in this lack, in this obvious narrative and mimetic lapse, 
that we, as participants rather than consumers, must find spaces for 
critical reflection: The art of questioning what poses as an answer.

Our questions will ultimately be determined as much by our individual 
imagination as by our recognition of a shared humanity that must 
transcend the stereotypes we hold of "others" and must never rest 
easy when governments, in alliance with profit, manufacture war 
against people. Anywhere. The only guarantor of freedom, this most 
cherished and least realized promise of "democracy," is our endurance 
in holding governments accountable for the quality of people's living 
and for the conditions of their dying. Everywhere.

|_ 10/7 _|

Barely more than two years have passed since the United States of 
America attacked Afghanistan under the umbrella of "war on terror;" 
this, unlike the war in Iraq, with the involvement of all NATO 
governments and the blessing of most other states.

Let us hold in check the cynicism and the despair we may fall into as 
we contemplate Afghanistan since 10/7:

Let us suppress the sigh that may escape us as we remember that in 
the first two months of carpet bombing of Afghanistan alone more 
civilian lives were claimed than on 9/11 in New York, and that the 
razing of villages and killing of families attending weddings and 
children playing in their yards continue to this day. (1)

Let us defy the frown that may detain us as we observe post-10/7 
"reconstruction efforts" in full swing in the outskirts of Kabul: 
Where the new class of rich and influential-government ministers and 
top-level officials who are either Northern Alliance warlords and 
their sons and in-laws or Western-educated and Unocal-connected 
technocrats and their cronies-are raising their mansions on the ruins 
of poor people's homes confiscated and demolished with total 

This in "liberated" Afghanistan that recently, just in feel-good time 
for our holidays, was formally re-divided among Hamid Karzai-a "Gucci 
guerrilla" with Jihadi, Taliban and American credentials on the 
resume that won him Afghanistan's presidency in Bonn, Germany(3)-the 
Northern Alliance warlords-the very same criminals that have been 
responsible for countless atrocities against Afghani civilians for 
over a decade-and loyalists of a king who hasn't been for over 25 

Let us arrest the anger that may rule us as we consider how little 
has changed in the lives of the majority of Afghani women, whose 
liberation from the burqa was celebrated as war's alleged grace by 
the White House feminists, but whose demands for guaranteed rights to 
equal citizenship, security of person and freedom of choice were 
drowned amidst the threats and noisy bickering of senior and junior 
patriarchs and bargained away-with the blessing of fundamentalist 
mullahs on the one hand and "international mediators" on the 
other-between Northern Alliance warlords and Karzai technocrats 
during the shameful display that was the Loya Jirga:

This farcical, disingenuous attempt at refashioning the Islamic 
Republic of Afghanistan in the image of a "democratic state" 
according to a blueprint that remains true to its present-day 
American model of "democracy;" a blueprint mapped out and approved in 
Bonn without the participation of any independent grass-roots women's 
organizations, without any involvement by ordinary civilian Afghanis, 
and without any meaningful representation of masses of domestic and 
cross-border Afghani refugees: In short, without the participation of 
civilians whose liberation from the Taliban tyranny was 
opportunistically proclaimed as the highest objective of the war once 
the entire American military intelligence and might, this army of 
human and high-tech drones, failed to produce Osama and Omar for 
prime-time television viewing.

As we suppress, flatten, arrest and hold in check the conventional 
responses we are likely to adopt when we hear or think about 
Afghanistan post-10/7, let us open the space for the question whose 
answer is likely to also be key to our own liberation:

How do we regard Afghanistan?

|_ Operation American Liberation _|

Beyond being an object of our fantasy or a topic of inquiry, beyond 
being a photographer's subject becoming a writer's subject, 
Afghanistan is a real land inhabited by real people.

It must now be the time for us to re-enact our agency as so many 
individuals and collectivities whose histories and imaginations have 
been animated also by concepts of liberty, equality and solidarity. 
However contested the interpretations and practices under the banner 
of these words might be, they have come to stand for how we idealize 
ourselves, for our image of ourselves. And we know what we must not 
allow these words to signify for us: Liberty must not stand for 
giving up our civil freedoms; Equality must not mean survival of the 
technologically and materially fittest; Solidarity must not equate 
corporate reconstruction contracts: Not in the language of our global 

Locating Afghanistan must become a collaborative effort to keep 
Afghanistan in the consciousness of we who live in the West. We who 
must not allow 10/7 to be absented from our liberatory conscience and 
We who must remember. We who must act.
We who leave a mark for future generations.
On the landscapes of our life and imagination, and on theirs.

Gita Hashemi, Toronto
28/01/ 2004

|_  Endnotes  _|

1-  For a report on the period between 7 October 2001 and March 2002, 
see Marc Herold, "A Dossier on Civilian Victims of United States' 
Aerial Bombing of Afghanistan: A Comprehensive Accounting [revised]," 
at Cursor.Org (2002), accessed 30 January 2004 
<>. Also, a 
documentary film by Scottish journalist Jamie Doran and Afghan 
journalist Najibullah Quraishi, "Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of 
Death," gives an account of U.S. military's involvement in the deaths 
of 3,000 alleged Taliban prisoners. See 
<> for excerpts 
and more information on this documentary, which has been widely shown 
in Europe but to date has been broadcast in the U.S. only once by 
Democracy Now! <>.

2-  See "UN accuses top Afghan ministers of land grab," originally in 
PakTribune.Com (2003), accessed on Rawa.Org (2003), 30 January 2004 
<>. For a detailed list of 
officials involved, see RAWA's special report, "Crime and barbarism 
in Shirpur by Afghan ministers and high authorities," Rawa.Org 
(2003), accessed 30 January 2004 
<>. And, "Karzai 'to stop 
officials' land grab'," BBC.Co.Uk (2003), accessed 30 January 2004 
<>. These 
incidents have not been reported in mainstream American media.

3-  For more on Karzai's background experience, see "Hamid Karzai, 
Pashtun Appointed President," CooperativeResearch.Org, accessed 30 
January 2004 
This article is a translation of "The new strong man of Afghanistan 
knows the Western world well," originally published in LeMonde.Fr 13 
December 2001 
<,5987,3210-7019-254716,00.html>. Also 
see Marc Erikson, "Mr. Karzai goes to Washington," in Asia Times 
Atimes.Com (2002), accessed 30 January 2004 
<>. Karzai was recommended 
by Zalmay Khalilzad, initially President Bush's "defense strategy" 
advisor, subsequently "special envoy" and now U.S. Ambassador to 
Afghanistan. Khalilzad's connections to the U.S. oil conglomerate, 
Unocal, are well established although rarely mentioned in the U.S. 
media. For more on Khalilzad, see Patrick Martin, "Unocal Advisor 
Named Representative to Afghanistan" on Centre for Research on 
Globalization GlobalResearch.Ca (2002), accessed 30 January 2004 
<>. Also see 
Jennifer Van Bergen, "Zalmay Khalilzad and the Bush Agenda," on 
TruthOut.Org (2001), accessed 30 January 2004 

4-  For a detailed account of current abuses, especially by the 
Northern Alliance warlords, see Human Rights Watch, "'Killing You is 
a Very Easy Thing For Us': Human Rights Abuses in Southeast 
Afghanistan," July 2003, Vol. 15, No. 05 (C), accessed 30 January 
2004 <>.

|_ Locating Afghanistan is a collaboration. _|

Photography: Babak Salari
Concepts and text: Gita Hashemi
Publication Design: Daniel Ellis
Surfaces: Haleh Niazmand
Digital photo editing: Gita Hashemi, Haleh Niazmand
Story editing: Gita Hashemi and Haleh Niazmand
Text editing: Mansour Bonakdarian
Design studio: True Identity Design
Special gratitudes to: Paul Sieka, Armen Kazazian

Printing Cedar Graphics Inc.
First published 2004
by Subversive Press
320 11th Avenue S.E.
Siute B 23
Cedar Rapids, IA 52401

Copyright 2004 Subversive Press
Photography copyright Babak Salari
Text copyleft Gita Hashemi

For educational purposes, free to reprint, reproduce or utilize in 
any form or by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known 
or hearafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in 
any information storage or retrieval system, without our permission, 
with our knowledge. We encourage you to purchase a copy.

Subversive Press is a not-for-profit publisher that aims to promote 
critical thinking through creation, publication and dissemination of 
independent arts-driven projects with a political twist. Subversive 
Press is governed by an international editorial collective. We 
welcome proposals from artists, writers, activists and community 

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