Region/Concept: Middle East, Violence
Sub-Concepts: Isolation, Worship, Autonomy, Darkness, Conspiracy
Description: A group of Iranian women train in Ninjutsu at the foothills of the Alborz mountains.

The operational logic of paganism is such that when a certain local god fails to deliver its graces, one can always switch to an alternative deity (of the river, the tree, the grove). This exchange is harder in monotheistic orders, requiring more subtlety, yet it can be done just the same. Here in the ancient Persian city of Karaj, we find this very kind of transition happening: a ruling sacred system has failed these women fighters; for decades, its religious leaders have situated them at the useless outskirts of its inner circles, denying them access to the powers of apotheosis and worship, and so now they turn their eyes elsewhere in search of other spirit-forms. They take to an isolated location and begin training in a martial art-form not of their immediate world, with no reason other than to attempt an experimental substitution of idols. Most importantly, however, one must note the two strands of devious irony at work in this conversion: (1) that they have chosen for their new tradition something that exists far outside the folds of their own cultural history and monotheistic paradigms (i.e. there is virtually no meeting ground between the concepts of Ninjutsu and an Islamic theocracy); (2) that they have chosen for their new tradition something which demands that they veil themselves even more extensively than their last theology. In essence, they have selected the braver counterintuitive path of intensifying the law brought down upon their bodies; to do so, they will drape and cloak themselves at even more severe levels than imagined before, entering into a state of hyper-concealment that spites their former overlords. The headscarf is taken further along the axis of its own intention, becoming a ninja’s mask (autonomous in their darkness). This is how one surpasses oppression (through the storm). Consequently, are we not to perceive a complex subversive trace among this camp of anomalous women, something amounting to more than just reverence, discipline, or a new trend or diversion? Should we not take seriously the fact that they have fastened themselves to a martial art-form which privileges (above all else) stealth, secrecy, anti-social codes, conspiracy, and assassination?


Posted by: Jason Mohaghegh




Region/Concept: Middle East, Violence
Sub-Concepts: Identity, War, Exteriority, Trespass, Immensity, The Foreigner
Description: All-women Kurdish squad—the 2nd Peshmerga Batallion, whose name means “those who face death”—sets out to fight radical jihadist group ISIS.

The structures of identity tend to disappear whenever individuals are flung to the radical outside of the world (beyond the social, the political, the cultural). Moreover, this evisceration of self (where the old “I” burns away) is only magnified when one adds the variable of fatal struggle to the realm of experience. Thus an all-women unit leaves behind its insular community in order to challenge a rising enemy far beyond their midst. Their lives have been threatened; a mercenary formation to the East has already condemned their people to certain death, and marches nearer with each day; thus stationed at the crossroads of emergency, they find that they must kill or perish now. This part is simple enough—i.e. the nature of their immediate task—but the more complex question that remains is: Will they still be themselves once having traversed the Uneven and the Open on the way to battle? Or is their departure from home the first step to a dramatic trespass and reinvention? These women fighters cannot help but be transformed at such a distance from their memories and city walls; rather, this new terrain of exteriority—that of the desert, hills, or jungle—is an experience of immensity and borderlessness for which no prior subjectivity can remain. The old self will not survive the extreme temperatures of this remoteness, and so they will begin to formulate new definitions, profiles, appearances, and even names as they sit together in the dark and bleed together by the light. They will compose new anthems and initiate a poetic language that only they understand; this is the basic right of their lethal intimacy. Hence even those who return will never fully return, and the better for it (an existential revolution to match their practical revolution). They will come back irreversibly transfigured and evolved, wounded and altered, powerful in unforeseen ways, more expansive in their vision, more dangerous and capable for what they have endured in the places no one goes. They will come back as a band of strangers/foreigners to the very ones who they were sent out to protect. War is pure metamorphosis, nothing less.

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Posted by: Jason Mohaghegh