Region/Concept: Middle East, Violence
Sub-Concepts: Isolation, Worship, Autonomy, Darkness, Conspiracy
Description: A group of Iranian women train in Ninjutsu at the foothills of the Alborz mountains.

The operational logic of paganism is such that when a certain local god fails to deliver its graces, one can always switch to an alternative deity (of the river, the tree, the grove). This exchange is harder in monotheistic orders, requiring more subtlety, yet it can be done just the same. Here in the ancient Persian city of Karaj, we find this very kind of transition happening: a ruling sacred system has failed these women fighters; for decades, its religious leaders have situated them at the useless outskirts of its inner circles, denying them access to the powers of apotheosis and worship, and so now they turn their eyes elsewhere in search of other spirit-forms. They take to an isolated location and begin training in a martial art-form not of their immediate world, with no reason other than to attempt an experimental substitution of idols. Most importantly, however, one must note the two strands of devious irony at work in this conversion: (1) that they have chosen for their new tradition something that exists far outside the folds of their own cultural history and monotheistic paradigms (i.e. there is virtually no meeting ground between the concepts of Ninjutsu and an Islamic theocracy); (2) that they have chosen for their new tradition something which demands that they veil themselves even more extensively than their last theology. In essence, they have selected the braver counterintuitive path of intensifying the law brought down upon their bodies; to do so, they will drape and cloak themselves at even more severe levels than imagined before, entering into a state of hyper-concealment that spites their former overlords. The headscarf is taken further along the axis of its own intention, becoming a ninja’s mask (autonomous in their darkness). This is how one surpasses oppression (through the storm). Consequently, are we not to perceive a complex subversive trace among this camp of anomalous women, something amounting to more than just reverence, discipline, or a new trend or diversion? Should we not take seriously the fact that they have fastened themselves to a martial art-form which privileges (above all else) stealth, secrecy, anti-social codes, conspiracy, and assassination?

Jason Mohaghegh