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Friday, April 27, 2007

The expansive politics of Azmi Bishara and Emily Jacir

In his recent book-manifesto, Hatred of Democracy, Jacques Rancière refers to citizen's rights as the "rights of those who have not the rights that they have and have the rights that they have not." Politics is sparked within the interval of this contradiction as the 'have nots' defy, through political practice, the arbitrary deprivation of the rights that they have. This is at least how I understand Rancière's attempt to politicize the citizenship discourse and recover its radical dimension that is lost in the hands of both its critics and advocates.

The critics' apathy emanates from a certain circular deadlock that they think to inhere in the rights discourse: by its very definition, human rights are the rights of those (or for those) who have no rights. Conceived this way, rights discourse delivers nothing but a mere tautology. On the other hand, the advocates, in regarding the universality of the rights discourse as self-evident, remain oblivious to the internal exclusions that particularize the latter within the citizenship practices.

For Rancière, then, both advocates and critics would obfuscate the site of the political by sidestepping the divisibility of rights. That is, they would overlook the ways in which a new subjectivity could be established through countering the internal exclusions of the rights discourse via holding it accountable to its very pronouncements. Perhaps, it is the bringing into existence of this political site in the context of Israel that gives Azmi Bishara's position its profound uniqueness. (Thanks to entropy, the destroyer and viola swamp for acquainting me with Bishara and the wonderful documentary, I Also Dwell Among Your Own People: Conversations with Azmi Bishara by Ariella Azoulay.)

From 1996 until his recent resignation, Bishara has been a member of the Israeli parliament (Knesset) and the key founder of the political party, the National Democratic Assembly (NDA-Balad), represented by 3 (now 2) seats in the 120 member Knesset. Bishara's controversial position stems from his persistence in pointing out the divorcement of the Israeli citizenship from its declaration, an exercise that violently figures in the denial of citizenship rights to the Israeli Arabs and Palestinians who have them. Rather than advocating for a separate nation-state for the Palestinians, Bishara and his party have insisted on reclaiming what they already have, Israeli citizenship.

In this sense, Bishara's position not only compels the Israeli state to face up to its disavowal of the principles of citizenship, and, hence, the intimate self-annihilation that resides at the core of its identity. It also restores the universalizing aspiration to the principle of citizenship against the process of the latter's privatization and particularization through the formation of ever newer nation-states. It is dire, and, unfortunately, not so surprising, that Zionism's anxious reaction to Bishara's position has been to clamp down on the Arab minority, the "enemy within." His recent resignation and exile come as a result of this increasing assault.

***

The photograph below by the diaspora/Palestinian artist Emily Jacir is entitled Bank Mirror, Ramallah. I do not know what makes this image so intriguing to me. I cannot but keep looking at it. Maybe, because I have grown so accustomed to associating Palestine with images of beige streets that look like war trenches, a wall-torn stony landscape punctuated with naked dwellings. Does this image remind me that there are actually banks in Palestine, which somehow 'function', that there is a modern urban life in shambles?

Or is this art work captivating because of the way in which it positions itself? That is, the way in which it does not forefront, frame, or try to carve out a space for itself, a separate realm for art, but rather merges with the social field of Palestine, letting itself "disappear" within what it offers: in Susan Buck-Moss' description of public art, "a protective exposure," "a safe place in the public sphere" for the unspeakable truths. In a sense, there is a certain innocence to the image that, in its refusal to deliver the familiar representation of 'the enemy', snatches the enjoyment of the reactionary common sense. After all, the image does not portray an easily identifiable Subject of resistance in revolt, but rather a shattering effect of the occupation that remains ineffable.

But what is this effect, the unspeakable truth within which this art work dissolves? Is the shattered mirror a witness to, an almost perfect reflection of the fact that there is nothing left anymore in Palestine to represent (or representable in some meaningful way), say, apart from its completely destroyed public life and its mutilated past? I want to suggest that what the image disseminates exceeds this realist and desolate insinuation. The image embodies a dimension of desacralizaton, destablization, a process of emptying out fantasies (how would the 'holy lands' of Israel reflect in this mirror? how would a Zionist appear in this mirror?) even though such a desacralizing aspect emerges as an effect of a violence imposed on a population.

Yes, the image does not offer a resolution; it does not guide a way out of the apartheid violence. Yet, the image does not quite close off onto itself; its cracks render palpable the impossibility of making essentializing identity claims on this geography. Maybe, it is the void and the cracks of the Palestine-Israeli social formation that this image moves toward. Elaboration of the politics of void, which, in part, is inspired by xurban collective's reconceptualization of art as archeology, is left for other surplus thoughts.

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