Ogle Earth runs down a brief list of ways Google Earth and the availability of satellite imagery in recent years have fueled class resentment and conflict in Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen.
Leading the list are dramatic visualizations comparing the overcrowded living conditions of the Shiite majority in Bahrain with the palaces, estates, and private islands of the ruling families. After the country’s ISPs were ordered to block access to Google Earth’s imagery in 2006, this PDF of annotated screencaps illustrating the spatial inequities circulated widely by email.
“This is a farewell kiss, you dog. This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.”
“But does it work?”
It’s one of those frequently asked questions one often hears at discussions of design and activism. That and the whole preaching to the converted thing. It refers to design specifically, but also protest generally.
It sometimes takes a long time to stop a war, but now and then the impact is immediate. Like the time in February 1998 when protestors disrupted an internationally broadcast “Town Meeting” on Iraq at Ohio State University. Students dropped a NO WAR banner in front of an CNN’s rolling cameras and made such a ruckus that the moderator had to allow them a turn at the mic. Their pointed questions about the war embarrassed the Clinton Administration, tipped public and international support, and prevented an invasion of Iraq. “Not even Ohio supports the bombing, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said a few days later. Why should Egypt?”
Of course, it wasn’t this one protest alone, nor solely the banner smuggled into the event. But the action, broadcast around the world via cable news, sealed the deal. Katha Pollit’s March 1998 article tells the story.
Update 3/16/2010: Here’s a transcript of the town hall meeting.
While the New York Times generally doesn’t publish pictures of U.S. casualties in its own reporting, it can publish them when the photos themselves are the story (particularly on a Saturday.) The commander of the U.S. Marines in Iraq is seeking to bar photographer Zoriah Miller from all U.S. military facilities around the world for publishing photos on his web site of U.S. Marines (oh, and Iraqi civilians) killed in a June 26, 2008 suicide attack in Garma, Iraq. “Disembedding” journalists and otherwise “managing” them for publishing unfavorable coverage is nothing new. The Committee to Protect Journalists has chronicled ongoing harassment and deaths of journalists in Iraq and BAGnewsNotes has done an excellent job of unpacking the photographs that do make it out.
Looking into Miller’s own portfolio site this image caught my attention:
It has a Banksy-like irony to it: juxtaposing tools of authoritarian force with the values they are rhetorically professed to deliver — and with a faint whiff of commercialism. The vehicle above is a Iraqi Soviet-model MT-LB multi-purpose armored personnel carrier, most likely tagged, I suspect, by a U.S. soldier. But paint that slogan on an U.S. Abrams, and it makes a good stencil idea. Click below to download a PDF.
The May 2003 image of President Bush on the deck of the aircraft carrier in front of the “Mission Accomplished” banner is, I think, one of the more memorable images from the war in Iraq. Primarily, of course, because no weapons of mass destruction were ever found (our mission, right?), the war rages on and US and Iraqi lives continue to be lost. Every day.
But there’s another story behind the image and Bush’s statement about the end of “major combat operations in Iraq.”
Below, a quote from Philip Gourevitch in conversation with Errol Morris at the 2007 New Yorker festival:
“One of the legal fictions of this period, you may think that the May 1st declaration by the President on the aircraft carrier that major combat operations had ended was merely a campaign period photo op. But in fact, it’s a redefinition of the theater of war.
During a war, you’re fighting against an enemy power and if you capture their people they’re enemy POWs and there are all kinds of rules that apply, but they’re never going to be charged with a crime. They’re simply treated as enemy combatants, enemy assets that you’re neutralizing, you remove them to the rear and as soon as combat’s over you release them. And believe it or not, May 1 of 2003 a lot of them were released. And a lot of them were kept as ‘security detainees,’ this fictitious word for prisoners. It’s a euphemism.
And the reason they were able to keep them in Abu Ghraib was because, of course, you can’t have a combat zone in a non-combat zone. And you can’t have enemy prisoners of war to whom you apply prisoner of war doctrine in a place where there is no enemy power and where there is no alternate army. So you can’t say to whom they belong and so they must be ‘insurgents.’ Insurgents against what? There isn’t an Iraqi government. So it’s a very complicated legal status, and its these loopholes that are being exploited for simply rounding people up and tossing them in there.”
And Abu Ghraib is, of course, where some of those other memorable photos were taken.
On March 19, the Granny Peace Brigade met in the rain in front of the military recruiting station in Times Square to mark the 5th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, “knitting ‘stump socks’ for amputee veterans, baby blankets and other items for Iraqi families.” There were a lot of great protest actions Wednesday, but the forceful assertion of care here is striking. Grannies vs. generals; slow, manual creation vs. fast, technological destruction — this is not just non-violence, but perhaps an opposite of violence. Here’s another short video.
Every Wednesday from 4:30 to 5:30 pm Grandmothers Against the War holds a vigil at Rockefeller Center. All are welcome.