Monday, December 06, 2004

Index on Censorship: Writing on the Walls (victor g.)

Index on Censorship: Writing on the Walls
Vol. 33, No. 3, July 2004, Issue 212, 224 pgs.

Index is a London based quarterly journal. As the final page states, “Index remains the only international publication devoted to the promotion and protection of that basic, yet still abused, human right—freedom of expression”. This particular issue deals with walls-literal and figurative. Walls are ambiguous constructions; they keep in as they keep out. In our current global political climate, they have become even more ubiquitous. In this issue are found contributions by such folks as Umberto Eco, writing on the need for the dismantling of national walls in order for a (re)unified European state to emerge and continue in a key role on a global scale; on to lesser known folks, such as Mehrak Golestan, a musician and writer, covering the latest rap music video by Sheikh Terra and the Soul Salah Crew, a group of unknown British-Asian Muslim rappers promoting the political ideology of the Arab world with imagery of a Iraqi men gunned down by US Marines superimposed over Al-Qaida training camps and Hezbollah factions (as well as the subsequent censorship meted out to US teenagers who hosted the video on their blogs by both unknown parties and official bodies “instructing” the removal of the offending material).
Marcel Berlins, a visiting professor in media law at Queen Mary College, covers the topic of libel tourism taking place in England, a country know for its claimant friendly stance. What is at stake here is not simply the freedom of expression and the press within the borders of England itself, but across international lines. In an age where transnational corporations are more the norm than the exception, the publication of material in one country, then published in England, and then subjected to a lawsuit there, not only endangers those who produced the material, the writers/journalists/etc. in England, but in their own home countries. These writers are placed into a position wherein they must provide even more supporting material for the claims made in their writings. Even more troubling is the “outbreak of cold feet among publishers of vaguely controversial writings”. If publishers are unwilling to publish this material, then litigation in pursuit of economic compensation will effectively hinder the flow of ideas and thoughts challenging the status quo, and strengthening the state’s resolve to allow its populace to know only so much, or at least what it deems necessary.
Rubén Martínez, author of The New Americans, writes in “Fortress America” on the state of American citizenship in regards to a more global citizenship. The US-Mexico border is nearly a 2000 mile long, 4 mile wide line in the sand that is for all intents and purposes, not only meant to keep out the illegal immigration of Mexican nationals, but to keep at bay all of the developing world. As Martínez points out, “Americans do get around … as tourists, as consumers of the ‘other’”. Immigration laws, and national borders are constructs of the state, however, as Martinez points out, they are not of the natural order, “US immigration policy seems to be breaking the laws of nature—or at least globalization”. Which is ironic in lieu of the US need for a globalized economy; a globalized economy that fuels the machinery of US dominance abroad while maintaining an ever increasing isolationist stance here at home.
Wendy Pullan discusses the historical (and present) relation walls have with the notion of citizenship in “A One-Sided Wall”. According to Pullan, a senior lecturer of architecture in the U of Cambridge, “one’s right to reside inside [of walls] offered the freedom, and the responsibility of, to participate as a citizen”. However, historically, walls were not impassable, but permeable. The cities they circumscribed sometimes, if not always, extended beyond the city walls. The city did not stand alone, “commerce, politics, friendship, cultural exchange and war depended upon what lay beyond the walls … as much as the wall demarcated and separated, it was also a means of connection and mediation”. In contrast, today, walls today are more abstract, meant to demarcate nation-states in an ever more globalized and electronically linked world. And yet, Pullan concedes that the absolute removal of all walls is undesirable as well, “no one wants to live in a featureless and homogeneous world. Identity requires some form of recognition or attachment to place which in turn depends on structure and differentiation”. If identity, then, is somehow tied to location, how then, can identity be claimed as a fluid construct, when the location by which the identity is recognized by, remains stubbornly stagnant?

What attracted me to this journal? I saw three copies of it on the bookstore shelf for three months, and I imagine, I am perhaps the only person who bothered to pick one up. Perhaps it was the image on the front cover of a young boy walking between what appears to a 10+ high foot wall and a tangled webbing of barbwire that made me pick purchase this slightly expensive publication. In any case, what I have briefly touched upon above is a small sampling of the theories we have discussed in class being played out in the “real” world. We have discussed such issues as post-colonialism in the third world; how then, can we begin a discussion on the colonialist thug-like tactics being employed now by a once state-less people? How does the idea of a strictly Western, post-Renaissance invention that is “originality” give rise to patriotism and nationalism? And how does this notion tie in with the historical culture of a nation today? Theory, be it modern/pomo, post-structuralist, post-colonialist, feminist, queer, and media studies (the meat and potatoes of any respectable academician), I believe, offers us incredible and ingenious ways by which to cipher though the multitude of layers and meanings present and constantly being added upon in the world today. However, much like Sontag criticizes such intellectual luminaries as Jean Baudrillard, for espousing the belief that experience can be anticipated (a characteristic of modernity), that only images and simulated realities are all that exist now; I too, wanted to step back from the labyrinth that was becoming all these new theoretical ideas explored in that dank basement of a classroom and “see” for myself how they are enacted out and applied to in the “real” world. Furthermore, the reading of this journal is not just simply the result of pretty colors and pictures attracting the eye, but more so an investigation into what Toby Miller in Technologies of Truth. Cultural Citizenship and the Popular Media defines as technology and truth: “A technology is a popularly held truth, and a truth is an accepted fact. Their combination … with the political is intended to signify the abstraction of logic, the qualifier of struggle, and the genitive of reality.” I wished to explore how far the truth could be stretched while its mechanism of dissemination, technology, was hampered by walls; and in turn, how a publicaton such as this goes about furthering it's own non-state sanctioned truth.
This journal provides a lean and mean look to those (such as myself) interested in how borders and proverbial lines in the sand intersect with and affect/effect contemporary social, cultural, economic and political issues on both a local and global scale.


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