I mean fighters who do not fight any more, fighters who never managed to fight in real battles, those who fight futilely for or through an ideology, and those who were “born into a time of conflict and have inherited a moral commitment to aggression. Their own experience around violence becomes the framework by which they condition and refine their subscription to militarism.”Motaz Attalla This publication project explores persistent realities of formal and informal fighters. It attempts to look at the fragility of individuals, and the continuing allure of notions of nationalism and agency. It shares stories of individuals who have the mind-set, upbringing, context, or readiness to become a fighter, and stories of other’s escape to and from soldiery. The fragility of the lives tackled in this research is haunting.
The book focuses on the transformations with(in) incomplete, pale, hesitant, or aspiring fighters living the strain of political shifts. Following their military practices in real or virtual alternative spaces, till the day the new Arab revolutions broke out, the research had identified four specific types of fighters and their levels of presence and reality, whether fulfilled or unfulfilled:
The Reflexive; the one who was born and raised in the time of war, ready to fight at any moment, then came of age at the time of peace, where his ideals are no longer valid. He struggles to choose or adapt.
The Fantastical; the one who happens to create and fight his own battles in the imaginative or virtual worlds. He constructs a world in which he controls the powers and destinies of his friends and enemies.
The Simulated; the one who lives the difficulties of the life of a soldier except he never arrives to the battle.
You will meet these fighters and other variations of them throughout the book’s invited collaborations, concise research, and found material and objects. This is not a comprehensive guide, yet, one would never know if this would be possible in any case. It does not cover all, or even many, geographic locations. It navigates maps copied from other maps, tracing issues of heart and mind, of geography and politics, of confusion, paranoia, aspiration, and abandonment. It seeks to verify given promises, from a man to himself, from past to present, and from present to past.
A fighter is offered a head change, when he borrows another head from a following page in the drawings of Nicolas Paris.
Images by Hani Jawharieh of fighters in training camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, were published by the Palestinian Cinema Institution. They are presented here in the context of Rasha Salti’s text; on the rise and demise of the image of the fida’i. Salti returns to the appearance of the term in Palestinian poetry and posters, and the new meanings it acquires in Divine Intervention (2003), the feature film by Elia Suleiman.
Fouad Elkoury was invited to board the ferry Atlantis, along with Arafat and other fida’is, in their flight from Beirut in 1982. The images do not comply with the myth of heroic aura of the exit, except for one thing: the possible presence and absence of Arafat in the very same image. Imagining the image sans Arafat, allows to see the accompanying sculpted fighters.
A script is compiled from an open call to suggest plans for an invasion. The call was posted in 2008 on al-Muntada al-Arabi; an open online forum created by laymen with an interest in militarism. The forum’s content of military news, images, and comments are contributed by registered users. The call triggered a mass of thirty pages of plans and ideas, varying from the absurd to the very serious.
From an infinite numbers of extremely accurate miniatures of soldiers, machines and vehicles from all over the world, selections of Iraqi soldiers, police officers, and fighters are presented here. These illustrations, found on the open resource Junior General website, are contributed by illustrators from the United States of America, and other parts of the world, to simulate all possible historical and fantastical wars. www.juniorgeneral.org.
Through her talk Gardening a pitiless mountain dreamed of faraway with its owner only a passing shadow, Oraib Toukan ponders the cinematic representation of a Palestinian revolution filmed in neighboring landscapes. Probing and borrowing scenes from films by Abdallah Kawash, Masao Adachi, and Jean-Luc Godard that were partly shot in Jordan, the talk is structured on the three-part scene of roaring war planes, flying to Bach’s Violin Concerto in E major, in Mustapha Abu Ali’s film They Do Not Exist (1974).
Adania Shibli’s journey through the Qalandia checkpoint is a composite of two worlds, a physical journey that raises a lot of dust, and a psychological one where she ponders over looks, signs, and language as well as her own interpretations, decisions, and cowardliness vis-à-vis the subjects who appear in her way.
Motaz Attalla reports from the ground on a night of lawlessness in post-revolution Cairo; on the formation of civilian checkpoints and guarding shifts, their weapons, costumes, and how they circulated news of expected looting attacks.
Mario Cuesta Hernando sets out to better know Hezbollah in its hometown of Baalbek. The story develops from humor, to suspicion, to suspense, to friendliness, to a heartbreak, with an image of a martyr on a wall and another eligible fighter.
In his Moderate Enlightenment, Imran Qureishi depicts art students in fragments of camouflage outfits in Pakistan. Their dress, and the stereotypes thereof, can mistakenly lead to their identification by others as terrorists.
Ahmed Hefnawy follows the second lives of disposed military uniforms, in props and spare part shops. He studies, collects, wears and photographs himself in these uniforms, and recounts some of the stories that have survived with these outfits.
Camouflage patterns are investigated in the published images of Libyan revolts. Each Camo relates to a country and a time of production, and is moved to new locations through military deals, coalitions, occupations, and landings. The appearance of different camouflage patterns amongst fighters reveals local genealogies of power.
Mohamed Sadek speaks of his experience in compulsory military training with disenchantment, except when he boasts a skill that he learned in this process, and when he remembers where he saw the stars before.
Cevdet Erek has also taken refuge in his music and notes during compulsory military training in 2007. “From Notebooks of a Drummer in Joy Division,” Erek shares his time charts or calendars of the remaining days of service, thoughts on gardens, music playlists, drums beat patterns, and depictions of colleagues and spaces.
Doa Aly’s text collage explores images of physical, emotional, and sexual perfection, mutation and disfiguration.
Rita Ponce de Leon uses anecdotes told by friends to draw tiny ink miniatures depicting the remains of soldiers’ assaults on individuals.
Abdul Hay Mosallam grew a tree from words by his captured son. Mosallam worked in the Jordanian Air Forces, before he resigned to join the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) forces, which moved him and his family between Amman, Damascus, Libya, and Beirut. Mosallam worked in Beirut under siege in 1982 and left with its Palestinian fighters.
Rayanne Tabet came across an unassembled Merkava toy model in a thrift market in New York in 2012. Made in 1983, the toy came complete with guides and info sheets on the history of the Israeli tank and its extensively proven qualities “in the recent Lebanon conflict.” The tank comes in many small parts, in a state of deconstruction similar to the artist’s local experience of it.
The email letters published here came at the time where Mehmetcik’s (pseudonym) heart was changing regarding his decision to professionally join the army. He wrote to a friend he never saw on his strains and hopes, and the colors of the places where he is, without referring explicitly to his profession. Mehmetçik (literally Little Mehmet) is a general term used affectionately to refer to soldiers of the Ottoman Army and Turkish Army.
Kamal Mufti’s appearance as a 5-year old boy on top of a military rover, in the company of two of Glubb Pasha’s guards, anticipates a life dedicated to military service.
Francis Alÿs’ drawings depict a fighter who has stopped at the sea, while another fighter in an Afghan outfit continues to walk to the mountains.
Over the course of two years, Maha Maamoun has forwarded what has captured her attention as material relevant to this project; links to facebook pages of civilian-cum-fighters, a depiction of Iranian martyrs looking from the sky at fighters on earth, a picture message of a sculpture of a soldier with wings from the Berlin airport, funny tweets from a mother to her soldier son, and two books on “How to Write the Most Beautiful Letters.” Some of these forwards appear in this book.
Finally, what started off as an exploration through text and image of unvisited territories of struggle with one’s own world / self / ideals / upbringing became a scan of the region’s recent transformations, and of its effects on its inhabitants, across generations. It is a search for one’s own position within, and as a result of, all these contexts.
* Year 1990 marks the end of a 15-year Lebanese Civil war, after which many former fighters remain unemployed and are left to deal with the psychosocial effects of the war.