‘What happens the day after Revolution?’

A Synthesis of a talk held at the Tate Modern, 29th June 2014. / Leaving with more questions…

As I continue my reading and gaining further understanding of the topic on urban refugee camps and their relation to the wider city and refining potential case studies, I was able to attend a talk at the Tate Modern held by DAAR to discuss their book ‘Architecture after Revolution’ with Professor Ilan Pappe and Okwui Enwezor as discussants.

NOTE: This is not a critique or review of the book, rather my thoughts since post-discussion. 

My thoughts for the PhD research so far are to investigate and develop a comparative analysis of specific urban refugee camps and what impacts it has on the city, and the role of the practitioner (the community, its leaders, politicians, architects, planners, NGOs, nation-states, etc) and other actors/practitioners in their construction, deconstruction, maintenance and their strategic plans.

Prof. Pappe put forward the idea that we need to go focus on post-national discourse, that this is shifting and needs to quickly shift towards civil and human rights, not one of nationalism, and beyond that, the ability to create and induce interventions that allow for dialogue and real progress. (Recent article by Ilan Pappe explaining this position)

Sandi Hilal – one third of DAAR, put forward this question – ‘What happens the day after revolution?’ it was a succinct question and struck a cord, because it raises a series of other questions – most importantly, it forced me to think about what could happen, pragmatically, not an ideal or romantic manner – she puts forward the idea that – what happens when you get to the other side? Once you are there physically? It is a rebuilding and not a transferring of life, and it’s a challenge to understand this. The multi-faceted response required is complex and is reliant upon a dynamic civil society, more so than any nation state or their political will.

I believe at the same time this pragmatism needs to be strongly underpinned by a moral and ethical dimension; it needs to be just & pragmatic and escape from a petty discourse detouring away from politics, religion, race or ideologies that do not centre on human and civil rights.

The debates on urban camps need to be multi-faceted and yet continuously revolve around the questions of permanence/temporality of its situation, that disengages communities from place-making, and removes the need to have dialogue about their importance in the stifling of everyday life. Often, the camp creates insecurities within communities living in these camps rather than build collective solidarity.

Will beautification of a camp or developing institutions to manage and maintain order, to preserve and develop culture lessen their human rights to education, health and shelter, to mobilise?

I want to question whether this makes the Palestinians lose their ‘Right to Return?’ or the Sahrawi’s their right to live a dignified life, or the Urdu-speaking camp-dwellers of Bangladesh lose their right to be repatriated or rehabilitated, or the Rohingyas their right to land, or indeed the Afghan’s in Pakistan or Iran and the many others awaiting a solution.

And what are these rights? How do we reframe it towards human and civil rights that respect and allow for justice as Prof. Pappe suggest? Through strategic action planning, negotiations and involvement of all actors: yes, overdosing on Jurgen Habermas’ communicative rationality might not be cool, as we cannot dismiss the inherent imbalances of power that exists and is created in all these dialogues – it necessitates strong leadership from within communities – What this leadership looks like and does is the biggest challenge really.

Yet, this politically charged non-space, often a space of disempowerment, a space where the collective will is often oppressed and maintained, how do we, as practitioners and professionals of the environment (architects, planners, geographers, urbanists, artists, economists, teachers, researchers, doctors and lawyers and technocrats etc ) begin to challenge the popular narratives that do not relay truth. What role do historians play? How do we learn from the past?

What about living in a dignified manner? what about the notion of community and mutual respect and understanding? What will happen the day after revolution? Who will empower the women? who will teach the children? Who will introduce a governance structure that is relevant, how will society be structured again? When it is not temporal anymore? What vision of community can be created by a community whose lives have revolved around compact spaces and walls and territories that have confined them as Homo Sacers? And really, a question to ask is, can one ever really live in a camp with dignity? What comes to mind is the South Asian notion dignity , one that is preserved carefully, meticulously, the individual camp-dwelling is often very clean, the surrounding area, not so much, why does that occur? Is the self-preservation, the clean camp-dwelling, a survival tactic for keeping hope, of keeping intact dignity as the wait for solution(s) continues?


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