moving to a new blog

As I now hope to finally get into the habit of writing , I have decided to start a new blog.

water wheel wayfare

Insha Allah it’ll have thoughts on politics, news & info aggregation, Islamic studies, and book reviews when I get the chance.


Time to Rebel

In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

The controversy surrounding the initial statement released by the Islamic Association of North America (ISNA) in regards to the Baltimore Uprising is far from over, and is in fact beginning to reach a fever pitch exposing many of tensions and contradictions that have for too long gone largely unaddressed.

In an exchange on Facebook, ISNA board member Asad Ba-Yunus all but accused Linda Sarsour, the Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York, who was among the first to speak out against ISNA’s de facto denunciation of the uprising, of being guilty of treason daring to defend the uprising. The essence of her criticism was that ISNA only saw fit to make a statement when law and order had been broken, not, however, when the police murdered Freddie Gray, or much less when the protests were largely peaceful. Ba-Yunus, however, responded by insinuating that Sarsour supported the violence. To my knowledge. while Sarsour and many more spoke out against ISNA’s statement , they have yet to take that step.

At this juncture I believe this question of violence must be addressed head on, and I will take the position in the case of the Baltimore Uprising that this violence is just. In general, we’ve seen street battles against the police, and the burning and looting of police cars, and some stores including a cash checking shop. This violence, however, will only make sense if we understand its political and social significance.

[Please read the rest here…]

Fanon and immediacy

the first page of Wretched of the Earth struck me as extremely profound, so i thought i would just go ahead and get these thoughts down before they escape me.

National liberation, national renaissance, the restoration of nationhood to the people, commonwealth: whatever may be the headings used or the new formulas introduced, decolonization is always a violent phenomenon. At whatever level we study it — relationships between individuals, new names for sports clubs, the human admixture at cock-tail parties, in the police, on the directing boards of national or private banks — decolonization is quite simply the replacing of a certain “species” of men by another “species” of men. Without any period of transition, there is a total, complete, and absolute substitution. It is true that we could equally well stress the rise of a new nation, the setting up of a new state, its diplomatic relations, and its economic and political trends. But we have precisely chosen to speak of that kind of tabula rasa which characterizes at the outset all decolonization. Its unusual importance is that it constitutes, from the very first day, the minimum demands of the colonized. To tell the truth, the proof of success lies in a whole social structure being changed from the bottom up. The extraordinary importance of this change is that it is willed, called for, demanded. The need for this change exists in its crude state, impetuous and compelling, in the consciousness and in the lives of the men and women who are colonized. But the possibility of this change is equally experienced in the form of a terrifying future in the consciousness of another “species” of men and women: the colonizers. (WE 35)

what strikes me about this passage are two things: 1) the replacement of one “species” of people by another, and 2) the idea of this new species in its relationship to the idea of ‘immediacy’.

i just finished reading selections from Fanon’s “Black Skin, White Masks” with a couple friends — specifically Chapter 5: The Fact of Blackness and the Conclusion.

one of the things Fanon does in The Fact of Blackness is debate Sartre. in a number of places, Sartre makes the case that black consciousness is simply a prelude to what Sartre alludes to as “true” class consciousness. Sartre think it is simply the negation, but not the negation of the negation. but, as the title of the chapter describes, blackness is not something Black folks can escape. black consciousness may simply be a negation of white supremacy; it might not be the universal human being that will only emerge in the new society, but it is a necessary reclamation of the self in the process of this struggle.

as Fanon puts it, Sartre forgets that “consciousness has to lose itself in the night of the absolute, the only condition to attain to consciousness of self” (BSWM 133-134). and then later

The dialectic that brings necessity into the foundation of my freedom drives me out of myself. It shatters my unreflected position. Still in terms of consciousness, black consciousness is immanent in its own eyes. I am not a potentiality of something, I am wholly what I am. I do not have to look for the universal. No probability has any place inside me. My Negro consciousness does not hold itself out as a lack. It is. It is its own follower. (BSWM 135)

black consciousness is both motion, and the self-creation of that self-movement. but it is also the transcendence of that one place/one moment in which black consciousness emerged.

Sartre’s problem is that he sees black consciousness as something that will be transcended from without/outside of itself, and then onto some ostensibly “truer” consciousness that exists independently and outside of black consciousness.

in contrast to this, Fanon is saying that the universal human consciousness (which is different from how Sartre is describing it as working class consciousness) emerges from within black consciousness by and through the self-movement and self-transcendence of black consciousness. black consciousness, the first negation, is both self-movement, as well as the conditions and process of the emergence of the negation of the negation.

so in Wretched of the Earth, when Fanon talks about the replacement of one “species” with another, most obviously he is talking about the replacement of the colonizer by the colonized. but at this point, i don’t think that is all he is talking about.

i think the colonized replace themselves with a new self-moving personhood; a new consciousness. as Marx puts it, the internal contradiction is also externalized.

in the Master-Slave Dialectic, the slave is alienated from their own self. they see their own powers & abilities not as their own, but as something that belongs to their master. this power is then moves against the slave, holding them in bondage. in a sense then, the slave holds himself in bondage. the internal contradiction of the relationship of the slave to their own power is externalized in the relationship between the slave and the master.

but when the slave overthrows the master, they are simultaneously reclaiming their own power. no longer ruled by the master, no longer ruled by their own powers.

Decolonization is the veritable creation of new men. But this creation owes nothing of its legitimacy to supernatural power; the “thing” which has been colonized becomes man during the same process by which it frees itself.  (WE 37)

this moment that is both the reclamation of the self and self-movement against the master is the emergence of a new consciousness. for consciousness to see itself as lacking is to remain in a state of alienation. to remain in a state of alienation — to not lose one’s self in the absolute — is to reproduce the impossibility of self-movement.

immediacy is also an important concept. the new consciousness — no longer “the colonized” — is immediate. Fanon describes it as a tabula rasa; something completely new and completely separate from the old. the absolute of the new self/consciousness is dialectically related to the fact that the colonized demand the complete and immediate raising of the old society. the ‘immediate’ here should be taken to mean without mediation, or the subject realizing itself in its own activity, in complete unity with itself through anti-colonial violence

but he ends here by saying that just as the possibility for this new consciousness exists as a possibility — a possibility only until it emerges — “in the lives and consciousness of the men and women who are colonized” it is also externalized as “a terrifying future in the consciousness of… the colonizers.”

understanding consciousness and activity as an “immediacy” connects to Fanon’s conception of violence in another way. the term immediacy doesn’t just mean instantaneous in the temporal sense, it also means without mediation, and the issue of mediation is key to Fanon’s conception of alienation. in The Fact of Blackness he says,

As long as the black man is among his own, he will have no occasion, except in minor internal conflicts, to experience his being through others. (BSWM 109)

This follows the first two paragraphs of the chapter in which Fanon describes how as a black person he exists as an object.

I came in into the world imbued with the will to find a meaning in things, my spirit filled with the desire to attain to the source of the world, and then I found that I was an object in the midst of other objects.  (BSWM 109)

people of color, thus, become objects through the way our being is mediated through the ways we are racialized.  as racialized beings we have little direct experience of ourselves.

so there is an inner logic that ties together our alienation and the activity to overcome that alienation, which is to break out of that mediation.

later on page 36, Fanon states this simultaneous external — between the colonized and colonizer — and internal — as an emerging free & liberating consciousness within the colonized — movement very clearly:

Decolonization is the meeting of two forces, opposed to each other by their very nature…

Decolonization is the veritable creation of new men. But this creation owes nothing of its legitimacy to any supernatural power; the “thing” which has been colonized becomes man during the same process by which it frees itself. (WE 36)

a fire burning, a burning fire

i figured it would be appropriate that my first post be on José Clemente Orozco’s “Hombre de Fuego”

Orozco was a contemporary of Diego Rivera, and while some have described them as both colleagues and rivals, both were leading figures in the Mexican Mural Renaissance. i’ve always liked Rivera.  i appreciate his attempt to locate a specific subject — the early 20th century proletariat and peasants — and how he made your common everyday proletariat and the everyday work we do the subject and center of his art.  his work seemed to be a process of self-reflection by the working class; an attempt to see both what could be and the depth in our day-to-day experiences of work and politics.  an important task of any communist movement.

despite all this, Rivera has always been a little too literal for me.

i’m still getting to know Orozco’s work, but that’s one of the things that i like about him:  his imagery is very imaginative, and his work seizes on the emotional and moral dimensions of history and life; two very important human qualities also at the center of communist movements.

i came across this provocative description of Orozco and his “Hombre de Fuego”

“For all his disillusionment with the world, Orozco never lost his belief in the gifted individual’s capacity for freedom. No doubt Man of Fire is a kind of self-portrait—an artist moving upward, immolating himself in the artistic act, inspiration consuming itself as it burns. In the end, Orozco believed, beauty could be redemptive. “All aesthetics, of whatever kind, are a movement forward and not backward,” he said. “An art work is never negative. By the very fact of being an art work, it is constructive.”

Unpublished lecture delivered November 16, 1990, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

here is a fuller view of the mural in the main cupola of the Hospicio Cabañas, hanging 27 meters above the ground, and measuring 11 meters across:

i hope to keep posting more of Orozco’s work in the future.