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Hip-Hop Diplomacy and the War on Cameras.

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time:”Send an American rap crew on a tour of Pakistan to help build bridges between two countries whose relations have plumbed new depths this year”.

But after being detained by security officials in Rawalpindi and then seeing a major concert cancelled by a venue in Lahore at the last moment, the FEW Collective’s attempt at cultural diplomacy has backfired, emphasising the frosty feelings between two awkward allies.

Well, let’s call a spade a manual earth-removal tool. The most absurdly obvious derangement in international relations is the idea that Pakistan is an ally of the USA. Bridges perhaps need to be built but from Pakistan and not the USA.

On Wednesday, the hip hop troupe from Chicago, was in Karachi preparing for a concert after being forced to abandon its Lahore gig amid allegations the venue had come under pressure to cancel the event.

Only the Telegraph could refer to rappers as “a troupe”.

The Al-Hamra Arts Council claimed US officials had not produced a No Objection Certificate from the Pakistani government.

A what?

However, a spokeswoman for the US embassy in Islamabad insisted that the paperwork was in order.

Paperwork from the embassy for a rap gig? How very rebel!

“We don’t know whether there was pressure or not to hold it or if they just felt uncomfortable,” she said.

While America’s image through much of the Muslim world has been dominated by war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the music that sprang from its inner city black populations in the 1980s is popular everywhere from the West Bank to Kabul.

You got to love the Telegraph for feeling the need to explain what rap is. I mean it’s not like it’s the most dominent form of popular music for the last 30 years.

Rappers such as El General in Tunisia have even helped spread the message of democracy during the Arab Spring this year.

Hip hop diplomacy has become an increasingly important plank of American foreign policy during the past decade as officials try to tap in to the worldwide popularity of rap – just like the jazz tours of the Cold War when Dizzie Gillespie and Benny Goodman were dispatched to counter Soviet propaganda in Africa and the Middle East.
Nowhere is the effort needed more than in Pakistan.

Or more wasted.

In January, a CIA contractor shot dead two men in Lahore.

Then a secret mission to kill Osama bin Laden on Pakistani territory sparked a fresh wave of anti-US anger in May.

Meanwhile, CIA drones continue to pound targets in the country’s lawless tribal belt.
The result is that only 12 per cent of Pakistanis have a favourable opinion of the United States, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center.

Is that really cause and effect? I mean let’s face facts the USA has indulged Pakistan for various reasons over decades and all they got was… Well bin Laden got safe refuge for a decade in Pakistan walking distance from that country’s top military academy. I mean really. It is taking the piss. I am no great fan of Obama but he had to send the SEALS in because the USA’s “key ally in the war on terror” was doing less than nothing. He also has to have the drones prowling over Pakistan’s tribal areas. Basically if Pakistan can’t be arsed to keep it’s house in order then somebody has to. Or perhaps more to the point if they can’t (for whatever reason) deal with their own gaff then they shouldn’t bitch about violations of their sovereignty should they? They can’t have it both ways can they?

In response, the US embassy has hosted a string of touring musicians in order to show a different side of America.

And this worked out…

But within days of their arrival the FEW Collective fell foul of the country’s beady-eyed security services last week when a band member was spotted taking photographs from a US embassy vehicle in Rawalpindi, home to Pakistan’s military headquarters and Benazir Bhutto International Airport.

Yeah, the police state that can’t find in a decade the World’s most wanted man when he’s spitting distance from their foremost military academy but can nick a rapper for taking photos.

They were released only after deleting images from their cameras.

I would argue that the litmus test of freedom is the attitude to cameras. Objections to them are the stock in trade of pecksniff jobsworths. In this respect the UK is going south. The dibble a few years ago caused a German tourist hell for photographing a tube station. The man had an interest in LRT architecture. OK, a minority pursuit but so what? Minority pursuits are what makes our species so magnificent. They are also something despised by the gits that be. They hate everything they don’t understand (and that could fill a Zeppelin Hanger) because they don’t have the understanding to understand that we are all individuals.

Then there is Greece. Recall the plane-spotters a few years back? You know what got me about that one? They were scrobbled on espionage charges (aren’t we both NATO?) for photographing F-16s. Now who might want to know about Greek F-16s… Turkey might. But the Turks oddly enough also fly almost identical F-16s. Turkey also builds F-16s. If there is one thing the Turkish air force know it’s F-16s.

One thing that I hate (no, I despair about) this country is we are heading down the Greek road of anyone with a camera being suspected of something. Anyone with a camera in the vicinity of children is clearly a pervert. But what really bugs me is there is no rhyme nor reason to it – it’s just arbitrary because they can and they need no reason because they are the state. It’s like enforcing a law that bans the wearing of purple hats on Tuesdays. Trust me you would get the likes of PCSOs to hand-out fifty quid fixed penalties without questioning. They might even walk past someone being murdered or raped to do it.

And it isn’t just state-sanctioned. It is pervasive. Ten years ago I could trot around with a camera and nobody would care. Now I get “looks”. I get looks because I use a DSLT (if you don’t know cameras the same as a DSLR which means it looks like a “proper” camera) to take piccies so I am clearly up to no good. Only spies, terrorists, peadophiles and the paparazzi who so cruelly hunted down Diana need a lens that size. We should all make do with the much more discreet camera on our phones. I love that Sony because it’s a cracking camera and I take photos to look at and not upload to Facebook LOL! Anyway, phone cameras are shite. I mean they’re OK for what they are but…

What they are ain’t much.

Of course what has also happened over those years where the private individual has come under increasing suspicion for even carrying an obvious camera the state has rolled out CCTV to an unprecedented level. Odd isn’t it? The private individual is an automatic suspect for having a camera but the state can video you with full impunity from the law. And yes, I meant that carefully. A rational and just polity would not put the state above the law it imposes on the rest of us. It might even obey it’s own laws.

I am no terrorist or spy. I’m just a bloke who is a bit of an f/stop philosopher (a minority hobby like golf or angling but a common enough one – anyway if it was an utterly peculiar one then so fucking what) . I like taking piccies. And I ought to post more. But…

4 Comments

  1. bloke in spain says:

    You don’t think this could have been some incredibly subtle ploy cooked up by State & the Windy City Mayor? That the Pakistani’s aren’t murdering their own children & clean-up squads scraping rapper body parts off walls into body bags doesn’t mean the intentions weren’t honourable.

  2. JuliaM says:

    “Only the Telegraph could refer to rappers as “a troupe”.”

    *remembers that it’s also the collective noun for baboons*

    *bites tongue*

  3. Lynne says:

    You could always go around taking blatant piccies of CCTV cameras. That would really get up the noses of TPTB. ;)

  4. Thornavis says:

    Yeah the photography thing is deeply depressing. I like to photograph railways, amongst other things and yes I know I’m sad but I don’t care, years ago before the fall of the Iron Curtain a friend and I travelled around eastern Europe and took loads of photo’s, the only place we got any sort of hassle was Greece, they couldn’t have cared less in Poland and Hungary. Hungary has a ‘Pioneer Railway’ run by kids in their early teens, imagine trying to photograph that if it was in Britain ( not that it would be H&S would see to that ) you’d be locked up as a nonce before you could say paediatrician. The German tourist was actually photographing an Art Deco bus station, LT had a world reputation for advanced archictecture but that cuts no ice with the morons who infest the police or indeed with TFL these days who, it seems, are more concerned with bogus security measures than with enhancing their public image by letting people freely photograph their infrastructure. Frank Pick must be turning in his grave.

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