Mobile police fence, allowing only a controlled pedestrian access to the Rue de Rennes on June 14, 2016 / Photo by Léopold Lambert
To the risk of spending too much time on political matters specific to France for a certain amount of the blog’s readers, I would like to come back to a very recent event that occurred a few hundreds meters away from my office, and that I was therefore able to document and investigate in a way that is not dissimilar to the (much more rigorous) methods of Forensic Architecture. On Tuesday June 14, a massive demonstration took place in Paris and gathered several hundreds of thousand people protesting against the new labor legislation that intends to (de)regulate labor conditions in the workers’ disfavor. Exceptionally the demonstration was organized as a march from Place d’Italie (South-East of Paris) to Invalides (Center-West of Paris). A certain amount of clashes occurred along the way between the massively deployed police — we’re still under the state of emergency — and several dozens of masked participants who undertook to break down advertising windows, banks and insurance companies’ storefronts, as well as throw stones at the police — whether one thinks that such action is legitimate or not, one is obliged to observe the asymmetry of means, as well as the fact that these individuals represented less than one percent of the participants to the demonstration. As it is customary (cf. this widely shared/translated cartoon), the press and politicians strictly framed their coverage and discourses on the spectacle offered by cocktail molotov, fire bombs and other firecrackers (conveniently forgetting the ubiquity of teargas and deafening grenades), rather than on the human tide of dissent that flowed the Paris boulevards.Read more
Image above – Street art by Dip Social Klub at Nuit Debout: “The police violence you are currently experiencing, it exists in the banlieues for more than thirty years.” “Homage to all the victims of police crimes.” “The dance of suffering.”
In an interview with Christina Heatherton and Jordan T. Camp featured in their book, Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter (Verso, 2016, soon on Archipelago), Naomi Murakawa states the following:
The terminology we use betrays the notion that policing at its core is acceptable, that it only becomes a problem when things go awry. But let’s be clear: there is no such thing as racial profiling. To say the police are profiling suggests the possibility that there could be colorblind policing. There never has been, and the social order in which we live means there never could be. “Police brutality” is also a hollow term, in the sense that all police interactions, by definition, occur under the threat of brutality.
This last passage, as well as the rest of the interview and the rest of the book, is extremely helpful to think of the current spectacular violence we are witnessing in France in the interaction between the police and strikers/demonstrators against the project of a legislation project that would regulate labor to the detriment of workers. An important part of the media and politicians have insisted that police officers were the victims of many actions of “casseurs” (literally, “breakers”) organized against them. This discursive stigmatization allowed the French government to order the legal exclusion of nine people from the area where a police demonstration was being held on May 18 to protest against “anti-cop hatred” — the police here lost an opportunity to protest instead against the long extra hours they have been asked to provide since the January 2015 attacks. Although this order was broken in courts — the suspicion against these nine persons to organize actions against the police was fund to be funded on nothing — we can see how the imaginary provided by most press outlets associated to the executive power of the ongoing state of emergency can deploy its arbitrary violence on targeted bodies.Read more
Photograph by Meriem Chabani (May 15, 2016)
I had not yet written anything about Nuit Debout, the current movement that has been occupying the square of the République in Paris since March 31, 2016. The reason for this is that my thoughts are still not articulated about whether or not this movement gives itself the means to fundamentally challenges the way systemic violence operates in France. Originating from a demonstration against a new labor legislation drafted by the French government, the movement quickly expanded its political struggle to other issues: regularization of undocumented workers, rights to housing, police reform, change in foreign policy, anti-speciesism, etc. The variety of these struggles as well as their organizers makes it difficult to emit a definitive opinion on the movement. One thing that is proper to it however and can be, as such, the object of our critique is its territorialization. Situated at the core of young-middle-class Paris — the same Paris that had been the target of the November attacks — Nuit Debout can call as much as it wants for the banlieue youth to join it, its territoriality renders such call uninviting. This is the key problem of the movement: it has forgotten to deconstruct the relationships of domination that are at normatively at work in society. It was particularly flagrant when a few male participants were outraged by the non-mixity of some meetings of the Nuit Debout feminist commission, calling it a denial of democracy, assuming here again the Republic’s universalist claim that “all men [sic] are equal” in a society however operating through the continuous experience of inequality. Similarly, one of the foundations of French structural racism (listen to the Archipelago conversation with Nacira Guénif-Souilamas for more about it) is its territoriality through the segregative characteristics of the banlieues (consult the category dedicated to them on this blog). Here again, the work of deconstruction (decolonization) that would have been necessary for an actual “convergence of struggles” as claimed by Nuit Debout has not been done.
Engaging now at the scale of the movement itself, there has been another work of deconstruction that has been forgotten by one of its commissions: the group of architects that eagerly decided to invest their skills in favor of the movement, Archi Debout. While there is a priori no profession that should be excluded from a social movement, it is reasonable to say that all sets of expertise necessitate an introspection proportional to the role this expertise plays within the mechanisms of violence of a given society. Architects would probably agree that if a group of police officers who currently surround the square of the République would express the desire to be part of the movement, they would not only need to lighten themselves from their offensive gears and weapons, but would also need to deconstruct their responsibility in what the movement struggles against. The same is true for architects and the fact that this reflective work has evidently not been done is symptomatic of the way architects consider their profession: they think of architecture as a neutral tool that can be either used for “good” or “evil.”Read more
All photos by Merve Bedir (April 2016) / All rights reserved
I’m in the train to Paris, to meet Léopold for a research visit together to Calais and Dunkirk. During the trip of two hours, my passport and residence permit is checked three times, and my bag is controlled twice. The state of emergency in Belgium and France has been extended for the second time now, which ironically and expectedly increases people’s feeling of insecurity. Move fast in/around the train stations, don’t hang out for too long at the same place.
Based on Léopold’s advice, I go straight to Stalingrad, the ‘arrival neighborhood’ of Paris, right next to Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est, to see the non-formal camp site under the train tracks. Stalingrad Market sells hardly anything local, but has the world in it. Shop windows are in Russian, Arabic, English, etc. street-stalls-on-cloth offer cell phone chargers, combs, socks, and belts for a quarter worth of the shopping center. The non-formal area for refugees runs all along the tracks from Stalingrad till Jaurès stop, has beds and tents laid out tight together. The basketball court is not in use anymore, and graffiti on every pillar: No one is illegal. Once in while an announcement from above: “Dear passengers, there are pick-pockets at this station, please secure your belongings.”Read more
It is my great pleasure to announce the release of the fifth issue of The Funambulist Magazine (May-June 2016) as well as its formal launch event in New York on May 4th. It is dedicated to a tremendously important topic that had been an underlying theme of many articles in the four first issues, but embraces here its entire primacy: the relationship between design and racism. Design tends to crystallize and reinforce the normative relationships between bodies in a given society, often to the point of materializing racist political programs. The issue is composed of articles, interview and projects describing the active contribution of design to structural racism in Palestine, the United States, France, South Africa, and Europe. The contributors are Eze Imade Eribo, Rasheedah Phillips, Nick Estes, Miriam Ticktin, Lwandile Fikeni, Nicola Perugini, Neve Gordon, Nacira Guénif-Souilamas, Alicia Olushola Ajayi, Whitney Hansley, Claire Lubell, and Melisa Betts, as well as Sinthujan Varatharajah and Yaşar Adnan Adanalı who both wrote guest columns that precede the main dossier.
The formal launch event will occur in New York on May 4th, 7PM at 61 Local (61 Bergen street, Brooklyn, NY). It will first consist in a presentation of the issue by editor-in-chief Léopold Lambert accompanied by contributor Alicia Olushola Ajayi, followed by a roundtable about the topic with Christina Heatherton, Hadeel Khalil Assali, and Minh-Ha T. Pham. The issue will be available for purchase.Read more
3 of the 13 drawings for Topie Impitoyable by Loredana Micu
As announced a few days ago, I have a second book being published almost simultaneously with the first one, La politique du bulldozer (B2, 2016). Written (exceptionally) in French in 2014, this volume attempts to articulate a certain amount of ideas gathered under Michel Foucault’s phrase, “Mon corps, topie impitoyable” (“My body, merciless landscape” — topie impitoyable was kept as such for its alliterative qualities, pronounce it out loud to hear it!). It was then illustrated by friend Loredana Micu and translated into English by Anna Klosowska, and it is now published in its bilingual version by punctum books with which The Funambulist has been repeatedly collaborating these three last years.
Topie Impitoyable: The Corporeal Politics of the Cloth, the Wall, and the Street is more invested in raising the question of what a body is than in offering a definitive answer. Instead, it questions some stereotypes concerning structures located at various degrees of proximity to the body’s material assemblage, allowing a better integration of the surrounding objects, atmosphere and other bodies and proposing a political reading of their relationship to the body, whether deliberate or accidental. From the hoodie that Trayvon Martin wore when he was killed, to the streets of New York City during Occupy Wall Street and the apartheid wall in Palestine, this book moves through a series of episodes that illustrate how bodies and objects of all sizes are enmeshed in deeply entangled political relationships.Read more
Important Note: As usual when it comes to such topics, I decided to reserve all rights when it comes to the photographs presented in this article (other pictures that I publish on this blog are licensed under creative commons), as I’m wary that their use could be instrumentalized for political ideologies with which I fundamentally disagree. If you would like to use them, feel free to send me an email to ask for authorization (info.funambulistATgmailDOTcom).
I drove back to Grande Synthe and Calais yesterday, in company of friend Merve Bedir (listen to our conversation for Archipelago) in order to document the new refugee camp of Grande Synthe (see below), as well as the massive demolitions that reduced Calais’ so-called “Jungle” of half its size a few weeks ago. Merve and I have agreed to both establish a report for The Funambulist insisting on our subjective vision of this visit during which we saw the same things but, necessarily, from two different points of view — the photographs we took bring an additional layer of subjectivity to the texts. This article is therefore specifically dedicated to the comparison of the two official camps that have been built in Calais and Grande Synthe. The reason for this is that both materialize into architecture a governmental (whether national or local) political program in which migrant and refugee bodies and lives are the object. Although this article will be constructed in a comparative, and therefore negotiative, mode between both camps, one should not forget the fundamental common point of both sites: the fact that they are and remain camps and, as such, an extremely problematic architecture/urbanistic typology, as we will see in the conclusion.Read more
It has been a little while since I knew that two new books I wrote would be published around the same time. While the second one will exist in bilingual French/English version (more about it in the coming days), this first one, La politique du bulldozer: La ruine palestinienne comme projet israélien (Bulldozer Politics: The Palestinian Ruin as an Israeli Architectural Project) was just published in French by B2 Editions. Here is a translation of the index:
Since there is no English version planned out, and that I used the arguments and some of the case studies in a paper presented at SOAS for the symposium “The Gaza Strip: History, Future and New Directions for Research” (October 2015) I propose to publish this shorter text here for non-francophone readers. In addition of the research specifically made for the redaction of the book, it draws on a few articles and maps written and drawn here for the last two years.
The book can be found in French bookstores that have an architectural theory section, as well as on B2’s website.
One of the most recurrent questions asked by French main media in their current campaign against — the animosity they manifest allows this term to be used here — any form of manifestation of Islamic public signs consists in asking “How many Molenbeeks is there in France?” to which the usual televisual “experts” answer without blinking that France has been doing a better work than Belgium when it comes to constraining “Salafists” — a word that they evidently just learned — to the Republic’s order. Beyond the traditional French condescension towards the northern neighbors (jokes about Belgium people is an entire genre of humor in France), there is this dubious labelization of one of Brussels’ 19 municipalities (Sint Jans Molenbeek) into a synonym of crawling “jihadism” neighborhood; a labelization never questioned by any of these “experts.” This article will attempt to shortly introduce the process that such a stigmatization of a neighborhood inevitably triggers. Whether this process is understood and deliberated engaged by its concerned actors is irrelevant here. My arguments won’t be that news anchor, politicians, police officers and developers are meeting every Tuesday night to discuss about how they will engage the strategy described here, but that these four actors all play a crucial role in this process according to a specific chronology.
Molenbeek is a West-Brussels neighborhood where 94,000 people live, many of which are persons and families of Moroccan Rif descent. Among these residents, 10 were part of a group of 20 people responsible for the coordinated attacks that killed 130 people in Paris on November 13, 2015 and 32 people in Brussels on March 22, 2016. What allows the media and politicians to demagogically ignore the proportion that 10 people out of 94,000 represents, is the fact that Molenbeek is a piece of urbanity that Arab residents, a certain amount of whom carries signs of their faith, have appropriated, in the same way than any population residing in towns where the notion of public space actually means something. Even reasonable journalists seem to believe that they would not be writing a credible article if they were not acknowledging the visible manifestation of political forms of Islam in Molenbeek, as well as a supposed high rate of delinquency and criminality in the neighborhood (usually described through hearsay). However, when one looks at the actual statistic of reported illegal acts, one can only notice that the ones accounted for Molenbeek are significantly lower (often twice less) than the ones for the municipality of Brussels or other municipalities of the capital. We could expect serious journalists to find a way to generate the following graphs but that is apparently too much to ask for:Read more
Introductory note: In July-August 2014, the war launched by the Israeli army on Gaza killed 2,251 Palestinians, among which at least 1,463 were civilians. When confronted to these figures, the Israeli army legal corps justified this drastic proportion by invoking legal fictions supposed to legitimize them. Many of these fictions have already been exposed here (see here, here and here), but one in particular stroke us for its extreme demagogy: Palestinian civilians were killed by the Israeli bombs because they are used by Hamas as so-called “human shields” (see past article). In a forthcoming article for The Funambulist Magazine’s fifth issue (May-June 2016), Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon deconstruct the racist dimension of this legal narrative manufactured in order to legitimize the killing of thousands of Palestinians.
I was in Brussels all day yesterday, which allowed me to experience the heavy deployment of military and para-military (masked police officers with assault or sniper riffles, etc.) forces in some (strategic) parts of the city. “My thoughts and prayer [do not] go to the family of the victims” as the formatted sentence normally says. I suppose that, in their immense pain, they could not care less about this; instead, I hope that my anger represents them well. If we follow the dubious logic of the Israeli army’s spokespersons, their loved ones, and us all, ‘normal’ citizens using the public transportation systems of our metropoles are nothing else than the so-called “human shields” of our governments. In the wake of the November 13, 2015 attacks, the powerful slogan “Your Wars, Our Deads” (Vos guerres, nos morts) quickly emerged, although it did not reach the circulation of a consensual “Pray for Paris” — the French extremists of secularism still managed to find it problematic! — or the significantly more cleaving “Je suis Charlie” created after the assassinations of journalists in January 2015. Although the absolute conceptual separation of citizens and their governments is problematic in the deresponsabilization that it would imply, there is indeed a clear separation between them when it comes to the experiencing the consequences of the last 200 years of violence deployed by Western governments both internally and externally — a similar argument could be applied to the Turkish state-violence in Kurdistan or the islamophobic policies of the Indian local and national governments for instance.Read more