H.F. Bhojani

H.F. Bhojani

Editorial Fellow

H.F. Bhojani is a Pakistani storyteller and poet who weaves narratives on those peering in from the peripheries—the misfits, and the marginalized; the underclass and the underdog. Get in touch @bhojanio or via hbhojani@motherjones.com.

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6 Photos of the Oldest Living Things in the World

| Tue Apr. 22, 2014 3:00 AM PDT
3,000-year-old llareta, a relative of parsley, Atacama Desert, Chile

For the last decade, photographer and artist Rachel Sussman has traveled the world to document its oldest living organisms. Her photographs, stories, and essays are interwoven in her new book, The Oldest Living Things in the World. I talked with Sussman about her first encounter with a very old tree, climate change, and how she tracked down her ancient subjects.

Mother Jones: How did you come up with the idea for this project?

Rachel Sussman: I had gone to Japan in 2004.  I wasn't having the best time, and was even at one point thinking of going home. I had learned this one phrase, "fundoshi o shimete kakaru" which literally means "tighten your loin cloth"—a saying that basically means "buck up." I ended up taking that advice. A couple of people had told me that I should go visit this 7,000-year-old tree. So instead of going home, I went the opposite direction, to this island called Yakushima, where this tree lives. The funny thing is that I didn't have an epiphany standing in front of the tree. It was incredible and obviously had an impact. But it was over a year later, sitting at a restaurant in Soho, eating Thai food with some friends that I had my eureka moment.

100,000-year-old sea grass, Baleric islands, Spain

MJ: What was the research process like?

RS: One thing that is really interesting is that there is no area that deals with longevity across species. For example, dendrochronologists study tree history, and mycologists study fungi. But they don't talk to each other. So there was no list of old organisms. Apart from a lot of Google searches, I would try to find the published scientific research. It might start out with a rumor in a local newspaper—"hey, here is this 100,000-year-old sea grass"—and I then track down some hard facts and contact the researchers, who nine out of 10 times, are so thrilled that someone is interested in their esoteric work.

2,000-year-old Parfuri Baobab, Kruger Game Preserve, South Africa

MJ: What's the oldest thing you've photographed?

RS: Half-million-year-old bacteria found in Siberian permafrost. Unfortunately, I didn't get to go to Siberia. The research was done in the Neils Bohr institute in Copenhagen, so I went there and looked at a soil sample under the microscope and made some digital images.

Soil sample containing 400,000-600,000-year-old Siberian bacteria

MJ:  How will climate change affect these organisms?

RS: On the one hand they are these amazing symbols of resilience and perseverance; on the other hand if you think of almost every marker of climate change, they are impacted—by rising temperatures, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, rising carbon dioxide, polar ice caps melting, basic human encroachment.

2,000-year-old brain coral, Speyside, Tobago

 

80,000-year-old colony of Quaking Aspens, Fish Lake, Utah

MJ: What does it feel like to gaze at something that's so old and majestic?

RS: It's different for different ones. For the giant sequoias, of course, they take your breath away. Whereas some of these other things—the 3000 year old lichen living in Greenland—that does not take your breath away, I would walk right past it without even knowing the difference. Some of them, the fact that they're so diminutive and have been alive for millennia is just mind-blowing.                                                    

3,000-year-old lichen, Southern Greenland

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Meet the Artists Behind the Giant Poster Targeting Drone Pilots

| Wed Apr. 9, 2014 2:21 PM PDT
Two weeks ago, artists unfurled this giant poster of a drone-strike survivor in a field in northwest Pakistan.

On the night of August 23, 2010, an American drone destroyed a home in Danda Darpakhel, a village in North Waziristan, Pakistan. The strike was meant to target a Haqqani network compound, but also killed Bismillah Khan, his wife, and two of their sons, aged 8 and 10 years old. The family's two young sons and daughter, whose names and ages are unknown, survived.

Now Khan's daughter's face has become part of the first-ever art installation aimed at an audience watching from the sky: American drone pilots.  Two weeks ago, artists spread out a large poster of the girl in Khyber Pakhtunkwwa, the Pakistani province that neighbors North Waziristan. The image on the sprawling poster comes from a photo (below) taken by Pakistani photographer Noor Behram a few hours after the strike on the girl's home. 

The artists call their project #NotABugSplat, a reference to "bug splat," drone-pilot lingo for kills.

A girl and her two brothers after surviving a drone strike in August 2010  Noor Behram/ Reprieve

The artist collective, which includes artists from France, Pakistan, and the United States, set up the poster with the help of the British charity Reprieve  and a Pakistani NGO, the Foundation for Fundamental Rights. They hope that the poster will make drone operators empathize with the people who live under their gaze. "We were considering whether to put words in the poster, but decided against it, since the photograph already speaks a thousand words," one of the members of the collective, who asked to remain anonymous, told Mother Jones, "Her eyes say everything."

When the artists arrived in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, they were greeted by "warm, welcoming" villagers, who helped them unfold the gigantic image. The 90-foot by 60-foot poster took an hour and a half to unfurl. At ground level it looked like a bunch of pixels. But once the villagers saw a photo of the image taken by the artists' own remote-controlled mini-drone, they were ecstatic. 

Unfolding the image #NotABugSplat
Villagers with the poster #NotABugSplat.com
The poster as seen from the artists' own drone #NotABugSplat

To get a sense of the scale of the poster, it helps to look at the road winding besides it, dotted by miniscule people who are "about the size of bugs", says one of the artists.

The strike that killed most of the girl's family also destroyed or badly damaged five other houses, killing at least nine civilians who were part of a community of Afghan refugees that had been there for two decades. The girl and her brothers were taken in by family members on the other side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

More than 100 days have passed since the last American drone strike in Pakistan. The #NotABugSplat artists hope there they won't have to make any more such posters. "But if the need is there, we will do more," says the collective.

Quick Reads: "The Bargain From the Bazaar" by Haroon K. Ullah

| Sat Mar. 8, 2014 4:00 AM PST
Bargain From the Bazaar

The Bargain From the Bazaar

By Haroon K. Ullah

PUBLICAFFAIRS

Western discussion of Pakistan tends to focus on geopolitics and terrorism. In this refreshing break from the policy stuff, Haroon Ullah, a Pakistani American scholar and diplomat, tells the story of a middle-class family struggling to stay united as violence, political turmoil, and extremism threaten to tear the country apart. The book reads like a novel—whose rich dialogue, colorful characters, and vivid descriptions of Lahore blend seamlessly with historical context to offer glimpses of a Pakistan we rarely see.

This review originally appeared in our March/April 2014 issue of Mother Jones.

New Report Suggests Wedding Procession Drone Strike May Have Violated Laws of War

| Thu Feb. 20, 2014 6:32 PM PST
Saleh Mohsen al-'Amri of Yakla shows photos of a nephew and cousin who were killed in a December 2013 drone strike in Yemen.

A new report from Human Rights Watch outlines conflicting accounts surrounding a drone strike on a Yemeni wedding convoy that killed 12 people and injured at least 15 others.  

While the US government has not officially acknowledged any role in the December 12, 2013 attack, anonymous officials later told the AP that the operation targeted Shawqi Ali Ahmad al-Badani, an Al Qaeda leader, and maintained that the dead were militants.

But after interviewing witnesses and relatives of the dead and wounded, Human Rights Watch determined that the 11 cars were in a wedding procession. Although the organization concedes the convoy may have included members of Al Qaeda, the report concluded that there is evidence suggesting "that some, if not all those killed and wounded were civilians."

The report, titled "A Wedding That Became a Funeral," has renewed calls for the Obama administration to carry out a transparent, impartial investigation into the incident—and to explain how such a strike is consistent with both international laws of war and Obama's own rules governing drone strikes. Announced last May, the procedures limit the use of drones to targeting those who pose a continuing, imminent threat to the United States, where capture is not feasible, and there is a "near certainty" of no civilian casualties.

The report suggests the strike may have violated the laws of war by "failing to discriminate between combatants and civilians, or by causing civilian loss disproportionate to the expected military advantage."

Read the full investigation here.