Current activities & diversions to other websites

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  • Paris School of International Affairs: I gave two courses this year, one on Lessons (Not) Learnt in Afghanistan, and the other on Contemporary Art in the Arab World.
  • The last two exhibitions in the Crisis of History cycle I curated in the Tolhuistuin, Amsterdam, were ‘Fight History: Strategies of Resistance’ (Feb-March 2015) and ‘Beyond History: Exercise in Imagination’ (15 March – 5 May 2015).
  • In September 2014 I inaugurated the Museum of Contemporary Ancient Arabia (MoCAA), an online museum, which is the reflection of my research project for NYU Abu Dhabi, called Searching for Ancient Arabia (see the Tumblr page here, and the FB page here). I have also produced a magazine for the museum with the findings of field trips made by me and contemporary Gulf artists & scholars during the project.
  • In March 2014 I completed the ‘Afghan Perceptions on Democracy and Elections’ poll report for the Forum for Free and Fair Elections in Afghanistan. The report can be read on my Issuu page.

I have also settled in Nairobi with my family, where I’m looking for work. For all these reasons this website is still not updated!

Crime Scene Yemen

J... and General Al Radhi and General Nagi, in one of our endless police reform strategy sessions

J… and General Al Radhi and General Nagi, in one of our endless and obviously pointless police reform strategy sessions

I wrote this while a member of a Police Reform mission in Sanaa in 2012. My team leader asked me to brainstorm with the Ministry of Interior’s Communication Department to see what could be done in terms of reform there. In contrast to the rest of the police, this department’s members were very reform-minded (as many socialist ex-South Yemenis officials are) and we had a fascinating exchange. After following up in subsequent meetings, I penned down my recommendations for a MoI comms strategy, in which producing a TV series played a central part. With the currently unfolding events in Yemen I feel free to share these recommendations with you.

I had picked up the idea of creating a TV series for the police in Kabul. The ‘Separ’ police series made by Awaz – to distill new policing values in the minds of the public and to create new role models for the police – was very popular in Afghanistan. (See its FB page here). I had met Yemeni rappers in Sanaa and was starting to meet actors and other artists, and I could so easily imagine what kind of series this should be, that I decided to write out the first season.

I still think this kind of activity, though it may seem frivolous to many, would help reform in Yemen much more than the pouring of billions of dollars, arms, equipment and training in the usual top-down manner followed by the international community. The more I live, travel and learn, the stronger I believe in cultural action vis-a-vis ‘international intervention’ in what are disparagingly called ‘failed’ or ‘failing’ states. I hope to still be involved in making such a TV series one day! But maybe it will be in Somalia instead.

 

Outline for the first season of Crime Scene Yemen

1st episode: Introduction to the character, who is trying to be a good policeman and work for the national interest; but he also has some weak sides (like a character prone to doubt) and/or issues in his personal life (like poverty/a large chaotic family etc) which make him a ‘flesh and blood’ hero with which the majority of Yemenis can identify. He works in one of the most modern/reform-minded police stations of Sana’a, which despite being one of the best is still not very good. His line-manager (of the criminal investigations department) is a reform-minded professional. The cast has no accents or diverse accents, avoiding any regional stereotypes.

The hero has to solve a murder case in a poor, popular neighborhood of Sana’a, but is confronted with the inefficiency of the criminal evidence investigation team (the contrary of CSI).When he continues his research through qat chews, he finds there may be a political motivation behind the crime. Issue: lack of professional attitude among the police, interference of politics.

2nd episode: Continuing the investigation, the hero finds there is an attempt to cover-up the murder in which the director of his station is involved. He can do little and promises the victim’s family that he will not forget the case and will attempt to solve it a later date. He decides to investigate his station chief with the hope of finding damning evidence, but without anybody noticing. Issue: challenging authority, right or wrong?

3rd episode: The hero tackles an Al-Qaeda criminal who is like a Kung-Fu action movie warrior. Will he respect his ‘human rights’ or simply kill him? His initial refusal to kill him gains him the scorn of his colleagues but at the end he must kill the criminal in legitimate self-defense anyhow. Issue: safeguarding the rights of the citizens vis-à-vis the police

4th episode: Breaking up a prostitution ring for foreign oil workers involving Chinese and/or African ‘slaves’. The hero finds evidence of his police station’s boss involvement but fails to record it/collect it. Issue: importance of evidence.

5th episode: The hero is targeted in a set-up where he’s offered a large bribe by the victim of a moral crime. He doubts because he badly needs the money but finally refuses, and then finds out that it was a set-up orchestrated by his boss. He now knows that the hostility between him and his boss is mutual and tries to change police stations. But his line-manager needs him and promises to keep supporting him. Issue: the temptation of bribes.

6th episode: A peaceful protest movement (secessionists or students) . Our hero is put in charge of organizing security. At one point he receives the order to shoot from the police station boss but refuses to do so. Is he allowed to disobey orders? He is fired from the police station despite the attempts of his line manager to keep him. Issue: the importance of the police’s moral code, even when ordered otherwise

7th episode: Our fired hero receives advice to see a distant family member in the police to reinstate him. But during the initial meeting he dislikes this person’s corrupt ways and he decides not to ask for the favor. Only his wife supports him in this, the rest of the family is outraged. Then he manages to participate in a seminar organized by the reform-minded group in the MoI. During the seminar he approaches a high-ranked official (like Brig –Gen) and tells him of his woes. The Brig-Gen promises to help him and remove the corrupt boss and make the hero’s line-manager boss instead. Issue: using your connections and other means to access power.

8th episode: The police station boss mobilizes the friends he has put on the payroll and a corrupt high-placed official (Saleh regime type) to resist his removal. Initially he is successful but then the Brig-Gen sends in a loyal police force. It ends in a violent shoot-out in which the corrupt boss is killed and his minions fired. The hero’s line manager becomes the new boss and our hero is promoted to line-manager (criminal investigations). He solves the case of episode 2. Issue: how to overcome the resistance to reform

9th episode: A powerful businessman living in the police district attempts to cozy up to the new police boss, offering him lavish dinners and favors (like helping him maintain law and order in the district with his private gunmen). The new police boss is charmed by the man. Will the police boss risk alienating a powerful local supporter? Especially when an offer to equip the station with new communications gear is made? The police boss accepts the offer. Issue: conflict of interest. Where does it start?

10th episode: Our hero finds out the powerful local businessman is involved in embezzling public funds (through tenders) and smuggling. When he reports this on the new communications gear the businessman’s minions, who are listening in, decide to eliminate him. Our hero is ambushed and seriously wounded. His boss, who first preferred to turn a blind eye to the businessman’s practices, rushes in to rescue our hero and returns the communications equipment after having hacked it so he can listen in himself. Issue: different kinds of crime, the personal vs the public interest.

11th episode: Our wounded hero is unable to participate in field actions but spends some afternoons while he is rehabilitating in the station with the communications people. There they find out that the businessman, whose armed personal guard is now using the comms equipment, is linked to very powerful people of the old regime. Together they are embezzling public funds and undermining the new regime by creating security disturbances. Our hero and his boss decide to mount a surveillance operation to collect evidence and catch the criminals red-handed. Emphasis on professional policing.

12th and last episode of the first season: The district’s Criminal Investigations team, led by our hero, discover a plot to blow up a high-value target by Al Qaeda organized by the businessman and his political allies, but are ordered to leave the case to the security services, who let the terrorist attack happen. It is the trigger for a planned coup of anti-reform old regime types. Our hero manages to contact the president in time – but will the coup succeed? Cliffhanger end. Issue: crime, politics and terrorism: can this lethal combination be overcome, and if so how?.

 

Season 2: the state has disintegrated, our hero and his family remain in Sanaa, where he starts organizing a community police in their district. He manages to set up a functioning police force with local support, fighting off all kinds of enemies, from rebels to fundamentalists to drug lords and a misguided foreign intervention force.

Lessons (Not) Learnt in Afghanistan

The Remnants of an Army, by Elizabeth Butler (1879 )

The Remnants of an Army, by Elizabeth Butler (1879 ). This photograph depicts the lone survivor of the massacre (and capture/desertion) of 16.000 British Empire troops and civilians as they fled from Kabul in the winter of 1842. What have we learnt since then?

I am posting the pdfs of my visual presentations for the course ‘Lessons (Not) Learnt in Afghanistan’, which I’m giving at the Paris School of International Affairs in Feb-March 2015, here. My presentations serve as visual aid and to recap the main points about a given subject; so these documents do not contain all the course material and may be, at times, even confusing out of the class context. So handle with care!

Seminar 1: Ideology of the Intervention 1 / Bonn

Seminar 2: Ideology of the Intervention 2 / Obama’s Surge

Seminars 3-4: Political Culture in Afghanistan

Seminar 5: Al Qaeda and radical Islam in Afghanistan and Beyond

Seminar 6: The Taliban, Then and Now

Seminar 7: Counterinsurgency: Fighting the Phantom Enemy

Seminar 8: How to Build a Failed State

Seminar 9: What Went Well

Seminars 10-11: Mistakes of the Intervention, Lessons to be Learnt and Western Delusions

Seminar 12: Apply the Lessons Learnt: Yemen 2016 Roleplaying Exercise

 

 

 

Unwinding the history of the UAE

Historic consciousness in the UAE and in the other GCC states goes back only a few centuries, at most; this is how far back most prominent Emirati families can reliably trace their genealogy.

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What happened in these lands before the advent of Islam is as alien to the current population, as if it had happened on another continent.

This disconnect, which is the driving force of my research project Searching for Ancient Arabia, was explored in the case of the UAE in this article I wrote.

 

 

 

Making an exhibition with my students at the Paris School of International Affairs

This was my fifth year lecturing at the Paris School of International Affairs (the international Master programme of Sciences Po) and the third year teaching the course ‘Contemporary Art and Geopolitics in the Arab World’. I have been experimenting with ways of making the course more relevant to students and the society at large. Two years ago I decided to put the best papers of my students online, to share them. Last year I went a step further and asked my students to write a Wikipedia article as their end-of-term paper, to share their knowledge with the world at large. And this year I asked them to write their papers as catalogue contributions to an exhibition I made in Paris to coincide with the end of the term.

Here one can find the links to their papers and images of the exhibition, which I made with the help of the Window, an art space in the center of Paris run by a good friend of mine and those that contributed to the crowd funding project I ran – especially my father!

Most of my students: from left to right Alexandre Nawath, Sarah Smail, Anna-Katharina Kraft, Emma Ghariani (hidden), Lily Matras, Kristina Keenan, Kata Pali, Leo Teste, Joice Barbaresco (partially hidden), Mariam Kandil, Lucile Gasber and Malika Touddimte

Most of my students: from left to right Alexandre Hawath, Sarah Smail, Anna-Katharina Kraft, Emma Ghariani (hidden), Lily Matras, Kristina Keenan, Kata Pali, Leo Teste, Joice Barbaresco (partially hidden), Mariam Kandil, Lucile Gasber and Malika Touddimte

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‘Searching for Ancient Arabia’ – further information about the research project

A workshop will be held for all those interested in participating in this research project at the Downtown Campus (off Hamdan Street) of NYU Abu Dhabi on Tuesday 25 February, from 18:00 to 20:30.

For details about the workshop and registration see the bottom of this page.

Introduction to the research subject

Stone Altar from Marib (5th - 4th Century BC) and Bronze Statuette of the warrior Ma'dikarib, South Arabia, 6th century BC
Stone Altar from Marib (5th – 4th Century BC) and Bronze Statuette of the warrior Ma’dikarib, South Arabia (6th century BC). These and all other photos and maps/diagrams on this page are reproduced from the book “Arabia and the Arabs from the Bronze Age to the Coming of Islam’ by Robert Hoyland, 2001. See below for ordering information

“Only a small proportion of the lore of the Arabs has come down to you. Had it reached you in its entirety, much scientific and literary knowledge would have been yours”

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Making Environments Hostile

A few days ago I got my certificate for Hostile Environment Awareness Training (HEAT) from the Carabinieri in Livorno. The Carabinieri are the Italian counterpart of the Gendarmerie, or Guardia Civil – the police force that depends from the Ministry of Defense. The training was given by the First Paratrooper Regiment (“Tuscania”), who engage in difficult operations abroad, like protecting VIPs in enemy territory or liberating hostages. They are strong, self-confident, good-looking and easy-going Italians, the real stuff, machos beyond posturing. Continue reading