A post-colonial post-card
The image above is the front of a postcard that I received in the mail a couple of weeks ago--presumably, even though I don't speak the language, I am on a mailing list of potential Arabic speakers due to my name ("Yahya" for those of you don't know).
When I received this post-card, I could not help but feel the weight of the interpellation over my shoulders. It does not only invite me to help "this country" but also myself. $10,000 bonus and an expedited US citizenship is the price that the US Army Inc. deemed appropriate for recruiting collaborators ("native informants") for the new imperial project of the US.
In this sense, this post-card immediately reminded me of Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1902) and its matter-of-fact description of the business of colonialism. But it also reminded me of Joseph Losey's Kafkaesque Mr. Klein (1976) in which, a Robert Klein, an art deal who ruthlessly profits from the situation of the Jews under the Nazi occupied France, one day receives a Jewish newsletter on mail. Fearing that he would be marked as a Jew in the eyes of the authorities, Mr. Klein himself goes to the authorities to complain that there must be a mistake, that there must be another Robert Klein. Of course, this naive attempt at refusing to be the addressee of the newsletter will only lead to his further entrapment in the subject position of the Jew.
This "Arabic Translators Needed" post-card replicates the same gesture of naming in a different context: the identification/marking of the subjects with an ethnicity through their name. Without doubt, there are differences... In one case, the destination is the concentration camps; in the other, it is the colonial outpost. In one case, the subject is summoned to be annihiliated; in the other, the subject is summoned to be deployed in the colonial administration of Iraq. Yet, in both cases, a set of subjects are summoned to come forth. And in this precise sense, it does not matter if the subject who receives the post-card is an Arabic speaker or not. Just as it did not matter for Mr. Klein that he is coming from an established old Catholic family. What matters is the institutional weight of the act of naming--which arrives sometimes in the form of a thin newsletter, sometimes in the form of a even thinner post-card, and sometimes in the form of a weightless email...