Who’s in, who’s out, who’s counting?


Maps and tallies tell stories. They tell something about what’s going on, who’s in, who’s out, who’s where. They reveal more about the mapmaker and the list maker, the cartographer and the accountant.

Over the weekend, police in three major provinces of South Africa were accused of `fiddling’ with the statistics to make it look as if they, and `we’, are winning the war on crime. Like all modern wars, the war on crime is a statistical phantasmagoria, and so to win the war, one must play the numbers. The police played. Charges include stockpiling, burning, hiding dockets generally; ditching dockets of crimes on the increase; failing to register crimes with a low chance of prosecution; reducing serious crimes to lesser charges; and cover up.

Meanwhile, the police in Los Angeles are fiddling as well. The LAPD online crime map `omits’ close to 40% of serious crimes committed over the last six months, serious crimes that are actually reported elsewhere by … the LAPD! The Department officially reported 52,000 serious crimes between January and June of this year. The map shows 33,000. 19,000 crimes went missing. That’s a lot of missing numbers. That map has some pretty big holes.

From South Africa to the United States, and beyond, some numbers are abandoned, others are abducted.

In Rangoon, Aung San Suu Kyi is a guest of the State, in Insein Jail. She counts. Sunday July 5 marked the 5000th day of her incarceration.

In Uttar Pradesh, or UP, in India, Roma counts, too. She’s Number One, the first woman in the state to be charged under the National Security Act. She’s accused of consorting with Naxalites, of being a terrorist, a dangerous woman. There have been no incidences of insurgent violence where Roma works and lives. There has been “a silent revolution”. Women from over 500 villages have occupied over 20,000 hectares of forest land and have established farming cooperatives. Without committing an act of violence. But Roma is a member of the National Forum of Forests People and Forest Workers, she has worked and lived with tribals in UP for twenty some years, she is a writer, a researcher, an activist who calls for democratic dialogue, a woman who supports tribal women, social justice, peace. She says she has lost count of the number of accusations and arrests. She has never been successfully prosecuted.

In Zimbabwe, Jestina Mukoko, director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, is also counting. Having been abducted and disappeared last year, she now counts the number of times the government of Zimbabwe lies in order to keep her in prison or under the formal threat of imprisonment. At the end of June, state prosecutor Fatima Maxwell admitted that indeed Mukoko had been abducted by state security agents, and that the abduction was illegal. According to government testimony, at least three rights were violated: the right to liberty, the protection of the law, and the right to freedom from torture. A week later, State Security Minister Sydney Sekeramayi denied it all, said no rights were violated. Jestina Mukoko is counting the lies and mapping the spaces where rights used to be. Some are abandoned, some are abducted. We keep trying to count, we keep losing count, we keep counting.

We are in a map of the countless. In Iran, for example, journalist, feminist Zhila Bani Yaghoub was arrested, along with her husband, Bahman Ahmadi Amooy. They were taken to Evin Prison. Yaghoub has written about, and for, women’s rights in Iran for years. The Nobel Women’s Initiative expressed concern “for the safety of Zhila, her husband and the countless other Iranian activists and protesters currently being detained in Iran.” Countless. The numbers are countless. Not because they are so many, although they are many. They are countless because the tally is forbidden. How many lives lost, how many acts of violence, how many rights lost, how many mourners?

Mairead Maguire, Cynthia McKinney, Derek Graham, were among a small boatload of 21 people and humanitarian aid, toys and building supplies and medicine, headed for Gaza, epicenter of the countless. The Israeli Navy took the boat and hijacked it to Israel, where the crew and passengers were detained, mostly in Ramle Prison. Two days later, Maguire, Graham and McKinney were deported. According to Maguire, “Gaza is like a huge prison, but—because its borders are closed. The sea pass into Gaza, which has been closed for over forty years by the Israeli government—we are only the seventh ship to get in to the port of Gaza that tried to break the siege.…And also farmers—fishermen, who try to go out without—in about twelve miles to fish for their families, are shot up and have been killed by the Israeli navy in that area. So, Gaza is a huge occupied territory of one-and-a-half million people who have been subjected to collective punishment by the Israeli government…. It is also tragic that out of ten million Palestinians of a population, almost seven million are currently refugees out in other countries or displaced within their own country, particularly after the horrific massacre by Israeli jet fighters after just earlier this year. Twenty-two days Israel bombarded Gaza, Gazan people, civilians.” 40 years, seven ships, twelve miles, 1.5 million people, 10 million Palestinians, 7 million refugees and displaced persons, 22 days of bombing. Countless. Not infinite, not insuperable, not unimaginable. Simply imprisoned, behind walls and barriers. How many abductions, how many abandonments?

In Ramle Prison, Cynthia McKinney met African women refugees, women who had “arrived…in a very difficult way”. Those countless women wait to be counted. In immigration detention centers around the world, countless women and children and men wait for the fog of their war to dissipate, for the fiddling to stop, for a new set of maps and tallies, and cartographers and accountants.


(Photo Credit: CJP)

Root Shock, 2009

Two novel and not so novel forms of urban renewal in the new and renewed year.

One: Have a pit mine gobble up your city.  Along the way, try to make sure that 82% of women of childbearing age (what is that anyway?) have high levels of toxic substances in their blood. That’s what happening in Cerro de Pasco, in the central highlands of Peru. Right to the city? More like dart to the heart of the city. Not to worry, though, the McMansion trend — buy a house, tear it down, build a monster, piss on your neighbors — is slowing down.

Two:  Try a few weeks, maybe more, of aerial bombing attacks followed by ground invasion. That’ll clear out that seedy city center you’ve wanted to redevelop for so long. In Gaza, Filipinas, mostly married to Palestinian residents, refuse to leave and decide to stay. Both. GMA News describes this as “`love’”. Their quotation marks. I won’t get into that, but it is interesting that they also feel compelled to note that only one of the Filipinas is an overseas Filipina worker. So? Do domestic workers not establish roots, merely because they `only’ stay for five or ten or twenty or fifty years? Really? Anyway, a reminder, as if you needed it, that Gaza is like everywhere else: local and transnational. And that like everywhere else, women make important, and diverse, decisions and take action.

Mindy Fullilove, in Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It, describes the racial politics of `blight’ and `urban renewal’ legislation and policy in the United States. Welcome to Cerro de Pasco, where women’s blood is being poisoned, welcome to Gaza City, where, given an opportunity, women under attack decide to stay and refuse to leave. Welcome to urban renewal, January 2009.

(Photo Credit: Vice/Arthur Holland Michel)

The bombing of the prison set free . . .

Paul Klee: Angelus Novus, 1920

For over two years Gaza has been referred to as the largest open-air prison on earth. Vivian Salama wrote yesterday: “Gaza has already been shut to the outside world for some 19 months, making it more of an open-air prison for its 1.5 million residents.”

And then Israel struck, and reminded the world that there are prisons within the prison. According to Amira Hass, “At noon Sunday, the Israel Air Force bombed a compound belonging to Gaza’s National Security Service. It houses Gaza City’s main prison. Three prisoners were killed. Two were apparently Fatah members; the third was convicted of collaborating with Israel. Hamas had evacuated most of the Gaza Strip’s other prisons, but thought this jail would be safe.” What is safety in a prison within a prison? According to the AP, “The bombing of the prison set free dozens of prisoners, who rushed out from their cells, carrying bags of clothes and blankets with them as they scrambled over rubble, fleeing Hamas police.” The prisoners were set free. What is freedom in the largest open-air prison in the world? Not much. As Amal Hassan, 38, a mother of three children, said, at the end of the same AP report: “My children are wetting the bed, they cry when they hear planes…I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Maybe the next bomb will fall here, maybe the next person killed will be one of us”. One of us. One of us?

Safety, freedom, prison. You know what happens to prisoners who are freed by Israeli weapons in Gaza? Ethan Bronner and Taghreed El-Khodary do: “In the fourth-floor orthopedic section [of Shifa Hospital], a woman in her late 20s asked a militant to let her see Saleh Hajoj, her 32-year-old husband. She was turned away and left the hospital. Fifteen minutes later, Mr. Hajoj was carried out by young men pretending to transfer him to another ward. As he lay on the stretcher, he was shot in the left side of the head.

“Mr. Hajoj, like five others killed at the hospital this way in 24 hours, was accused of collaboration with Israel. He had been in the central prison awaiting trial by Hamas judges; when Israel destroyed the prison on Sunday he and the others were transferred to the hospital. But their trials were short-circuited.

“A crowd at the hospital showed no mercy after the shooting, which was widely observed. A man in his 30s mocked a woman expressing horror at the scene.

“`This horrified you?’ he shouted. `A collaborator that caused the death of many innocent and resistance fighters?’

“Sobhia Jomaa, a lawyer with the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights, said 115 accused collaborators were in the central prison. None had been executed by Hamas since it took office and their cases were monitored closely.

“`The prison provided the sole protection to all of them,’ she said. `But once it was bombed, many wanted to take revenge.’”

A woman came to find her husband, another woman explains, when prisoners are freed by invading forces, they are freed into the hands of revenge. None of them had been executed by Hamas.

The UN reports that as of the fourth day of the invasion, 320 Palestinians were killed, of whom 62 were civilians. In a separate report, a UNICEF spokesperson notes, “Civilians are paying the price.” Not for the bombing, although there is that, but rather “for a long blockade.”

When nations war, civilians suffer. It is tragic and it is never a great surprise, though many claim shock. But this, this is not nations going to war. This is one country bombing a prison in the name of national security and peace. The bombing of the prison set free … the angel of history: “This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.” [Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History”] What is progress in a prison within a prison? What is progress in the largest open-air prison in the world? This is.

(Image Credit: The New York Review of Books)