Reinventing Language

Catherine Charrett BiopicA guest post from Catherine Charrett. Catherine is a Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary University of London and will be teaching at the University of Westminster from September 2019. Catherine uses transdisciplinary methods to explore and present research on technologies of security and policing in the Occupation of Palestine and is the author of The EU, Hamas and the 2006 Palestinian Elections: A Performance in Politics (Routledge, 2019). Catherine created a 45-minute solo performance piece based on the material in this blog post and entitled The Vein, the Fingerprint Machine and the Automatic Speed Detector. You can view a trailer for the show here. Please get in touch with Catherine for further information about booking or viewing the performance piece.


Invent a hope for speech,
invent a direction, a mirage to extend hope.
And sing, for the aesthetic is freedom/
I say: The life which cannot be defined
except by death is not a life”

(Darwish, 2007)

The poetic means that form is loosened from technical function.

(Larkin, 2013: 335)

Below are two texts. The first is a deconstruction of a transcribed Israeli ‘start-up’ competition in the weapons industry. I attended this event in the Dan Panorama Hotel, Tel Aviv (Jaffa) on 18 July 2018. I witnessed and recorded the technologisation and capitalisation of killing Palestinians and other racially marked bodies – hosted by Israel, attended by international spectators. To take a break from this show I walked down the street, and I came across a sigh of relief in the shape of a mosque, the Hasan Bek Mosque, Jaffa. The second text below is a historical rendering of that mosque as described in the Journal of Palestine Studies by the late Shafiq al-Hout. Al-Hout, born and raised in Jaffa, was a founding member of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), and never ceased to fight for the Palestinian right to return.

In this intervention, my hope is to play with the form of language to disrupt what Carol Cohn described as the internal ‘logic’ of technostrategic language. As academics of international relations often we are prone to repeating the technostrategic language, which Cohn says has been invented by mathematicians, salesmen, economists and political scientists to invent a truth, which makes it possible to think the unthinkable (1987: 715).  This language capitalises upon and reproduces phallic imagery, competitive male sexuality and the promise of male creationism. In the first text I offer a deconstructive parody of some of these mechanisms. Non-official tongue, slang, sarcasm, colloquialism resist the totalitarianism of administrative language, says Herbert Marcuse. In playing with language, I hope to performatively critique the techno-fetishization that continues to circulate around Israel’s high-tech industry, and around high-tech solutions in the security industry more generally.

The reference for the ‘logic’ of technostrategic speech, argues Cohn is the weapon itself ‘(1987: 715). There is however, another reference point, the one who will be targeted, the one who will be ‘sacrificed’ for apparent technological evolution, those who will serve as the “literal raw materials” for white security (Agathangelou, 2013 cited in Howell and Richter-Montpetit, 2019). Drawing inspiration from Katherine McKittrick (2011; 2014) I include the second text as an expression of Palestinian life before and beyond the rupture of violent European/ Israeli expansionism, dispossession and racial extraction into Palestinian livelihoods.

Poetry is often unquantifiable in terms of material weight, but the fact that it has lasted for as long as humankind has been using language suggests that its value lies in its presence as a fact of language within which people search for meaning, for echoes to the sounds of their souls and the music of their minds.

(Alshaer 2016).


Israeli Homeland and Security (iHLS) start-up competition in the weapons industry.    Location: Dan Panorama Hotel [hotel – opportunity for someone else to make your bed], Tel-Aviv [Jaffa mantiqa] on 18 July 2018 [2018 – and this is where we got].

A person is standing on the stage [stage – platform raised above the ground so an audience can see you perform]. A row of judges [judges – small heads on old white bodies] sits in front of you. He is trying to find investors [investors – people with too much money]. Young man [man – I am not sure anymore] addresses us.

“I will build you an elaborate machine,” he says [elaborate – to have worked out]. “My machine will read minds [mind – your own business] of terrorists. With frontal [frontal – to show ones penis] interviewing you can perform advanced [advanced – assumed betterment] analysis [analysis – anal assisted] about what was really happening in the mind [lost – my mind] of the subject [subject – (un)suspecting target] based on a few hundred different parameters [parameters – very detailed made up shit].”

Judge asks a question [question – quest for an answer]. “How large is the total addressable market [market – governments with public money] if your machine is only used in interrogation [interrogation – quest for a question]?”

We will not just use the machine for interrogation. We will put it in airports  [airport – quickest way to fuck the environment].”

“Dima, your time is up.”


Israel’s homeland Security. Start-up Competition. 18 July 2018 Tel Aviv

Next contestant [contestant – an entertaining display of desperation].

Former intelligence officer [intelligence – filtrated knowledge] [officer – from the word office]. Takes to the stage. He is holding a Spiderman [Spiderman – writer who fights evil] ball [ball – appropriate toy for a weapons start-up competition].

“So we are here to present an autonomous [autonomous – includes the word auto] aerial [Dutch princess?] protection for strategic assets [etymology of assets – rich asses]. The best way is to find a solution [solution – to think you have a problem] based on detection [detection -like a clever child].

First we get the location [location – to have been found] from the radar [radar – first invented in the 1940s to find ze Germans]. And from there we have an autonomous system that detects [detects – sounds like dick and insect] a malicious threat [threat – unfortunate receiving end of autonomous system] … and intercepts it by ramming [ramming – animals with horns running really really fast into each other] into it. Here you can see a demonstration of the GOSHAWK [unfortunately sad product name… go and shock]. The best way to explain it is to show you a video [video – digitalised version of product’s killing potential].”

It has classical music in the background. [classical music – perfect background music for killing machine video].

“Soon you will see the picture from the optical [optical – of the eye] payload [load – a pile of semen]. You can see…it is basically ramming into it… neutralising [neutralising – the opposite of neutral] its target. Very simple and very effective [effective – the end of history].”

“Next Contestant, please.”

The MC for the weapons start-up competition speaks [speak – to not be able to convey meaning].

Tell them [them – judges] you know what kind of project you see yourself doing with them [them – investors]. You don’t wait for them to say I want this and this from you [you – a lost I]. No, you say I have learnt before [before – to have been before], I know what I can offer [offer – unwilling sacrifice], I know my technology. [technology – archaic form of doing].”

Next contestant looks stressed [stressed – to dedicate your life to designing ways to kill].

“The problem, he says, is that firearms [firearm – to have turned your arm into fire] are outdated [outdated – to have grown green fuzz]. They need sensors [sensor – to have lost the capacity to sense]. The sensor must be strategically located [located – to have been lost]. You don’t want your weapon to malfunction [malfunction – to shoot your neighbour].

TOREF [Hebrew word for conquer] is a smart sensor system. It turns firearms into smart machines. Strategically located sensors combined with machine learning algorithms are able to record in real time anything that happens with the weapon. Shots fired, misfired and warning and failures and others. By giving our soldiers access to such information we are allowing them to manage combat quicker, smarter and safer. Increasing their chances of survival. But don’t take our word for it. We have discussed TOREF with the entire chain of command. From foot soldiers to generals. And the feedback well… its very good.”


we have been conquered].

I take a break.

Exit Dan Panorama hotel.

Turn right. Go straight. Walk in the sun. Walk next to the sea.

A mosque.

The Hasan Bek Mosque.

The mosque looks down at me and asks,

“where did everybody go?”

“Just ten days later, on 24 April [1948] the family crowded onto the deck of the Greek ship Dolores, which set sail for Beirut at sunset. And I remember watching Jaffa disappear from sight until there was nothing but water all around. It never occurred to me that I would never see it again” (al-Hout, 1988: 23).

Jaffa Train Station

Pictures of the forced evacuation of Jaffa hanging inside the Hasan Bek Mosque. Author’s photo, 2018.

Hasan Bek asks me what I am doing here.

“I research weapons fairs for my job at a University in Great Britain.”

“Oh yes; I remember them.”

“What about you” I ask?

Before the street was “too narrow for anything but carts to pass”, so [the people] would walk west to [me], “overlooking the sea, [they would] catch Bus Number 2, and “heading south from its last stop on the outskirts of Tel Aviv and on to Jaffa’s heart” (al-Hout, 1988: 24).

“The bus then travelle[s] along al-Mahatta and to the elegant Iskandar ‘Awad Street that led[s] into Clock Tower Square, the most ancient of Jaffa, and past the brooding prison fortress of Kishleh. Beyond the harbor area, you had to pay another piaster as the bus entered a new zone, heading left to enter the Suq al-Salahi, where the orange traders congregate[d], these traders who [will forever] knew every grove in Palestine and the exact characteristics of the oranges each produced” (al-Hout, 1988: 24).

Hasan Bek continues,

I look south to Jaffa and north to Tel Aviv and the thousand years of history that separates these two cities (al-Hout, 1988: 23).

The mosque looks at me, and then looks down King George Street at the Continental Hotel,

The mosque says, “this is where writers and poets [will] congregate after the British-sponsored Near East Radio Service in Arabic moved its broadcasting headquarters to Jaffa. On the hotel terrace, we [will] recognize many well-known Palestinian and Arab writers and artists, especially Egyptians, such as Tawfiq al-Hakim, ‘Abbas Mahmud al-‘Aq- qad, Muhammad ‘Abd al-Wahab, and Yusif Wahbi. Jaffa was also the undisputed press capital of Palestine, publishing newspapers such as al- Difa’, Filastin, al-Sirat al-Mustaqim, al-Sha’b, and al-Wihdah, considered among the vanguard of Arab newspapers of the time, second only to Egypt’s” (al-Hout, 1988: 25).

I told him “I have to go.  I have to go and see who won the start-up competition.”  “What do you mean,” says Hasan?

How do I explain?

“The sea was turbulent when we left that April evening of 1948” (al-Hout, 1988: 25).

Works cited:

Agathangelou, Anna (2013). “Slavery Remains in Reconstruction and Development.” In Globalization, Difference, and Human Security, edited by Mustapha Kamal Pasha, 152–65. London: Routledge.

Alshaer, Atef. (2016) Poetry and Politics in the Modern Arab World.  London: C. Hurst and Co. Publishers.

Browne, Simone. (2015) Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness. Durham: Duke University Press.

Cohn, Carol. (1987) “Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defence Intellectuals.” Signs 12: 4, pp. 687-718.

Darwish, Mahmoud. “Edward Said: A Contrapuntal Reading.” Translated by Mona Anis. Cultural Critique 67 (Fall 2007).

Howell, Alison and Melanie Richter-Montpetit (2019. “Racism in Foucauldian Security Studies: Biopolitics, Liberal War, and the Whitewashing of Colonial and Racial Violence. International Political Sociology 12: 2, pp. 2-19.  

Israel’s homeland Security. (2018) Start-up Competition.  Live recording and transcribed. 18 July, Tel Aviv.

Larkin, Brian.  (2013) “The Politics and Poetics of Infrastructure.” Annual Review of Anthropology 42: 327-343.

Marcuse, Herbert (1964).  One-Dimensional Man: Studies in Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. Boston: Beacon.

McKittrick, Katherine (2014). “Mathematics of Black Life.” The Black Scholar 44: 2, pp. 16-28.

McKittrick, Katherine (2011). “On Plantations, prisons, and a black sense of place.” Social & Cultural Geography 12:8, pp. 947-963.

Mitchell, Timothy. (1988) Colonising Egypt. Berkley: University of California Press.

Nofal, Mamdoudh, Fawaz Turki, Haidar Abdel Shafi, Inea Bushnaq, Yezid Sayigh, Shafiq al-Hout, Salma Khadra Jayyusi and Musa Budeiri . (1998).“Reflections on Al-Nakba.” Journal of Palestine Studies, 28: 1, pp. 5-35

*This research was supported by the Independent Social Research Foundation (ISRF).

One thought on “Reinventing Language

  1. Pingback: Nightcap | Notes On Liberty

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s