Naeem Mohaiemen


United Red Army

Film/ 70 min./ 2011-2012

September 1977. The Japanese man speaks in halting English; the Bangladeshi negotiator, with the clipped confidence of an army officer. A colour scheme suggests order in the exchange: green, red, and the occasional white. But underneath the schema of a dark screen—subtitle sans image—lies a waiting unravelling.

The Japanese Red Army had attached to the Palestinian cause, and through that to an idea of global pan-Arabism. But the high-value hostage turned out to be an Armenian banker from California, and the Democratic Party Congressman on honeymoon negotiated a call to the White House, only to be greeted by Jimmy Carter’s answering service.

The hostage terrain was not an “Islamic Republic,” as the hijackers thought, but a turbulent new country ricocheting between polarities and imploding in the process. Two years earlier, the country had gone through a trio of military coups, decimating, in turn, the country’s founding Prime Minister and family (August), a group of army officers (November), and finally, a Leftist insurgency within the army (November).

Instead of being the willing and enthusiastic platform for the Japanese Red Army’s fantasy of “Third World revolution,” the actual Third World hit back in unexpected ways, turning the hijackers into helpless witnesses. The lead negotiator, codename “Dankesu,” says with baffled understatement and halting English: “I understand you have some internal problems.”

Sarinah Masukor described the film’s structureas “ever on the verge of collapsing into abstraction, their materiality performs the indeterminacy of the event they record” (West Space journal). The film is in the permanent collection of the Tate Modern Museum (London) and the Kiran Nadar Museum (Delhi).