« From Here to There | Main | [iDC] »

September 04, 2006

Is It True, JetBlue?



Is It True, JetBlue? by Naeem Mohaiemen

"The artist says, "It's not my business." Then whose business is it? Does that mean you are going to leave the business of the most important issues in the world to the people who run the country? How stupid can we be?" [Howard Zinn, Talk @ Massachusetts College of Art, October 10, 2001]

Is It True Jet Blue? JFK? TSA? A rhetorical question that leads to a tautology. Yes, of course people racially profile the darker masses while whipping up a pervasive fear in the name of "national security." Paranoia is so essential to running the modern state, other navigation tools seem permanently broken.

After learning that Raed Jarrar was told to remove his Arabic WE WILL NOT BE SILENT t-shirt before he could board a JetBlue flight, four members of The Critical Voice (TCV) boarded a Jet Blue flight last Thursday. The four members, all white women and US citizens, were wearing the same Arabic t-shirts. They were allowed to board the flight. This is more evidence that the Raed Jarrar case is one of racial profiling and censorship.

Many of us have been helping as supporters of TCV, an affinity group of Artists Against the War (AAW). Today, after consultation with other members, Laurie of TCV went on Democracy Now and broke the story. I first met Laurie when she and other TCV members were ejected from NY Public Library's "Who's Afraid of Iran" event (w/ Shirin Neshat, et al) -- they were wearing the same t-shirts, but were ostensibly ejected for carrying political posters.

The t-shirts have now spread globally, and become an icon of popular, non violent resistance. Because of the open-ended nature of the two phrases "We" (who?) and "Will Not Be Silent" (about what?), people have appropriated these t-shirts and used their bodies to register opposition to many flanks of the "War On Terror", including invasions, fear-mongering, censorship, detention of immigrants, racial profiling of Muslims, use of African-Americans, Latinos and working-class Whites as cannon fodder, the abandonment of poor Blacks in New Orleans, and the linkages and overlaps between all these and other common struggles. To give one example, two weeks ago, many of us as members of Action Wednesday, collaborated with TCV to distribute the t-shirts at Outernational concert in Central Park, to protest the invasion of Lebanon.

Caroline Parker, Laurie Arbeiter, Susan Kingsland, Ann Shirazi and other members of TCV and AAW put into practice a new model of artists as public actors, activists and intellectuals who refuse to confine their cultural production inside gallery or museum walls.

Contra Adorno, it becomes even more essential to write "poetry" (using an expansive definition) after Auschwitz. To use the many routes of contemporary culture to dissent and to shape a new mental and actual reality.

Sandy Kaltenborn of Kanak Attac in Berlin writes, "Design Is Not Enough." Neither are t-shirts, but they are a good start. To take the carrier of such witless 1970s slogans as "Have A Nice Day", "I'm With Stupid", "Pobody's Nerfect", "Kiss Me, I'm Drunk" "My Parents Went To London And All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt", and invert it into an act of body-based defiance is a good beginning.

At the risk of descending to repetition, I echo Adorno's sentiment:

"The only relation to art that can be sanctioned in a reality that stands under the constant threat of catastrophe is one that treats works of art with the same deadly seriousness that characterizes the world today." [“Valéry Proust Museum” in Prisms, Samuel and Shierry Weber, trans. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1983)]

Stay tuned.

Related Links

We Will Not Be Silent On JetBlue (Press Release)

Snakes On, Arabs Off The Plane

Artists Against War

The Critical Voice

Naee Mohaiemen
Visible Collective/Disappeared In America

[posted on sarai]

Posted by jo at September 4, 2006 01:30 PM