Ici-et-ailleurs (here and elsewhere) is the title of the new exhibition at the New Museum in New York on art from and about the Arab world that I have been to see twice now. The title of the exhibition is taken from the fascinating French documentary of the same title (see video above) by Jean-Pierre Gorin, Jean-Luc Goddard and Anne-Marie Melville.

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Qalandia 2087 by Wafa Hourani

The documentary made in 1976 is about Palestinian revolutionaries and focuses on the problematic between the image and politics. An issue of course more relevant than ever at the moment and what better place for it than here, New York. There is a lot a material in this exhibition and I am going to focus on one small part, of one small part, of the exhibition, specifically the use of mirrors in Qalandia 2087.

I was really interested in the use of “architectural” models as art pieces in the exhibition (I am thinking a lot about the socio-spatial uses of such models at the moment) and specifically Qalandia 2087 by Wafa Hourani, the third part of a series called the Future Cities (see images of the artwork here).

Hourani has produced an architectural model of a utopian vision of Qalandia one hundred years after the first intifada. Online (here) I found an interesting timeline of Qalandia 2087 by Hourani that I did not see at the exhibition and that seems important to understand the piece. In 1948, following the Nakba, Qalandia became home to thousands of refugees. The name Qalandia comes from a nearby airport of the same name. The Qalandia refugee camp that formed became a pivotal space, located between north Jerusalem and south Ramallah. According to Hourani’s timeline, the year 2087 is when the Mirror Party sign a historic agreement with the new Israeli government and the Palestinians are given the right of return and the 1967 lands back.

Mirrors are important to the piece, and from the information on Hourani’s timeline, have been placed on the Israeli Wall by the Mirror Party “to create the illusion of more space, and seeing their reflection everywhere, begin to wonder how they got in there” and (of course) the mirror has made it into the Guinness Book of Records for the largest mirror in the world. In 2087 when the historic agreement is signed the Wall is not taken down but the cement is taken down and a mirror is fixed to the other side.

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Qalandia 2087 by Wafa Hourani

The insertion of mirrors and use of mirrors in this piece reminds me of two pieces and provides interesting connectors to Hourani’s piece and speak to two possible understandings of how this future city ended up with two of the largest mirrors in the world facing opposite each other.

The first is Mumford’s Technics and Civilization where Mumford highlights the introduction of the mirror (glass coated with a silver amalgam) in the sixteenth century and the transformative impact this had on society: “Self-consciousness, introspection, mirror conversation developed with the new object itself: this preoccupation with one’s image comes at the threshold of the mature personality when young Narcissus gazes long and deep into the face of the pool – and the sense of the separate personality, a perception of the objective attributes of one’s identity, grows out of this communion.” This passage resonates with Hourani’s model that is a vision that provides a critique of Palestinian social life, as much as, the Israeli occupation. Later Mumford delivers this: “Indeed, when one is completely whole and at one with the world one does not need the mirror: it is in the period of psychic disintegration that the individual personality turns to the lonely image to see what is in fact is there and what he can hold on to; and it was in the period of cultural disintegration that men began to hold the mirror up to outer nature.”

The other piece of writing that this use of mirrors reminded me of is Eyal Weizman’s chapter in Hollow Land on Checkpoints: The Split Sovereign and the One-Way Mirror. And surprise suprise the chapter features… Qalandia checkpoint! “The upgrade of the Qalandia terminal crossing, which connects (or rather disconnects) Jerusalem from Ramallah, was completed, according to the principles of the Spiegel plan, at the end of 2005. The new system includes a labyrinth of iron fences that channels passengers en route to Jerusalem via a series of turnstiles… The inspection booths are encased in bulletproof glass. The glass is so thick that it tends to reflect the outside light rather than letting it through, thereby obscuring the security personnel inside, and effectively functioning as a one-way mirror”.

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Urban Assemblages. How Actor-Network Theory Changes Urban Studies. Edited by Ignacio Farías, Thomas Bender. Routledge – 2009 – 352 pages

Below is the course description that I am continuing to develop for my upcoming course Urban Arrangements. A key text for this course is  Urban Assemblages and the key thinkers that the course will engage on the urban question are Lewis Mumford, Bruno Latour, Nigel Thrift and Ash Amin (at the moment). I am currently going through some of the key texts again (i have just finished Technics and Civilization by Mumford and going through Aramis by Latour) and will hopefully pull a few posts together for the blog as I develop the course.

Any suggested readings and/or comments are more than welcome.

Urban Arrangements:

Urban Studies meets Science, Technology and Society (STS) Studies

Urban Arrangements offers students an introduction, in the context of urban studies, to the study of Science, Technology and Society (STS), the approach of Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) and the concept of assemblage/agencement. In Urban Studies, ANT is credited with transforming and challenging conventional understandings of the object of study, reshaping our view of urban infrastructures, built environments, ecologies, urbanites, practices, spaces, economies and other core issues central to urban studies. This course will cover the central literature in urban studies utilizing ANT approaches and engage with the debate that has emerged between proponents of ANT urbanism and “traditional” critical urban theorists.

Science, Technology and Society (STS) Studies is an interdisciplinary field that examines the creation, development, and consequences of science and technology in their cultural, historical, and social contexts. This course aims to provide an overview urban studies’ engagement with STS, and specifically Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) and the central concepts of assemblage/agencement. Bruno Latour, one of the central figures of the “Paris school” of STS, with his colleagues Callon and Law, developed ANT in part from Deleuze and Guttari’s concept of assemblage/agencement. ANT treats objects as part of social networks and is a “material-semiotic” method that tries to explain how material-semiotic networks come together as a whole. As this course illustrates, urban studies’ utilization of ANT and Deleuzian notions of assemblage/agencement has resulted in important new avenues of research.

Technology and the city have always had a special relationship. Indeed CCNY alumni Lewis Mumford produced path-breaking work addressing the link between technologies and urban history and how cities and technical networks co-evolve. Until recently, however, Mumford’s path was one few urbanists followed. The rise of STS has begun to change urban studies approach to technology and the city and over the past decade urban studies has returned to a more extensive and innovative engagement with city-technology relations. Some of the most important texts coming out of urban studies over the past decade have utilized, both explicitly and implicitly, an ANT approach and this course will engage with these texts.

 

The geographer Edward Soja declared at some point that “every square inch of the world is urbanized to some degree,” it is possible then to understand the world as one vast urban arrangement. On the other hand, however, the geographers Thrift and Amin argue cities have become extraordinarily intricate and difficult to generalize. Urban arrangements are simultaneously everywhere and distinct, and the various urban arrangements (and their various techno/socio/eco/political arrangements) on our planet further new/particular modes of living. What a city is, how cities work, what cities engender and what makes a good city are just some the debates that will form the focus of my research and will take up a large part of this blog.

I want to use this blog as a laboratory for ideas focused around my research and central disciplinary interests: geography; science, technology and society studies; urban studies and middle east studies. It will also be a place for me to post thoughts and reviews on books (expect small reviews/thoughts soon on The Security Archipelago and Leisurely Islam), exhibitions (I will soon post something on the new exhibition at the New Museum Here and Elsewhere) and for me to provide updates on other work I am pursuing, which at the moment also involves the creation of an issue of the Urban Research Journal that is currently in production.

The blog will also act as an extension of two courses that I am teaching at City College both of which I am still refining the syllabuses for and hope to share some of the ideas that I developing for both of these courses. The first course I am teaching is the blog’s namesake Urban Arrangements (officially listed as Urban Assemblages and the reason I changed the name will likely be the subject of a blog post). The second course that I am teaching is an undergraduate course called global perspectives also at City College but in the international studies program. I am excited about this course and designed it so students engage “global” issues through the absolute spaces of New York City.

I am eager to explore ways in which social media can accompany the courses to both engage students taking the course beyond the classroom and generate discussion with a broader audience. I have introduced Twitter into the classroom and had some positive results but I think there are more ways in which social media can be utilized to enhance engagement, conversation and interest in the subjects I am teaching and researching that I want to try out. So, I will continue to experiment – suggestions are very welcome, so please feel free to use the comment section!

I have not blogged properly for nearly four years and a return to the world of the blogosphere (do people still use that term?) is long overdue. When I actively wrote this blog I was a journalist and consultant in Lebanon – I stopped living (but not visiting) Lebanon when this blog also stops in October 2010 – but since then there have been many changes. The most significant development is that I do not live in Lebanon or work as a journalist any longer. At the end of 2011, I came to New York and in the Fall 2012 I was accepted as a doctoral candidate in the Earth and Environmental Science Department at the Graduate Center, CUNY specialized in geography. Other things, however, have not changed. My research continues to engage Lebanon and the Arab world and I am still focused on questions surrounding the built environment. Keeping with the theme of both continuity and change, I have decided to keep the blog I maintained in Lebanon but to change its name. Previously, this blog was called al-bayt baytak (my home is your home in Arabic) and is now called urban arrangements. I hope this is a start of a long and fruitful journey.

 

 

Jeremy Scahill, the National Security correspondent for The Nation, has written a series of remarkable essays (here, here and here) on Yemen and U.S. counter-terrorism operations. Or rather as the series of articles detailing and documenting how the U.S. operations in Yemen are in fact promoting-terrorism.

There are some startling findings in these articles:

1. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Listed by Washington as the single most dangerous terrorist threat facing the United States is made up of no more than 700 militants in the south of Yemen. Scahill makes clear that this group is not a significant threat to the US. And  should not be provoking the hysteria in Washington or elsewhere. Indeed, journalist Casey Combs went and visited al-Qaeda in the south of Yemen and you can see his photo essay here.

2. Intelligence? U.S. intelligence agencies have very little intelligence, on Yemen. But this has not stopped them from planning direct and inderct attacks.

3. Blowback. Counter-terrorism operations have increased hatred against America and the threat that groups such as AQAP pose. Indiscriminate drone attacks and U.S. funding to the Yemeni military have incited tribal groups to join the cause of radical groups, such as AQAP.

4. Saleh. The former President of Yemen has played the U.S. again and again and again. The United States “should have never made counterterrorism a source of profit for the regime, because that increased terrorism,” an analyst told Scahill.

The key quote: “What was almost entirely undiscussed was whether US actions—the targeted killings, the Tomahawk and drone strikes—caused blowback and whether some of AQAP’s attacks were motivated by the undeclared war the United States was fighting in Yemen.”

The US army has changed its approach globally in its military occupations and operations around the world, recognising that governance is key to reducing terrorism. Hence, the contemporary nexus of development and security. However, in Yemen the US has continued to neglect Yemen’s civil society and development:  “focusing instead on a military strategy aimed at hunting down terrorists.”

Scahill has makes clear that targeted killings anything but a counter-terrorism strategy.

Talk of civil strife and government collapse has become rife as the intense pressure over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon continues to build. Paul Salem the Director of Carnegie recently wrote that, “The tensions over the special tribunal for Lebanon are threatening to push Lebanon to collapse.” You can be forgiven for thinking how did we get here again? What the hell are these “false witnesses”?! I thought Syria did it? Have they still not found the assassins? The STL has had a long and convoluted journey and you can be forgiven for forgetting all the different aspects. So here are 10 things you need to know about the STL:

1. Syria is pretty much now in the clear over the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. The STL is not likely to indict members of the Assad clique. Saad Hariri recently told the media that Syria did NOT assassinate Hariri Snr. and that previous accusations against Syria were “political”.

2. Instead the STL is expected to indict Hezbollah members for the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in 2005. Not surprisingly Hezbollah are pissed at this possible indictment.

3. Hezbollah meanwhile are pointing the finger at Israel and claiming that the STL itself is part of a Israeli-US project.

4. Central to the STL controversy is the issue of false witnesses. The UN led investigations took evidence from two self proclaimed Syrian intelligence officers Husam Taher Husam and Muhammed Zuhair Siddiq. It was from evidence from these two “intelligence officers” that the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) – the predecessor to the STL – arrested the four Generals. Gary Gambill best explains this complex drama: here. Syria has just issued 33 arrest warrants in absentia in the false witnesses case. This list includes Detlev Mehlis, former head of the U.N. commission investigating Hariri’s murder, and his aide Gerhard Lehmann….and round…and round….and round we go. The investigator becomes the investigated. One does wonder if this is a form of job creation. Any bets for an investigation of the accusations against the investigators being investigated?

5. The arrested four Generals went on to spend four years in jail without any charges being brought against them. Even the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in March 2008 called the four generals’ detention without charge “arbitrary” and “unjust.” Beautiful example of the UN’s inability to connect the dots…The generals were released from jail in April 2009. For more information on the Generals see here.

6. General Sayyed one of the released generals has caused a particular storm since his release. Apart from calling for the toppling of the Hariri government the General caused a great uproar in Lebanon when he was received at the airport by armed Hezbollah “bodyguards”.

7.Tensions are particularly high over the funding of the STL. Fifty-one percent of the tribunal is funded by voluntary contributions, while 49 percent is funded by Lebanon. Hezbollah unsurprisingly does not want the Lebanese government to continue to fund the tribunal. Thus far the Lebanese government has made four payments to the tribunal with cabinet debating whether to approve funding for 2011.

8. How did this begin again? The UN International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) was established to assist Lebanese authorities in their investigation of all aspects the terrorist bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in Beirut 14 February. This was part of UN Resolution 1559 (2005). In 2006 the tribunal was expanded to cover the eleven other assassinations and attempted assassinations since the Hariri assassination.

9. It was Resolution 1664 (2006) that established the Special Tribunal for Lebanon that began operations on 1 March 2009.

10. The STL has got Lebanon, the region and the international community (i.e. the US and Europe) in a bit of a fix. It is going to take a lot of creative thinking and even more painful contortions to get out of this current fix. Stay tuned.

I have been very happy of late to see that Lebanese civil society is mobilising to save Lebanon’s built environment. While it is a little late (according to the Lebanese Culture Minister of the 1,200 old mansions and buildings inventoried in 1995 a mere 400 survive) there is an increasing awareness of the importance of architecture to Lebanese identity. Even the government has decided to step in on the act creating a hotline for people to call in and report historic buildings due for demolition. There has at last been an active response to the realisation that Beirut (in particular) has basically sold its historical urban fabric to  greedy urbacidal developers who subsequently destroy anything on their new plot of land and erect a 20/30/50 (depending on what they can get away with) tower. Hopefully the debate over Beirut’s – and Lebanon’s – built environment will increase before it is all squandered.

One added aspect that always frustrates me among civil society activists on this issue is that those buildings considered worth saving are always restricted to those of the Ottoman era. I have written extensively on Beirut’s rich built environment and the city has made an extensive, indigenous and important contribution to the Modern Movement. This is also rapidly being destroyed and I hope civil society activists will also expand their calls to preserve these buildings as well.

Here is an article I wrote for the Guardian a while back on the battle for Beirut’s buildings:

The built environment of Beirut is rapidly changing, and this transformation is destroying much of the city’s rich architectural fabric. Surrounded by the new towering Beirut is the unique and heavily scarred structure of the Egg.

Built by the Lebanese architect Joseph-Philippe Karam in 1965, and dubbed “the Egg” due to its curved form, it is the only surviving building in the downtown area from Lebanon’s vibrant avant-garde movement. Much of the rest of this heritage was destroyed during the civil war (1975-1990), a legacy marked on the outer skin of the Egg.

The Egg, after surviving the war, may not survive the recovery. Beirut’s booming real estate market is resulting in the removal of Beirut’s unique built heritage to make way for the ubiquitous skyscraper. The threat of the Egg being destroyed sparked a wave of emotion among many Lebanese increasingly distressed at the continued demolition of their architectural heritage. There has been substantial online activism andmedia attention to stop Abu Dhabi Investment House, the owners of the site, destroying the Egg. The activists are also vexed by the fact that it is a company from the Gulf that will decide whether the structure will be removed or not. Comments such as “Our identity and culture as Lebanese is not for sale for Gulf millionaires,” capture the frustration.

The Egg is at the centre of a battle over the future of Beirut and the type of city it should become. Beirut has a wonderful and prolific architectural heritage, as does Lebanon as a whole. Although the city has been plagued by successive urban planning failures, a quality urban fabric of Ottoman and French colonial-style buildings did establish itself. As an independent Lebanon entered the 1950s a layer of significant modernist buildings was added. This continued into the 1960s and Beirut, by the end of that decade, had a internationally significant and unique body of modernist architecture. This rich heritage, built mainly by Lebanese master builders and architects, is being squandered.

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