Intersectionality and HERE THERE EVERYWHERE: Gaza-London. What Next?

‘Shukran! So great to feel connected to Gaza. Peace through art. Keep going. Keep spreading peace and love.’ Comment by participant at the HERE THERE EVERYWHERE events

From 7th -11th November 2017 Az Theatre curated an exhibition and ran a series of events at P21 Gallery in London. The occasion was the presentation by our partners, Theatre for Everybody in Gaza, of their stage adaptation of Tolstoy’s War & Peace.  The exhibition brought together work by Tanya Habjouqa (photographer), Taysir Batniji (Video artist), Hazem Harb (performance video artist), Palestine History Tapestry Project, Laila Kassab (painter) and the Palestine Regeneration Team.  The events video-linked publics and experts in London with: the ‘War & Peace’ company in Gaza; with contributors to the book, Gaza as Metaphor; with mothers in Gaza attending a workshop organised by the Maan Development Agency; with school teachers (including the National President and members of the executive of the National Union of Teachers section of the National Education Union); with women activists from Gaza and from Jazir province in the autonomous Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (aka Rojava); with human rights activists and specialists in the study of genocide; with filmmakers who worked on a film about the first intifada (1987-1990) in Gaza; with students of Shakespeare; with the filmmaker of Ambulance, a film about paramedics in the 2014 Gaza war, with paramedics, psychotherapists and mental health specialists, public health experts, environmentalists and poets.

We decided to run such an extensive programme of work in order to help break down barriers between people working in different fields and to offer to other constituencies the kind of immediate working contact that Az Theatre has developed with Theatre for Everybody during our Gaza Drama Long Term project.  This is a ten-year (2009-2019) partnership aimed at undermining the blockade of Gaza through friendship, solidarity and creativity.  This decision was inspired and furthered by the idea of intersectionality.

I would like to make clearer why this idea is important to me.  As I do so I have to admit that I am not knowledgeable about, or well-read in, black feminist thinking nor in critical race theory from which this idea developed.  That’s not to say that I will never be but I don’t want to wait until I’m adept before talking about how this idea has struck me.  I first came across it in Angela Y Davis’ book Freedom is a Constant Struggle.  In this book Angela Y Davis talks about how limiting it is to describe struggles like that of the Palestinian people for justice, or that of indigenous people to protect their land against incursions by multinational oil corporations, or that of black people in many parts of the world against police and judicial violence, as being disconnected from each other.  Intersectionality insists on the specifics of a given movement and opens up that which links it to other movements.  For example, in a leaked document from a conference organised by an Israeli government-related think-tank it is clear that this ability to connect the Palestinian cause with other social movements was a matter of considerable concern for those committed to sustaining the Zionist project.  The report from the conference in April 2017 specifically identifies ‘intersectionality’ as a threat and described it as a major factor in the failure of the Israeli state to counter the BDS movement. The success of the Palestinian solidarity movement was to a major extent attributed to the fact that this struggle had been adopted as ‘symbolic’ in the struggle of many groups and movements for justice and freedom.

Being able to see how the issue of Palestinian freedom relates to a widespread series of interconnected concerns, including ‘humanitarianism’ and the constitution of the ‘international community’, is realistic from the point of view of current political imagination.  Giving full weight to the actuality and detail of what Palestinians are engaged with, whether they are in Gaza, in the West Bank, in Israel, in Jordan, in Lebanon and in the other countries of the world to which they have been dispersed, is completely in tune with seeing the impossibility of considering their situation in isolation.  Of course their situation is special but it becomes indescribable if similarities, resonances and connections are pushed out of the picture.  Of course this is true of many, if not all, of the issues that connect with that of the Palestinians. This is more than saying that they are not alone from the point of view of active solidarity and there is no need to insist – although this may a certain times be useful – that this unity is built on the identification of a common enemy, be it ‘neo-liberalism’ or ‘corporate capitalism’ or ‘neo-imperialism’.

Our events in November were not specifically designed to address questions at this level of generality but they offered an invitation to shift the narrative, to alter the field of play.  By addressing people here in London and in Gaza as artists, teachers, parents, environmentalists, filmmakers, activists, paramedics, public health experts, Shakespeare students, poets, human rights activists, architects we were constructing an alternative conception to that which would describe people only as Palestinians (or as English or white or black) therefore seeming to impose identity as a kind of fate presenting people as passive victims.  Intersectionality offers us the opportunity of seeing the connection between different movements and struggles as well as seeing the complexity of how we are as human beings.  It is the dynamic interaction between the connectivity linking issues and movements and the vision of human beings as relational creatures, making ourselves and each other through a multiplicity of relationships, encounters, groups and institutions, that makes intersectionality so welcome.  I am grateful for this idea that can clarify and advance specificity and difference while holding and embracing connection and generality.

For me there are two uses of ‘intersectionality’. One is to gain insight, from its connective capability, into political and social movement(s).  The other is to gain insight, from its cohesive capability, into more fully imagining human beings.  Of course even more intriguing is what might be the connection between these capabilities.

The general political discourse of our society is almost hopelessly limited to relating the worth of a policy to its immediate benefits for a given sector or group of people.  The reduction of politics to a narrow idea of economics is a signature of neo-liberalism.  This ideology also articulates a rigidity in the relationship between the governors and the governed.  At the same time it obscures the interconnections between ‘home’ policy and ‘foreign’ policy.  For example, let’s imagine that a government is elected whose main election promise is to restructure the relationship of the UK to Israel/Palestine.  The new policy is designed to bring pressure on Israel to conform with international law and the United Nations resolutions relating to its activities.  The UK would commit itself to impose sanctions unilaterally and to open channels of support and communication with the worldwide Palestinian community on the basis of the right of return.  The government would encourage civil society solidarity contacts with all constituencies and sectors of Palestinian and Israeli society that were active in pressurising the Israeli state to conform with international law, ending the occupation of territories outside the internationally agreed partition borders of 1948.  Although the demands behind this policy are perfectly reasonable it is clear that such a policy initiative in the present circumstances is impossible.  A lot of other factors in the circumstances would have to change and, unlike, say, re-nationalisation of the railways or de-privatisation and increased public finance for the health service, which appear to be policy options that are programmatically unlinked, a change in policy towards Palestine/Israel appears unlikely unless there are other consequential changes such as decoupling the UK from US Middle East regional strategies, re-organising military and ‘security’ co-operation with ‘traditional’ allies in the EU/NATO, distancing the UK from the ‘axis of evil’ neo-conservative strategic agenda of the US.  A change in policy towards Palestine/Israel would alter the conversation between the UK, Russia and China.

However such a change would have to have engaged with popular opinion in the UK.  How could a popular consensus for such a change come about without it being connected to policy changes relating to issues closer to home?  Whereas the issue of Palestine/Israel may not be a lynchpin of wider policy change it is related to questions of racism, democracy, environmental sustainability, economic development and growth, freedom of movement, human rights and social justice. Given a little thought it is clear that this policy would have to be a part of a wide-ranging alteration that would break the UK’s relationship to the neoliberal consensus of the ‘international community’.  The risk would be, unless a critical number of other nation-states also changed their policy the UK would be isolated and there may be some kind of speculative attacks on the currency, the imposition of sanctions and attempts through the international security and intelligence ‘community’ to undermine the UK government.

My argument is that this change would only be fully possible if there was something amounting to a paradigm shift in ‘home’ and ‘foreign’ policy.  However I’m not saying that activism on the Palestine/Israel issue should be suspended until all the necessary co-ordinates are in place for overall political change.  I am simply pursuing the political wisdom enunciated by Nelson Mandela’s insight that: “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians” .  I am searching out the definition of the connection of our freedom with that of the Palestinians. Neither is it necessary to say that that the Palestinians’ struggle for justice is the unique emblem of the struggle for human freedom nor is it true to say that the oppressor, in all instances, is the same, as if there is some central source of domination that, if discovered and expunged, will bring love, joy and peace to the Earth.

It is not always wise to focus too strongly on what might appear to be a common enemy.  However, there remains the question of whether ideologies, in order to be cohesive, have common underlying thematics that can link, though affinity and correspondence, a multiplicity of human activities, attitudes, mentalities and beliefs.  Without believing that systems of belief move in perfectly-formed phalanxes it is possible to see how ideas and institutions have coherent internal rhymes and external structural symmetries.  I have generally expressed this unifying coherence by referring to ‘an image of the human’.  This basic idea of humanity is problematic because it can give the illusion of an absolute essence, an irreducible quality that announces itself as ‘the human’.  These views of the human can be and must be subjective, reflexive and circumscribed.  For example, definitions or even perceptions of ‘the human’ can be subtended by ‘the subhuman’ or ‘the superhuman’.  It is clearly no good appealing to the delusions of common sense in this instance.  There may be as many definitions of ‘the human’ as there are human beings. Let’s say that an historically and culturally circumscribed ideology is held together by ‘an image of the human’ and one of the ways in which they operate is by providing representations (attitudes, beliefs and events) through which people can recognise themselves, and can even engender a sense of belonging. The most obvious example of this is homo economicus, the ‘image of the human’ that lies at the core of neoliberalism, in other words, the notion that human beings are rational, self-interested, utility-seeking entities.  Of course we know that the operationalisation of this idea drives people to exhibit the features that affirm and continue to sustain the system and that this happens, like in any social system, by the internalisation or ‘living through’ of those values.  This I believe brings us close to understanding the connection between the two aspects of intersectionality that I referred to.

What is it that makes a human being see in another’s oppression the lineaments of their own?  This is the sinew and lifeblood of solidarity between people and it is a deep recognition that so often moves people into action for change, not because of what is happening to them but because of what is happening to somebody else.  Political and social institutions are the crystallisations of these urges in people.  What seems to happen is that institutions and social structures are constantly refreshed and re-enforced but also can become bereft of credibility and no longer accord with how people see themselves, not only individually but collectively.  Of course in periods of change there are defining issues which express a much more general movement and it seems unlikely that the issue of Palestine/Israel will assume this crucial defining role in any social movement in the UK.  However, this idea shouldn’t be discounted.  Things are strange.

For example, the announcement by Donald Trump that the US will recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel seems at first sight like a ghastly imposition of raw power and a major setback for the cause of peace and justice. I don’t welcome it. But since Trump is generally associated with white supremacist racist views and some of his supporters have expressed anti-jewish views and because the ideological base from which he has emerged is a ruling establishment that have historically united a discrimination against jews with a discrimination against black people, his ‘offer’ to the Israelis may even to them seem like a poisoned chalice. Trump is uniting the opposition against him.  Of course this is dangerous because it also means that his supporters become cornered, their animus intensifies, their fear of loss increases and the corner they are in looks similar to the corner that the US is knocking itself into ‘on the world stage’.

At times it feels as if we are living through an epic the subject of which is the passing away of a whole way of life or system of human organisation.  This story often reminds me of Shakespeare’s Richard III.  This play depicts a figure who is at the threshold of the inauguration of the Tudor dynasty, the final unification of the English ‘kingdom’ after the civil wars of the preceding period, the wars that pitched different factions of the landowning classes with their warlord leaders against each other in the struggle for dominance.  Since Shakespeare was concerned with a celebration of the Tudor regime which was founded through the victory in battle by the grandfather (Henry VII) of the monarch that dominated his times (Elizabeth I) his depiction of the key figure (Richard III) of the old regime was like devil who through his outrageous and ostentatious wickedness eventually united all against him so that, with his destruction, all the evil that he had gathered into himself was also destroyed.  The movement of the play based on a kind of primitive ritual drama of exorcism has a physiological metaphor at its centre and it is as if by Richard’s death on the battlefield of Bosworth Field (deserted even by his horse, his own mother turned against him halfway through the play) a poisonous boil is lanced and the body politic is cured. Richard flagrantly embodies and personifies all that was wrong, corrupt, dishonest, venal and murderous in the old regime and by his removal a political and social rebirth could take place.

If only political movement were as simple and enjoyable as this brilliant play. Our social and political history has been haunted by the desire for this simple drama, wherein the execution of the king (whether in public or behind closed doors) delivers renewal.  It has proven to be an illusion and this illusion has hidden the emergence of real problems. It has usually turned out that the institutional mold far outlives the individuals that enact them. I say this as somebody that would like to see the abolition of the monarchy.  Anyway, the point I’m making is that the arrival of leaders like Trump (Italy, being a more advanced society, came up with Berlusconi some time ago) is a sign of the desperation of the ruling elites of a political order that is on its last legs.  Trump appears so like the paper tiger that Mao Zedong described as personifying imperialism. That his nemesis might be the regime that Mao played such a key part in creating may haunt his dreams, if he has the imaginative capacity to dream clearly.

Unity will not come solely from opposition to Trump.  All I am pointing out is how policies on issues that are not obviously central to a given constituency can have symbolic importance and can act as a conduit connecting up the relationship between ideologies and strategic outcomes.  I believe intersectionality gives a powerful optic into this connectivity and sheds light on the nature of political regimes.  But also it offers us a pluralistic way of looking at ourselves and our fellow human beings, not as singular predictable representative entities but as complex beings intersected, that is to say made, by different and various interactions.  This is what makes it possible for me to say at certain moments that I am a Viking but also at another to say I am a Palestinian (certainly no less credible than when John Kennedy told the crowds ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’).

I am happy that AzTheatre organised the HERE THERE EVERYWHERE events at P21 Gallery.  Working with visual arts opened up a dimension in our work that relates to imagining what can be brought together in a creative space.  The Gallery is keen to further the work we started.  The next phase of the Gaza Drama Long Term project has as yet to be decided upon.  The performances of War & Peace in Gaza that have been received with such enthusiasm will be coming to an end soon.  We are all thinking about what to do next.

 

HERE THERE EVERYWHERE: GAZA-LONDON comes and goes

HERE THERE EVERYWHERE comes and goes in London but Theatre for Everybody’s production of ‘War & Peace’ continues in Gaza!

What people said about our exhibition and events at P21 Gallery 7-11 November:

“Thank you for the tremendous 5-day event. I am sorry I was not able to come to more days. Gaza needs events like this so that they will not succumb to isolation”.
Swee Ang Chai, Orthopedic Surgeon, Founder of Medical Aid for Palestinians

“I must congratulate you on organising this event with such a passion, care and sensitivity. Well done, it has been an amazing and needed event. We need to keep going and hopefully this can continue. It has been an inspiration”.
Nasser Golzari, Architect

“Congratulations on your mammoth achievement in planning and initiating such a wide-ranging week on Palestine”.
Janet Henfrey, Actor

“It was a privilege to be involved in such a successful week.”
Martin Brown, Former Assistant General Secretary of Equity

“Your week of discussions between London and Gaza have been as inspiring as they have been interesting and thought-provoking.”
Chris Curling, Film Producer

“Your tremendous efforts are highly appreciated by teachers, academics and professionals in Gaza.”
Dr Nazmi Al Masri, Islamic University of Gaza

“I found the discussion fascinating.”
Professor Penny Green, International State Crime Initiative

“Shukran! So great to feel connected to Gaza.  Peace through art.  Keep going.  Keep spreading peace and love.”
Miriam

“A very moving, rich and valuable series of events emphasising the need for self-determination for the wonderful people of Palestine – congratulations to all!”
Rosamine and Abe

“Congratulations for this great work, I wish I could be there.”
Hazem Harb, Artist from Gaza

There will be a discussion organised by Association of Jungian Analysts with Jonathan Chadwick on the thinking behind the ‘War & Peace’/HERE THERE EVERYWHERE: GAZA-LONDON work on Tuesday 21st November 8.15pm. Book Here.

The photographs are by Tanya Habjouqa.  We showed six of her series, WOMEN OF GAZA, at the exhibition.  If you are interested in buying a print please contact Agata Bar at NOOR  Our project will benefit by receiving 50% of the sale price.

 

 

HERE THERE EVERYWHERE: GAZA-LONDON P21 Gallery 7-11 November/Our Programme

HERE THERE EVERYWHERE: GAZA – LONDON

7th November – 11th November 2017 P21 Gallery

‘live events space’

Programme

 

Date
All day every day ·      Images from Gaza, video art by Hazem Harb. Design by Louie Whitemore

·      work from Art Under Siege

·      Photographs by Tanya Habjouqa

·      Looped interviews from the artists involved in War and Peace production in Gaza.

·      Video from Theatre for Everybody’s production of War and Peace.

·      Installation by Palestine Regeneration Team

·      Videos from Az Theatre’s and Theatre for Everybody’s Gaza Drama Long Term project

·      Filming by/for film project directed by Mohammed Jabaly

Tuesday 7th November 6.30/8.30 pm Launch event: keynote welcome: Tolstoy, War & Peace and ‘war on terror’. Video link up with Theatre for Everybody’s War & Peace production in Gaza
8.00/10.00pm GAZA AS METAPHOR: impact of a book.

Conversation with Ghada Karmi, actvist, writer and doctor, Dina Matar, (contributing co-editor with Helga Tawil el Souri) from SOAS Centre for Media Studies and in Gaza (through video link up) with Naim Al Khatib, writer, and friends

Wednesday 8th November

 

12pm/2pm PEOPLE TO PEOPLE: PARENTS

Artist educator, Rebecca Snow, in London working with a Gazan artist,runs a ‘family art’ session with parents and pre-school children simultaneously in London and Gaza with a live video link

5pm/7pm PEOPLE TO PEOPLE: TEACHERS

Teachers in London talk to teachers in Gaza. This encounter is organised with help from the National Union of Teachers. In Gaza: Dr Nazmi Al Masri, Vice President for External Relations at the Islamic University of Gaza

7/9pm PEOPLE TO PEOPLE: COMMUNITY ACTIVISTS

Live video link up between Palestinian and Kurdish activists in Gaza and Rojava/Eastern Anatolia. In London conversation led by Dr Radha d’Souza, activist lawyer and writer. In Gaza: Andaleeb Adwan, Gaza Community Media Centre and Maha Barakat, journalist and activist. In Rojava: TBC.This event is organised in partnership with Peace in Kurdistan

 

Thursday 9th November
Friday 10th November 6.30pm/8.30pm PEOPLE TO PEOPLE: GAZA & JUSTICE:

Can what the Israeli state is doing in Gaza be described as genocide? Experts and justice-seekers in London, including Professor Penny Green and Gaza talk. This event is organised in partnership with the International State Crime Initiative. Speakers: TBC

8pm/10pm   Film plus PEOPLE TO PEOPLE:   VOICES FROM GAZA Antonia Caccia and Maysoon Pachachi’s groundbreaking film about the first Intifada made in 1989 plus a video-linked conversation between the filmmakers and those in Gaza who participated in the Intifada and the film. This conversation marks a tribute the 30th anniversary of the 1987 Intifada which changed the face of global popular resistance.
Saturday 11th November 12 noon/2pm PEOPLE TO PEOPLE: GAZA & SHAKESPEARE

Students of Shakespeare at the Islamic University of Gaza and in London make a live video encounter. This event is anchored in London by Esther Ruth Elliott and in Gaza by Dr Mahmoud Baroud of the Islamic University of Gaza.

2pm/4pm Film and PEOPLE TO PEOPLE: PARAMEDICS

AMBULANCE Mohamed Jabaly’s film about ambulance crews during the 2014 war on Gaza followed by a conversation between paramedics in London and Gaza.

4pm/6pm PEOPLE TO PEOPLE: PSYCHOTHERAPISTS AND MENTAL HEALTH EXPERTS

Psychotherapists and people concerned mental health in London and Gaza talk. This event is being organised in partnership with Palestine Trauma Centre and UK-Palestine Mental Health Network

6pm/8pm PEOPLE TO PEOPLE: PUBLIC HEALTH EXPERTS AND ENVIRONMENTALISTS

Environmental activists in London and in Gaza talk about the natural consequences of human-made disaster. In London: Dr. Derek Summerfield, psychiatrist, writer and activist. Dr Majdi Ashour, University of Edinburgh In Gaza: Dr. Khamis Elessi, Islamic University of Gaza

8pm/10pm UNFORESEEN project presentation. This event will resume the work of the project designed to link up young creative’s in the UK and in Gaza followed by spoken word and poetry performance

 

 

HERE THERE EVERYWHERE – JOIN OUR TEAM

JOIN OUR TEAM

We need volunteers to work on our HERE THERE & EVERYWHERE: GAZA – LONDON events

Our HERE THERE & EVERYWHERE: GAZA – LONDON events will be happening at P21 Gallery in King’s Cross London between Tuesday 7th November and Saturday 11th November.

Az Theatre has a ten-year (2009 – 2019) cultural exchange partnership with Theatre for Everybody in Gaza (you can read about our GAZA DRAMA LONG TERM project:  http://aztheatre.org.uk/wordpress/gaza-drama-long-term-2/).

In the autumn our partners, Theatre for Everybody, will be presenting their world premiere Arabic stage adaptation of Tolstoy’s WAR & PEACE to audiences in Khan Younis and Gaza City.  Here in London we will be running a series of events that will link up with Gaza during this period.  You can read about our approach here: http://aztheatre.org.uk/wordpress/2017/04/03/here-there-everywhere-brief-descriptions

All the work in the UK on this project is being done on a voluntary basis and is being led by professionals.

Our programme is intensive and tries, in a short time, to make as much contact between people in Gaza and here in the UK. There are some ‘performance’ slots, a number of videos and films on video will be shown, the majority of events will be conversations between people here and people in Gaza. There will be an exhibition of work devised and designed by Hazem Harb and Louie Whitemore.

We need three or four people to volunteer to do the following:

  • Marketing and Publicity: working through media, social networks, print to ensure that new and habitual audiences get access to the events
  • Front of House: ensuring ticketing, reception and front of house is organised, communicating the programme of activities on site.
  • Programming: ascertaining availability, contacting and co-ordinating the performers and speakers
  • Curating: managing the installation and animation of gallery space.
  • Production: ensuring performers and speakers have what they need, that the skype calls are efficiently and effectively organised.

The very most basic ground-work of the organisation of the installation and programming has been done. See draft programme.

The space is well-equipped, has good wifi, projector and screen.

 

Contact Jonathan Chadwick on 020 7263 9807 or info@aztheatre.org.uk

 

 

 

Please contact Jonathan Chadwick: info@aztheatre.org.uk or call 0207 263 9807.

 

HERE, THERE & EVERYWHERE: new stage in our Gaza project

The new phase of our GAZA DRAMA LONG TERM project is called HERE, THERE & EVERYWHERE.

 

The occasion for the creation of a ‘live events space’ is the production in Gaza in late September 2017 of Theatre for Everybody’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s War & Peace. This is a stage in GAZA DRAMA LONG TERM, a ten-year cultural exchange project between Theatre for Everybody (Gaza, Palestine) and Az Theatre (London, UK).

The keynote of this stage of our project is ‘connections’. As Angela Y Davis points out in her most recent book FREEDOM IS A CONSTANT STRUGGLE (Haymarket Books 2016): “The tendency has been to consider Palestine a separate – unfortunately too often marginal – issue” p.11

Nelson Mandela said: “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”

In the Native Americans Rise protest against the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline in March led by the Sioux from the Standing Rock reservation the chant went up: ‘Occupation is a crime, From Standing Rock to Palestine’

Our aspiration is to unite different forms of expression and engage with connections between struggles in Palestine, the UK, in Ferguson, Missouri, in Diyarbakir, Eastern Turkey and elsewhere. This entails a strategy of ‘intersectionality’, ‘efforts to think, analyze, organize as we recognize interconnections of race, class, gender, sexuality’ (Davis op cit. p.18)

Never has it been so clear that the issues raised by the Palestinian struggle for freedom is at the centre of our own political and social discourses.

Theatre for Everyone in Gaza are producing a first ever Arabic stage adaptation of Tolstoy’s War & Peace in Gaza.  This is a part of the ten year cultural exchange partnership between Az Theatre and Theatre for Everybody.  There will be over fifteen performances.  Well over a thousand people in Gaza will be involved as producers, participants or as spectators. 

Our ‘Live Events Space’ at P21 Gallery, King’s Cross London will run presentations, performances (poetry and spoken word), panel discussions, live video links with Gaza and elsewhere, have video screens with interviews with Gaza, space for information about Gaza and also about Theatre for Everybody’s new adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  We want to link up with, echo, reverberate with this event in Gaza.  We want to provide insight into what is happening there…and here.  We are calling our space, HERE, THERE & EVERYWHERE 

HERE, THERE & EVERYWHERE will tune in to differences and similarities between UK and Palestine and focus on ‘war on terror’, the ‘international civil war’ in which so many of are implicated, look at the relationship between ‘war-producing’ societies and ‘war-receiving’ societies. This space will be co-created by our partners in Gaza, Palestine.”

JOIN OUR TEAM

We are looking for people to come and work with us on a voluntary basis to help our campaign to raise money for our work and organise our ‘live events’ space.

Contact info@aztheatre.org.uk

We are in partnership to present our ‘live events space’ at P21 from 7th-11th November 2017

Support HERE THERE EVERYWHERE, read more. Or simply click on the donate button on the right!

 

 

 

 

Permission to Narrate Gaza by Ilan Pappe in ‘Gaza as Metaphor’ and thoughts about regime change

 

Reading Ilan Pappe‘s essay in the ‘Gaza as Metaphor’ book I began to believe that he was answering a question that I had asked myself. Don’t we in the UK need a new kind of activism? See my “Activism and Az Theatre’ in the Az Theatre blog.

His essay called ‘Permission to Narrate Gaza’ is one of many wonderful contributions in this volume edited by Helga Tawil-Souri and Dina Matar but Pappe’s was the contribution that really caught my attention. Here is an extract. He is responding to Edward Said’s call for Palestinians ‘to extend their struggle into the realm of representation and historical narratives’:

‘One can continue Said’s journey by challenging further the historical narrative and by questioning the hegemonic discourse on Palestine commonly employed by the powers that be. This questioning has to insist on including the historical context and new terminology when discussing the 2014 attacks on Gaza and the overarching question of Palestine. The new terminology can be presented best as several pairs of antinomies: the former in each pair representing a redundant term to be replaced by the latter more apt one. Occupation versus Colonisation; Peace Process versus Decolonisation; Peace Solution versus Regime Change; Two States Solution versus One Sate Solution; Israeli Democracy versus Israeli Apartheid; Israeli Defence Policy versus Ethnic Cleansing (and, as we shall see, Genocide in the case of Gaza)’ p.159 Gaza as Metaphor

He is summary and is concerned with breaking down illusions, of moving beyond the accepted given narrative of the situation. He is redefining the space of thought. I feel his reasoning has dimension. But, at the same time, he is summing up what has already been articulated. And the thoughts are based on recognising what is happening in Gaza.

I am particularly interested in his use of the idea of ‘Regime Change’. See The Specifics of British Regime Change and Is Regime Change a Paradigm Shift?

What was the first building block on the way to founding this new vision, what he calls a new ‘penning’? He is comparing the power of the pen with the power of the sword. Maybe it starts with a critique of the accepted thinking. Usually faced with the situation there in Palestine you meet ‘facts on the ground’. These facts on the ground are the arguments that set out the space, determine the basic ideas, the terms of the debate. Normally these facts and ideas send your mind round in circles. They make it not make sense.

The ‘two-state solution’ arises from the initial partition of the land in 1948 that was validated by the United Nations. The logical corollary of this partition is that the two peoples should live in separate spaces. He quotes sardonically the Robert Frost poem about ‘good fences making good neighbours’.

The next proposition is that the Peace Process should lead to the foundation of the Two States. This is a piece of double-think or, at any rate, it is the generation of thinking as a smoke screen. The Israelis are ‘pretending’ that they are not appropriating Palestinian land, most significantly the land which they occupied in 1967. So the next idea that hits the floor and smashes to pieces, is that what they are doing is ‘occupying’ the West Bank and Gaza, that what is taking place is an ‘occupation’, as if this is envisaged by the perpetrators as a time-limited process and that the ‘occupiers’ are planning to withdraw. Of course the ‘withdrawal’ of colonies from Gaza is a part of this feint. We are asked to believe that this was a part of the ‘occupation’ ending.

Already by criticising the Two-State solution, the Peace Process and the Occupation, the ground in view, and the mind, starts to clear. If these were pictures that obscured the real view then it is necessary to knock them down and dispense with them. The Peace Process is the biggest feint. There can be no peace without justice. It cannot be that a ‘peace’ can be constructed as if there has been a war between two parties whose conflict has reached a conclusion.

I have recognised for some time that the Peace Process is a fake game and finally knowing this was simultaneous with recognising that a genocide was happening. I don’t agree with Pappe that this is only happening in Gaza.

Of course, my use of the word genocide is specific. It is genocide in the strictest meaning of the word. This is as I understand it: genocide is, according to Raphael Lemkin, the Polish lawyer who invented the word and defined what it meant, the destruction of a human group. This idea of ‘human group’ often refers to an ethnic group, a ‘people’ but it can be any identifiable group. This means that the group has to be capable of being identified and the process of identification must be an integral part of the genocide itself. The victim group in a genocide, as such, may not exist as an identifiable group before the genocidal process begins. It may lack definition and a part of the genocide is to clarify this definition.

Understanding why genocide starts with the identification of the victimised ‘human group’ and does not start with the scale of the killing (the actual physical destruction of the group) is important because it clarifies the fact that the process does not start from the attributes of the victim group but rather with the requirements of the perpetrator group.

In the first movements of the operative definition of genocide when it was incorporated into the United Nations Convention on Genocide framework Lemkin struggled to maintain the political rather than only the ethnic definition of ‘human group’. In the wake of the Second World War when this process of formulation was undertaken considerable pressure (yes, an early example of the Israeli ‘lobby’) was brought to bear to ensure that the ethnic definition was primary.

This political consideration makes us mindful of the requirements of the perpetrator group rather then the characteristics of the victim group and brings attention to the fact that identification is a key part of the genocidal process. I believe it is this specific understanding of genocide that has been developed by the work of Daniel Feierstein. In his book Genocide as Social Practice he outlines five stages of Genocide.

Two main things are important in this. One is that mass killing is only one phase of genocide. It may be the final phase. The most important overall objective is the ‘imposition of the national pattern of the perpetrator group on the victim group’. Secondly, this work draws attention primarily to the characteristics of the perpetrator group. These characteristics amount to a need for social cohesion and the genocidal process provides a means of social reorganisation for the perpetrator group or society.

So there can be emerging or proto-genocidal movements. For example, during the Thatcher government years there was move towards a kind of ‘genocidal’ mentality when she designated the miners (or at least the active resistant sector of the National Union of Mineworkers) as ‘the enemy within’. This is like an internal declaration of war. Similarly, during the regime of the Argentinian junta there was an internal war against ‘subversive’ and political opponents of the regime. Daniel Feierstein draws attention to the parallels between the practices of this regime and the national socialist regime in Germany in his book.

Whereas I would resist the definition of genocide as simply and solely mass killing it is difficult to accept a definition that excludes killing or excludes the tendency towards mass killing. Processes of exclusion, the creation of ‘the other’ or of an enemy, appear to be endemic to human society so when does an exclusionary process of social organisation become genocidal?

One significant factor is the cohesion a group gains from considering itself more advanced or superior. It has to do so in relation to another group. It is this distancing itself from the other human group that is a crucial moment in the genocidal movement. The erasure of the other human group ‘as a group’ becomes the means of securing the identity of the genocidal group. What occurs is a specific relationship between different specific technologies of power, or techniques of social organisation, imposed on one group and the impacts, in terms of social cohesion produced, for the other group. Each stage of erasure is co-ordinate with each stage of cohesion.

It might be true that the moment of actual mass killing is the moment of self destruction for the perpetrator group. There has to be survivors of the victim group for the perpetrator group to have the ability to impose its ‘national pattern’.

The mass killing is an end game. This is the significance of Feierstein’s devastating observation that genocide is endemic to modernity. After all, modernity must be the point of arrival for advanced human groups as they distinguish themselves from those less ‘modern’ than themselves.

This brings our attention to another important aspect of what Ilan Pappe is saying. Having replaced Occupation with Colonisation, Two-State Solution with One-State Solution, Peace Process with Decolonisation he goes on to argue for Regime Change. He connects the need for regime change to the apartheid and settler-colonial nature of the Zionist regime.

This brings me back to the exploration of new activism with which I started. I said that Ilan Pappe concerns himself with changing the narrative and thus making an intervention with the power of his ‘pen’ in relationship to the Israelis powerful ‘sword’. What does the counterposing of these two forms of human power bring to our attention?

Why does the turn or change that he is pointing to open up key tactics and key strategic demands? What perspectives are opened up by BDS (Boycott, Divestment Sanctions) and the co-ordinate emphasis on the Right of Return. These are aimed at Regime Change

He is saying that the core of the current regime in Israel needs to change. It is not just a question of changing government policy. Policy change does not go deep enough. It is the basic premise on which the policy is constructed that needs attention.

Feierstein describes the genocidal process as consisting of a number of stages. Though these stages are chronologically ordered, some of the stages could take place at the same time. One of the stages, the last, is ‘symbolic re-enactment’. He describes this as the portrayal of the events of the genocide as composing the two absolutely distinct groups (we know from the historical record that such distinctions are not so absolute): innocent victims and diabolical perpetrators. These two groups, manifesting as absolute opposites of each other, assume a symbolic function as they enact a basic mythic story. And thus this story impels and motivates correlative action.

All ‘national patterns’ or national stories, narratives, are symbolically enacted in the construction and institutionalisation of the instruments of policy. For the symbolic enactment to take place the figures or characters in the story have to be recognisable and therefore both specific and general.

Augusto Boal says in his book The Rainbow of Desire, enacted stories can be related to in modes of varying qualitative intensity. He gives the key points in an array of perceptual responses from identification, to recognition and to resonance, pointing out that elements of these appropriative reactions can be fired simultaneously. It could be said that responses to a symbolic enactment of a genocide may have to operate at multiple levels for the actions that correspond to it to have effective force.

Several stories with different but related personages may reformulate and play out a basic mythic pattern, rather in the way that Ted Hughes in his book, Shakespeare and The Goddess of Complete Being, tells us that Shakespeare, along with other poets, articulate a key mythic formulation through a multiplicity of narratives.

If the basic story that the Israelis are able to tell, which is a symbolic re-enactment of a genocidal process in which they cast themselves as absolute victims, then what is the basic story of the UK national pattern? What are the components of this story?

From where can regime change emerge? The sense that I get from Ilan Pappe’s work is that the process of regime change must be accompanied if not preceded, by a new narrative. From what well-spring does this restructured narrative come?

It must come from profound and basic needs felt by the human beings who participate in such movements. Of course material circumstances such as appetite, hunger, need for shelter and so on may well play a part but it is demonstrable that these material exigences can equally work against the renewal that is envisaged in a change of regime.  The needs must exceed these material requirements.

Human beings are creatures whose actions are intentional. We hold ourselves together through the intentions that we formulate for ourselves. Thus we are creatures, but creatures who are political and mimetic. We formulate our intentions through language and this is a social tool. We collectivise our intentions but only so long as the mimetic processes, that hold us together as a group, can operate effectively. These understandings of the nature of human group behaviour have been explored by writers as diverse as Elias Canetti, Wilfred Bion and Rene Girard.

In order to co-ordinate and form our intentions, which are always experienced individually though formed collectively, we must engage in the organisational processes of symbolic enactment. How precisely symbolic enactment operates and is effective in social organisation may, at first sight, seem complicated.

It is perhaps by understanding how this structuring of stories takes place that new narratives can begin to be developed. It is at times when the old stories send us round in circles that this restructuring feels necessary. When the restructuring feels necessary we start to reject the old story and begin to look with interest not just at new stories but at how these stories operate. This, in turn, leads us to looking more closely at the basic parameters of human experience and at the sources of desire. To understand the way in which stories operate on us, we need to look at how we are in that stage of our lives that is pre-verbal.

This may be taking us too far from Ilan Pappe truly enlightening essay.

Does this new activism have implications for Regime Change here in the UK? We can compare the foundation of the state of Israel with the foundation of the UK state. One is immediately met with differences. The Israeli state was founded in 1948 through an armed land grab, a military appropriation of territory. This securing of occupied land is the prevailing raison d’etre of the state. Although the initial land grab and the subsequent land grab in 1967 were sudden and dramatic, the building and sustaining of the Israeli state project is a long-term venture. The sudden moments of change may give rise to, or make more apparent, a prevailing narrative or sustaining myth. This may have a relationship to the ‘national pattern’ that Lemkin refers to in his definition of genocide. Does the UK have a prevailing narrative, sustaining myth or national pattern that is comparable with Israel’s?

Many questions arise from these thoughts. Is the regime that reigns over the major part of Palestine comparable to the regime that reigns over the British Isles? They are very different in size. One started in 1948, the other could be said to have started in 1688. This last detail is, for example, open to question. Did what we can identify as the UK regime not start before that date? How much of the basic institution-building took place during the Tudor period. Certainly the Reformation and the political break with Roman Catholicism could be considered to be the starting point for the regime. Also the arrival of the Norman institutions in 1066 might similarly be considered thus. Equally, the advent of the 1832 Reform Act or that of 1867, or the battle of Culloden in 1745 or the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 may mark major points of no return or major starting points.

In fact, what you consider the key characteristic of the regime will determine what you believe the starting point might be. To some extent what you consider to be the starting point is dependent on your sense of what is happening in the current situation. Isn’t this to do with the fact that the social formations we are describing are not static entities? They are combinations of processes that are unfolding and developing.

On the one hand, this seems to be true and, if it is true, it must apply to both the regime in Palestine and the regime in the British Isles. On the other hand, it seems to be actively and immediately true in the case of the Zionist regime that it is facing a more violently contradictory situation.

Is this to do with the relationship of forces working on the internal development of the country and those working on the external development. By all accounts, Israeli society is held together by a deliberately engendered state of fear. This means that the whole society is constantly in a state of war. So the level of intensity and fragility of the social processes aimed at cohesion and security is very high. This is reflected absolutely in the level of dependence on external support. This means that there is a direct relationship between these internal and external tensions.

Both regimes are client states of a larger political entity but the level of dependence of Israel is much higher. Both regimes are colonialist. The colonial processes in one are ongoing and have yet to stabilise themselves whilst in the other, the colonialism is more of an historical factor. In this sense they are at different stages of development. The Israeli Zionist state project may be historically short-lived. The British state project has been sustained for at least 400 years (depending on your definition). There is also a relationship of what might be called precedence. Britain was the former colonial ruler of Palestine and before that the Ottoman ruled there. As Israel’s star waxed so Britain’s waned.

This reminds us of a kind of succession in the movement of history. The political forms are transposed from one player to another in a movement of variation on a theme of conformity. One state becomes like another state in order to match it. Then there are movements when one ‘model’ of statehood has hegemony and other states conform. This also must be to some extent the case with the relationship between Israel and the UK but more so with the relationship of Israel to the USA.

This means that all states are held in place in relationship to all other states and, once in a while, a state or group of states breaks away and forms a new movement. In this sense the internal constitutions of states appear to arise, at best, from the will of the people but are as much determined by the structure of the states with which they are in relation.

This dynamic between external conformity and internal aspiration is the tension that holds the structures in place. Both the regimes in Palestine and in the British Isles are ‘structured’ or held in place by their relationship to the hegemony of the USA. Of course these relationships are very different. You might think, at first sight, that Israel is more dependent on the USA than the UK is. However this may not be simply the case. This interconnectedness also means that regime change in one related political entity can be causally related to regime change in another. Regime change in one country can trigger regime change in another and it might also be true that regime change in one country is unlikely without regime change in another.

What Ilan Pappe is saying is that effective resistance starts with resisting the narrative that the dominant power is effecting or enacting. This potentially avoids the reciprocal structures that can lead to the emerging social movements being incorporated and stifling resistance. It involves ‘moving the goalposts’ or creating a new paradigm. This is why he is concerned with ‘replacing’ occupation with colonisation and peace process with decolonisation and so on.

Isn’t there an equivalent paradigm shift warranted by the politics of the UK? Is there a way of expressing it that is as simple and clear? Is there a tactical equivalent to BDS? Since these political regimes are connected isn’t the struggle for BDS indirectly a movement of resistance to the regime in the UK? Resistance is connected to regime change through a keener mode of activism: refusal.

I am grateful to Ilan Pappe for his provocative essay, to the editors of Gaza as Metaphor. We clearly need to seize on what is at the core of our problem in our own society and this will give us the breadth of perspective necessary to change the narrative and re-write history.

 

 

 

 

Activism and Az Theatre

Recently I led a session for Leading Edge, a series of talks that Dr Gottfried Heuer curates for the Association of Jungian Analysts. I did a participatory interactive event that invited the participants to look at the relationship between dramatic space, therapeutic space and everyday space. See the notice for this event

This has made me reflect on why it was that we have created a new mission statement for Az Theatre: Performing Arts, Inspiring Activism.  What exactly was intended by associating theatre with activism?

I did not intend that this means that the work of the company should always be directed towards issues that can be resolved by the achievement of some immediately attainable goal. I didn’t imagine that we should be involved in campaigns where theatre was an alternative to leaflets or public meetings or online petitions. Neither did we envisage that our work should be a public display of demands on a demonstration.  Though none of these possibilities is out of the question. So what kind of activism do we have in mind?

When we were struggling to define this outcome of the company’s work I used the word ‘activisation’.  Until it was pointed out that this sounded robotic and mechanical. However, I did want the sense that the work should activate people and make them disposed towards taking action. There didn’t seem to be any word that could describe the sense of revitalisation and animation that I had in mind. I recalled Hannah Arendt had used the word ‘praxis’ to describe the activity of involvement and participation in public and political life. She counterposed this to the passivity of totalitarianism.  But this word seemed too academic and the word ‘practice’ was too connected to preparation.

My thinking derived from simple observation about the human life with which I was surrounded.  The economic system, the transformation of the Earth’s resources through production, distribution and exchange, had become more unified and globalised.  This movement had become more and more dominated by financial operations which circulated values in almost unimaginable quantities.  The sheer size and complexity of the interconnections between supply and demand, between the extraction of natural resources, their transformation and consumption, had become hard to comprehend, even mesmerising.  This meant that individuals and relatively small human groups, including governing entities such as nation states, seemed to have little control.

At the same time, people became more and more conscious of the impact of the material transformations on the environment.  Knowledge could be produced through scientific measurement and extrapolation that could confirm people’s instinctive feeling, based on day to day observation, that unforeseen consequences of economic (mainly industrial) growth were creating circumstances with which human social organisation appeared not to be able to cope. Because of the massive inequalities that are endemic to the system amongst the more affluent societies there was a tendency towards distribution and consumption rather than production.  Consumption itself was made to appear like a productive activity.  The accumulation of wealth due to the sheer volume of transactions benefitted the rich countries and exacerbated inequalities. The domination of consumption and distribution was creating enormous dependency at the same time as giving the illusion of autonomy.  All of these developments were creating the conditions in which people were likely to feel overwhelmed, confused and passive.

This passivity was further complicated by the disablement of the political institutions that interfaced with masses of people.  These government entities have become more and more enslaved to the apparently impersonal needs of the system for the cheaper and cheaper provision of human labour.  At the same time major corporate and financial entities (the front organisations for the plutocratic elites) started to prey, through privatisation, on public and common goods, like welfare systems and other public services.   The nation states, as well as being taxed by the corporate plutocracy and made to pay vast sums in assuring the functioning of the system, were constrained to move their operations from that of caring for, and educating, their respective populations to policing them. This has further weakened people’s ability to envisage how the can exert control of the vital processes of their lives.

Furthermore, when the system exhibited major malfunctions because nobody could determine what money or goods were worth and the there was a breakdown in the financial systems, the nation states were put in the position of footing the bill and the deprivation of public goods continued at an even higher rate through austerity-based policies.  The outcome of this pressure on national entities has been the growth of  demagogic discourses promising to create safeguards and protection but in fact being little more than another illusory front behind which the robbery continues.  This continues the process of disablement and though the apathy is now accompanied by a raucous desperation, it further divides people who, in their best interests, should unite against their common oppressors.

In a situation where the further paralysis of fear is being added to the deep sense of marginalisation and loss of control, it seems even more necessary for us to become at least as deeply active as the surrounding passivity.

But the question remains, what kind of activity will give us the keys to the future?  All political processes consist of resistance and there is no doubt that resistance has to be a major element in the activism that we are proposing.  But resistance itself rarely goes beyond the parameters determined by the powers that be and therefore cannot be the only element in the activism that is needed. The danger is that resistance can be incorporated into the system itself, particularly when it ranges itself against it in a like-for-like way.  For example, forms of violence can very quickly transpose themselves across lines that appear to distinguish two sides in a conflict or a struggle. The tendency for opposition to become similar to that which it opposes is a major human problem exemplified by considering the fix that arises when fear is counterposed by fear.

This encourages us to think that we must have the ability to engage in resistance at the same time as being able to enact a different story, a story that exhibits different human qualities than those installed in the current institutions of power.  The refusal to accept the definition of power that is affirmed by the established order, a refusal to believe that this power can be apportioned in our favour, or that it has been overcome or changed when it appears to allow us entry into its glamorous orbit, is increasingly necessary.

So the activism that we are proposing is far from the simply mechanical, resistant version that can be so effectively subsumed by the system. It is paradigmatically different from the institutionally mimetic forms of oppositional activism that have become traditional.

One way of expressing this is to say that the activism needs to be internally as well as externally vital.  Can we realistically and practically call for an activism that is philosophically and imaginatively mobile, that is quickened by the capacity to deny the dominant narrative and world view? Of course we can and it is clear that the emerging social movements have precisely this capability but of course nothing arrives in its pure form.

So why was I provoked to review exactly what we meant by activism at this session delivered as a part of the seminar series organised by the Association of Jungian Analysts?

We set out to investigate what might be the relationship between these different spaces.  We started by comparing the process of transference and counter transference in the psychoanalytic therapeutic space with ‘catharsis’ in the dramatic space. Elements, in the form of references, representations, states of being and feeling, are carried into both these spaces by the participants. They are reconstructed and transformed and, in the souls and lives of those taking part, they are carried out again into the everyday space.

I have been influenced by Augusto Boal’s work in my thinking about theatre since I first came across Theatre for the Oppressed in the early 1980s. In the theatre that Boal proposes, the participants are able change roles and engage in processes of control and loss of control. This enables them to see the consequences and implications of their imaginative activities and leaves them ready for action. He describes his proposed theatre as a ‘rehearsal for life’.  This is a good and fruitful way of looking at the relationship between the dramatic space and everyday space.  Boal, and his progenitor Paulo Freire, were quick to see that passivity was key problem facing human beings in modern societies.  When he was asked to endorse our War Stories project in 2002 his message was clear: ‘Peace, yes: passivity, no!’

When the theatre is working, neither as a peep show nor as a display of physical ability, when it is achieving its true potential, it makes visible the invisible. Can this space where we lose ourselves and are subject to processes of confusion (or just fusion), where things are what they aren’t, where we catch sight of things that are not really there, where the magic of invisibility is conjured, be somewhere that generates activism and political change?

I have already said that the quality of activism I am working to define is more like a process of ‘activisation’, of drawing people into action rather then proposing a set of activities that we already know as activism.  Also, I have said that this is not only mechanical and practical (as it were, external) but is driven by thinking and imagination and is consciously aimed at stimulating inner processes.

During the Three Spaces session I started by using exercises to create a sense of relaxed concentration and presence that a full sense of being can give. I described this as being the basis for the work of creating the dramatic space.

Another way of describing this sense of being is to relate it to what the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu calls ‘the uncarved block’. This is described as being nameless and without desire and is associated with the state of being like a new born babe. I associate the ‘uncarved block’ with the first period of our lives before we have words.  It is the fundamental condition of humanity.

Certainly we can only remember this state of being indirectly, through other related experiences.  During this period we live in an undifferentiated world of feeling.  We notice everything and absorb all tensions and impressions.  It is the basic material condition of our lives.

If some shock occurs in later life, some pain or upset, this can resonate in the ‘uncarved block’. Energies that are contained there may be released.  Fissures and deep movements can occur that are like subterranean volcanic events.  Things may settle down or the basic instabilities may persist and we are unseated, disturbed, deranged.  Equally, our sense of what is true and what is real is connected to this deep movement of feeling in us. I believe that social change is charged by the energies that derive from this sense of being. Without connecting with this basic human condition we cannot overthrow the dominant narratives of the powers that be.

If the major consequences of the forms of social organisation, that have become more and more prevalent in the modern period, are feelings of passivity, lack of control, a kind of infantilising dependency, an inability, at a profound level, to be able to take care of ourselves then resistance and refusal and activism have to be effective at the most profound levels of our human experience. The current system, literally presents us, as human beings, with a existential crisis.

One obvious indication of this is the use made, by our political institutions, of fear as a means of social organisation. The key co-ordinating strategy that links ‘home’ policy with ‘foreign’ policy in many countries is the ‘war on terror’. Fear and terror are contagions that cannot be counterposed by the production of even greater fear and terror.  The promise of security so often looks and feels like a threat and is based on corrupt idea of strength.

The realisation, articulation and restructuring of stories in the aesthetic space has a power and an energy that resonates deep in us in a way that music can.  It can shatter us and mend us.  This is to do with the nature of symbols and the power of metaphorical transpositions.  Symbols reflect the objects of the world of the senses but also connect these impressions to deep patterns in our inner life.  This is not a sacerdotal or mystical process but an ordinary part of how we discover meaning.

Symbolic enactment could also be described as story or narrative.  But stories and narratives are never without context. They are embedded in ideologies.  It is a commonplace that the dominant ideology of a given society is the ideology of the dominant social group.  If it this is true of ideology then it is also true of the dominant narrative or story. Is it possible to unseat and replace these narratives?

The theatre of activism is a microcosm of social change because, in this theatre, stories are changed as they are enacted. They are tested against the deep resonances they meet in the participants and altered accordingly.  Theatre work can be both a reflection and a part of social change if it connects with an activism that refuses to accept the terms and parametres set by the dominant narrative. This means it can activate the core energies of the participants and bring into play the deep realisation of their humanity.

Also, during the Three Spaces session we worked at forming a group as a way of creating different spaces.  Group formation was necessary as a way of working to understand the spaces we were dealing with but it is important in its own right.  Successful group work is a crucial transitional space between the individual and society.  This seems to me to be another attribute of the activism I am proposing. I am attempting to extend my understanding of this by engaging with the Art of Hosting.

Many of the projects that Az Theatre is now undertaking are influenced by these preoccupations.

Our UNFORESEEN project is forming an online community of young creatives in the UK and Palestine. Our recent work, bringing together a group of creatives in London to produce work to send to our colleagues in Gaza, was a good example of activism and group work.  In a weekend, the group of ten people researched, devised, and shot a short drama, I MUST LEAVE, I MUST RETURN for release later in the year at an event that will link via Skype to Gaza, Palestine. See video of our last UNFORESEEN live exchange with Gaza

Our production plan for THE CANNIBALS by George Tabori involves a consensual casting process that is design to build an acting ensemble to produce this astounding modern classic.

Our development of the world premiere Arabic stage adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace for production later in the year by Theatre for Everybody in Gaza will be accompanied in London by an installation/exhibition space, HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE, that will be created by a group of artists involving interactive and participatory activities aimed at social engagement.

Our new local project, the ISLINGTON NORTH DRAMATIC ARTS GROUP will be a company formation project that will involve activism and group work.

A trans-disciplinary group that has come together to explore the mentalities that hold together the Israeli state project is another example of this tendency in our work. Our participation in this group arises from a conference on Trauma and Political Violence in November of 2015 where I presented Az Theatre’s work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Specifics of the British Regime

Regime Change Az Theatre 2

Having focused for some years on projects with an international dimension, I decided earlier this year (2016) to turn my attention to what was happening in the UK. A lot of talk during the Iraq invasion and the 2011 popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere was about the idea of ‘regime change’. I set out to see what this might mean here. What was the story of the UK regime? My research took me back to what I considered to be its founding moments in the revolutionary movements of the English Civil War (1641-1660) whose final act might be considered to be the constitutional settlement of 1688. I was setting out to create theatre but I knew it might take a long time. I have started writing drama but also I am accompanying this work with a blog that would outline my thinking as the project moved forward.

Specifics of the British Regime

A regime is a set of organisational processes that come together at a particular place at a particular time. We can imagine that they are like components or practices or institutions or even images.  Some combining factor arises on the basis of local human settlement that holds together a particular version of human society.  What holds a social formation in place is not separate from the elements that, in one way or another, give it a constitution.  It is difficult to come to terms with the nature of this entity which in our imagination can appear to be like a body, a culture, a machine or a system.  In social theory it can be called ‘an imaginary’ (1) or an ‘assemblage’ (2) though I don’t want to ignore the distinctions between these different theoretical notions.

The roots of a regime appear to be in geography or ecology:  these people living on this particular part of the earth at a particular point in time, a variation on, and in interaction with, the human species.

So what account can be given of the one that has arisen on the British Isles.  We cannot be as definite about the time-scale as we can about the location.

The British Isles are relatively easy to identify on a map though the borders between the different nations may not be obvious. England describes the area of the main island that was subject to the Roman invasion of 2000 years ago.  All other major migrations or invasions have been determined by its frontiers.  The domination by London of England, and by England of the British Isles, is due to the extraordinary harbourage offered by the Thames estuary. This is a significant determinant of the regime

As for time-scale, the present determines the way we look at the past. So, for example, if we were facing the extinction of human life on these islands we would tend to start our story with the arrival of human beings here after the last ice age some 11,700 years ago.  However, at the moment, there are more human beings living here than there have ever been.

What is happening now and to what initial processes is our attention drawn?

In general terms, we are witnessing tensions in relations between the nations that make up the British State, between the role of financial services and manufacturing and between the London and the ‘provinces’.  There are uncertainties about the two party system and the role of political parties, also about the nature of the House of Lords.  The military function of the British State has been radically called into question by the inquiries into the ‘war’ on Iraq. This last may be inextricably tied to British dependence on the United States and this offers another underlying tension.

The institutional components that were drawn together in the period after the English Revolution of 1641-1660, particularly in the period leading up to the settlement of 1688, appear to be those that are in crisis now.

The success of London as a capital was focused on finance and banking. There were the networking benefits and the medium term assurances of a centralised intermarrying ruling elite, enhancing trust and contractual security, that connected landed wealth with mercantile enterprise.  This nexus was centred in London. The relationship of government to the imperialist commercially-driven military expansion, crucially organised through the formation of the Bank of England (1694), sealed the advantages of a communications structure that focused on the royal court but wasn’t dominated by it.

Within 20 years of the foundation of the bank the new regime had fought a successful war against the French in North America and Europe, climaxing with the Treaty of Utrecht (1714), had unified Scotland with England and Wales (1707) and had secured the Hanoverian protestant succession and began to construct ‘British’ identity.

Anglican Protestantism offered the basis for a unique national ‘loyalty’ test as well as an ethos suited to capitalism. The unique combination of a monarchic head of state who was both the military commander-in-chief as well as head of the Church of England fastened and refined the regime-building project. The ideological underpinning of a state religion sustained the new regime through the first founding period until, for example, in the earliest years if the 19th century, the need to avow the protestant religion as well as allegiance to the monarch for members of the volunteer militia was dispensed with

The fertile ground made up of financial fluency, protestantism and co-ordinated military and commercial enterprise bred a functioning and compelling model of the human in the figure of the English gentleman and this gave personality and moral coherence to the regime.

War as a profitable venture and as a ‘keynote’ national unifier has played a unique role throughout, from Blenhiem (1704), to Waterloo (1815), to the Somme (1915), to Dunkirk (1940), to D-day (1944), to the Falklands (1982) and to Iraq (2003).  Apart from the massive destruction of the Blitz the wars have always been fought elsewhere. This doesn’t diminish the loss of life and the concentration of production effort.

The country was never invaded and therefore never faced the decisive crises that invasion brings.  Victory was something that was brought home and delivered rather than fought for at home.  This distinguishes the history of the British Isles since 1066 from most other locations.

The development of the British regime has at its core the development of the British state.  State-making and war-making are synchronous. (3) The effect on the administration and style of government of the ‘seniority’ of the British Navy, rather than the continental ‘army’-based regimes is considerable.  The sustained coherence of the British ‘officer’ class in delivering ‘successful’ military adventures abroad has, up until recently, been formative for the regime.

I am only intending here to give some broad and general markers or headings of where my research has taken me. The books that have been central are Britons by Linda Colley (4) and The Enchanted Glass by Tom Nairn (5).

Notes:

(1) This term was developed by Greek French philosopher Castoriades see The Imaginary Institution of Society [IIS] (trans. Kathleen Blamey). MIT Press, Cambridge 1997 [1987]. 432 pp. ISBN 0-262-53155-0. (pb.)

(2) This term was developed in Deleuze and Gattari’s A Thousand Plateaux see Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Félix (1993). A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 14, 26–38, 135–139, 149–166, 195, 198, 235–236, 240, 241, 259, 390, 534, 539, 559. ISBN 0-8166-1402-4.

(3) See the work of Charles Tilly 

(4) Colley, Linda Britons, Forging the Nation 1707-1837 Yale University Press 1992

(5) Nairn, Tom  The Enchanted Glass, Britain and its monarchy Century Hutchinson 1988