Snuffing out the other at the border: The extreme Right’s heartless policies

The heartless are at work in various borders using various ways to exercise heartlessness. In the 2019 European elections, nationalists, populists, and the extreme right-wing elite came together (with the help of Steve Bannon) following current trends that brought authoritarian leaders to power. While the neoliberal system of austerity, hyper consumption and incarceration hadsomething to do with it, populists’ political discourses of have played the-fear-of-the-stranger score. 

The phrase “immigration crisis” triggers fear in places where migrants in processing centers on the borders are out of sight, but the real crisis is for migrants. They face crisis at home, trying to escape, and crossing borders. Then they face crisis as they arrive in Europe or the US. Crisis for migrants has a name: detention. During the European election campaign, Raphael Glucksmann, a leading candidate for one of the leftist lists in France, declared, “Some migrants in Hungarian jails are starving to death, because they don’t receive food.” He admitted that he pushed it by saying “to death” but the reality was well described in a report, published May 2019, by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatovic.

While the report documents inaccessibility of “refugee protection,” the common thread for too many “democracies” is detention. The US has “iceboxes”, cells where migrant families are detained in freezing conditions with little to no medical assistance, resulting in children’s deaths. Hungary has its no-food plan and the cold. The report relates the conditions of living in the “transit zones,” another name to mask detention centers. 

The language used by the extreme Right, that is seeping into the language of mainstream media and people, masks the terrible human rights violations imposed on asylum seekers and immigrants arriving at the European and US borders. Language is key if we want to understand how the politics of suffering. are trivialized. In 2015, under Viktor Orban’s rule, Hungary changed its legal framework for asylum seekers. The new framework is migration without human rights, stepping on all international human rights obligations. Sound familiar? Every violation requires a language of justification. Here is the Hungarian version: Migrants arriving in Hungary are “free” to demand asylum although the status is almost impossible to attain. There are two places where people may file for asylum status in Hungary, both on the Serbian borders. These places are described as “place of accommodation” and called Transit Zones. According to the report: “The Commissioner considers that the systematic confinement of asylum seekers in the Transit Zones without time limit and effective access to remedy under an environment described by the CPT as `carceral’ qualifies as detention.” 

Asylum seekers cannot leave and do not receive food. This is why the French candidate, Raphael Gluksmann, described the situation in Hungary as a threat for all. When Hungary implemented its policy of food deprivation, cases were filed with the European Court of Justice (August 2018); only then did regular food distribution to migrants on the border resumed. Since then, food has been regular in the Transit Zones. Families with children are detained in Transit Zones, surrounded by rolls of razor blade wire. Extreme Right policy makers justify their actions creating inhumane conditions by pretending that they will deter asylum seekers or immigrants from arriving at their borders.

In the US-Mexico border, the separation of children from parents was justified in this way: Asylum-seekers should not have brought their children and undertaken the long and difficult journey to the processing center. The parents are blamed for putting their children’s lives in danger! Immigrants (distinctions between asylum seekers and immigrants have disappeared) are held in detention in such bad conditions that some decide to return to the dangerous conditions they left in the first place. Children were separated and kept in foster care before the child-separation policy was called into question. So much for extreme Right’s family values!

When applied to human beings, the word “illegal” persuades people that “illegals” do not have rights. In the US, many do not know that even if a person does not have proper documents, they still have rights under International Human Rights laws. The phrase “illegal immigrant” nullifies and renders invisible any human being without documentation, even asylum seekers. Trump and his followers describe asylum seekers and all Latin American immigrants as terrorists and rapists. The public has been fed on this narrative of fear since the 9/11 attacks. Now it has grown to the satiation point with the “crisis” at the border.

In Europe and the US, the heartless had an answer to justify heartlessness. The Hungarian response bluntly stated that their true mission is to protect their territory and punish those who commit offences/crimes. According to the government, anyone entering “illegally” endangers the territory. 

In France, the Defender of Rights, a Constitutionally authorized position, has attacked the French government for incarcerating children. A legal battle has taken place over the confinement of migrant families, with the higher courts ruling against the decision to keep migrant families in jail.  The number of migrant children kept in confinement is directly connected to national politics. The period with the lowest rate of incarceration of children covers Christiane Taubira’s time as Minister of Justice, since she believed in restorative justice. Meanwhile, in the US, with the wave of young Democrats voted into office in 2018, we see the beginnings of counter arguments to the extreme Right’s spewing of fear against the Other.

Today’s migrations occur in a context of wars, climate change, and over-exploitation of natural resources. As philosopher Elsa Dorlin recently suggested, we need to understand how exposing the murder of the Other at the border is based in necropolitics becoming necroliberalism. The Geneva Convention, the International Human Rights—these are eschewed by the Right through the language of fear and capitalist territorialism.

In the recent European elections, the populists, though divided, collected votes among disenchanted people. In France, for example, where incarcerated people vote, the majority of incarcerated people voted for populist parties, including the one that is clearly xenophobic. On the other hand, in the same elections, there was strong resistance to the heartless, coming from people organizing for environmental justice, gender ethnic class equality, migrants’ rights, and more.The heartless must be brought down.

(Image Credit 1: United for Intercultural Action) (Image Credit 2: Coordination Sud)

The United Nations refusal to address women’s safety is another casualty of war

The heartless who initiated the heartbeat bills being passed across the United State have also worked hard to dehumanize women victims of sexual crimes in wars.  UN Resolution 2467 introduced in the Security Council on ending sexual violence in war has been passed, stripped of its most important parts. The original rationale was to protect victims of sexual war crimes, but, thanks to a threatened US veto, the final passed resolution is a shadow if its original intent. The entire health section, which included reproductive and sexual services, was stripped out because it implied right to abortion.  Language, such as “the establishment of a formal mechanism to monitor and report atrocities…”, was also removed. These disastrous changes of language occurred after afew days of stalemate between the US, China and Russia. 

The most effective opponent of a resolution that would have added useful tools to protect women in war came from Trump’s ambassador, Jonathan Cohen. The Trump administration is attempting to wrest control from vulnerable women’s bodies in war and is instead waging war against women in the United Nations. The feeling of impunity of the most powerful state-members in the United Nations is notorious, and the United States is no exception. Although the United States has been involved in the building of international treaties against torture, violence, or discrimination, it has failed to fully ratify them. For instance, The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR, which asserts fundamental political and civil rights, was never fully ratified. The ICCPR treaty comprises the formation of a group of experts for monitoring governments’ implementation of the treaty. Under a treaty entitled The Optional Protocol of the ICCPR, the Human Rights Committee may receive complaints from individuals. Individuals from the United States cannot have access to this body. Similarly, the United States is not fully bound to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment. Furthermore, the United States never ratified the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW. 

The debates concerning Resolution 2467 involved about 90 delegates, numerous dignitaries, two 2018 recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Iraqi Yazidi Nadia Murad with her legal councilor, Amal Clooney, and the Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege. They were outraged and decried the international community’s failure to act. The Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres emphasized that despite two precedent resolutions and work on the ground, the situation has not improved: “Advocacy groups have demonstrated beyond a doubt that sexual violence is deliberately used as a tactic of war, to terrorize people, dehumanize communities and destabilize societies, so that they struggle to recover for years or even decades.” Pramila Patten, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict had these strong words: “Wars are still being fought on and over the bodies of women and girls.” Everyone hoped that the resolution would bring some momentum to actions to stop this cycle of violence and give victims a way to become again full human beings. 

Although the international community seemed to have realized the gravity of the situation, the lack of protection and help for the victims and the lack of implementation of accountability mechanisms have remained the main issue. It seemed that the issue was doomed from the get-go. This resolution will become yet another political tool in words and not deeds, and yet another frustratingly futile attempt at rectifying a clear injustice.

At this time of mounting far right intolerance, there is a discrepancy between the political reality of the lives of these women and the level of actions by the leaders of the most economically powerful and largest countries.

That the heartless were at war with justice was anticipated by many in the field. Celine Bardet, founder of “We are weapons of war”, didn’t make the trip to New York. She declared that what happened to the resolution reflects the overall US policy. Since assuming office, Trump has imposed the strongest version ever implemented of the Global Gag Rule, with its dreadful consequences for the most precarious women of the global South. Meanwhile, the ongoing battle against women’s health, reproductive and sexual health in the United States has reached new levels of cruelty. 

Some expressed outrage, for example the UN French Ambassador: “It is intolerable and incomprehensible that the Security Council is incapable of acknowledging that women and girls who suffered from sexual violence in conflict — and who obviously didn’t choose to become pregnant — should have the right to terminate their pregnancy.”

Noting that today victims have no access to medical services, Celine Bardet argued that nobody should have voted for this resolution since it was stripped of its most important content. Bardet believes money should be directed to victims on the ground; helping victims to reclaim their dignity is the only way to make a difference, as survivors, unlike the international political community, will not give up. 

The lack of will to protect women victims of sexual war crimes is a political issue ingrained in the heart of the patriarchal capitalist/neoliberal system.  Wars open up a cornucopia of markets, such as the security market, the rebuilding market, “the global smart weapons” market; the list goes on. Control over women’s reproductive bodies must be understood as the elimination of women’s political bodies. When the global gag rule makes women’s lives precarious, so does a UN resolution that has no ability to protect women from sexual war crimes. These political instruments render women’s racialized and gendered bodies invisible, and this is what mainstream feminism sometimes has difficulty understanding. 

While these heartless policies are currently being enacted against women, on the ground other voices are surfacing to uphold women’s rights and the right to live on a planet without fear of climate catastrophes and war. These voices are rising up in the younger generation in the U.S. Congress, in the current run up to the European Commission election, in the fringe parties in India, in the counter protests in Venezuela, and so on. As, worldwide, far right voices are trending, this is the time to keep our ears to the ground. 

(Image Credit: CICC Global Justice)

The latest bandwagon of anti-abortion bills in the US: Heartbeat or heartless?

The “heartbeat bill,” a euphemism for a fetus endowed with life, conjures in people’s minds the villains of mother and, in some cases, the State, murdering the person in the womb. Since Roe v Wade, the anti-abortion movement in the U.S has launched strategies to establish the personhood of the fetus. Numerous initiatives over the past 30 years in many states have tried to establish that full life as a person starts at the moment of conception.  The heartbeat bill in Mississippi signed by Gov. Phil Bryant on March 21st2019 was just the next step after the failure of initiative 26 Life Begins at the Moment of Fertilization Amendment (2011).  The move from Initiative 26 to the heartbeat bill is easy transition. The heartbeat bill effectively dramatizes the war between mother and womb-inhabitant to a new level—to the very tip of the iceberg: the banning of abortion. Period. Roe v Wade that has somehow survived for 40 years, often barely a whisper in many states lately, seems to be in the middle of its death rattle in others. In the first quarter of 2019, the heartbeat bill was introduced successively in Kentucky, Georgia, Arkansas, Utah, Mississippi, and Missouri. 

According to the Guttmacher Institute, “governors in four states (Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Utah) signed a total of eight measures that ban abortion in one way or another. Similar measures passed the legislature in Arkansas and Georgia and were adopted by one chamber of the legislature in six other states…. So far this year, these restrictions have been enacted in Kentucky and Mississippi; passed the legislature in Georgia; and passed one chamber of the legislature in Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee. The new law in Kentucky would have gone into effect immediately, but a federal district court issued an order blocking enforcement. The Mississippi legislation is scheduled to take effect in July. Only two other states, Iowa and North Dakota, have ever enacted six-week abortion bans, both of which have been struck down by the courts.” 

In addition to the heartbeat bill, Kentucky has already passed laws restricting private insurance coverage of abortions, mandating a 24-hour waiting period and parental consent for minors. Like Mississippi, Kentucky has only one abortion clinic. One can see clearly how women are severely restricted from obtaining abortions.

What is cruel about the heartbeat bill? According to this bill, women can terminate their pregnancy before 6 weeks. How can this be possible when women generally find out they are pregnant only after 6 weeks? “Some physicians won’t even perform abortions before around six weeks of pregnancy; an embryo at that stage is so small that it might not be visible on an ultrasound, which is used to ensure that a pregnancy is not ectopic, or growing outside the uterus.”

If the heartbeat bill is not a weapon against women’s bodies, their fundamental right to their bodies, the choice to give birth or not, I don’t know what is! As Brigitte Marti says, “One of the great mistakes is to look at the demise of women’s rights as an isolated event. Soaring inequality and legislative measures to control women’s health and rights work together to disempower women and civil society.”

What’s more, many of the states where the heartbeat bill has passed or is in the legislative process have a shortage of obstetricians and have high maternal death rates.

This heartless law targets minority and poor women. How can the United States boast about being the spokesperson for women’s rights when it is shackling women and keeping them imprisoned in age-old ideas about sexuality, contraception, reproduction, and health? It feels as if the major legislative triumphs of women’s equal participation in society and to themselves are being severely undercut by restrictive anti-abortion laws like the latest heartbeat bill.

We see these restrictions on women’s rights happening worldwide. Even in a country like India where abortion has been legal since 1971, the number of unsafe abortions are at a record 25 million, abortion is legal only until 20 weeks, exceptions do exist, but the stipulation is that the woman be married. “An amendment was proposed in the MTP Act by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in October 2014. The bill proposed certain very valid propositions, such as extension of the legal abortion limit to 24 weeks,” but it was dead in the water.

It is truly disheartening when women themselves are the strongest voices proclaiming the need to make abortion illegal. But we need to keep voicing the injustice in the bills and highlight the harm it does to the poor, people of color, and women in general and make the connection between reproductive rights and our equality as human beings. We don’t want to say “before the law,” because we need the law to recognize that we are indeed humans with full rights before we can legitimately stand before the law.

(Photo Credit: Rewire)

A reminder of the responsibility of the state to guarantee rights and dignity to all people

Since his inauguration, Donald Trump has stepped up the offensive against the dignity and rights of immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants who are caught in the web of ever harsher immigration laws. Candidate Trump pledged to deport 3 million undocumented immigrants, and let’s not forget that under President Obama, 2.4 million undocumented immigrants were deported. Attorney General Jeff Session, whose racist stands are no secret, has engaged in a trial of strength with the people who believe that respect for rights and dignity of all people is the responsibility of the state.  All of these policies aim at marketing a more xenophobic vision of the society that pits the “elected citizens” against the most vulnerable members of this society.

Patrick Young, an attorney for the Central American Refugee Center, CARECEN, in Hempstead and Brentwood, Long Island, New York presents the possible responses to the collusion between ICE and the police in making arrests and then deporting undocumented immigrants.

He also expounds on the impact on the immigrant community.

Finally, we asked him what were the main issues that immigrant women face in these particular times in the United States.

This continues our series of interviews with Patrick Young. You can read and hear the earlier interviews here and here. Along with being an attorney for Central American Refugee Center, CARECEN, Patrick is also an immigration law professor at Hofstra University, co-director of the Law School’s Immigration Clinic, a policy analyst for New York State Immigration Action Fund, and a writer for Long Island Wins, a website geared toward Long Island immigration communities.

 

(Photo Credit: Long Island Wins)

No safe status for immigrants and refugees

Patrick Young is an attorney for the Central American Refugee Center, CARECEN, in Hempstead and Brentwood, Long Island, New York. We asked Patrick Young, “What are the options for organizations, such as CARECEN, to act in protecting the people who are under threat of deportation?”

In addition, deportation is also a threat to people living legally in the United States under the Temporary Protection Status, TPS, as this program is up for renewal. The latter is decided by the President only. The production of temporary status is certainly problematic in making the fate of people at the mercy of one “man” such as the president of the United States. We discussed the issue of TPS with Patrick Young as well.

This continues our series of interviews with Patrick Young. Along with being an attorney for Central American Refugee Center, CARECEN), Patrick is also an immigration law professor at Hofstra University, co-director of the Law School’s Immigration Clinic, a policy analyst for New York State Immigration Action Fund, and a writer for Long Island Wins, a website geared toward Long Island immigration community.

We talked with Patrick Young about the increasingly alarming issue of deportation for many living in the United States.

(Photo Credit: Long Island Wins) (Interview by authors)

Responding to the first President of the United States elected on an anti-immigrant platform

 

Patrick Young marches with CARECEN

Patrick Young is an attorney for the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN), located in Hempstead and Brentwood, Long Island, New York. He is an immigration law professor at Hofstra University, co-director of the Law School’s Immigration Clinic, a policy analyst for New York State Immigration Action Fund, and a writer for Long Island Wins, a website geared toward Long Island immigrant communities.

CARECEN is working with immigrants, offering them legal assistance with TPS, DACA, application for green cards and renewal and adjustment of status, as well as other kinds of legal advocacy, citizenship classes, and English language instruction.

Immigration is a vexed issue in the United States, heightened by an election marked by racism and political alliances. In 1948, President Truman signed the Displaced Persons Act, which included many restrictions. This was the first attempt toward a standard refugee entry policy. 1967 saw the UN Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. The US signed the protocol and passed enabling legislation in 1980, but it was not enforced until 10 years later. The selection of refugees was arbitrary. People coming from the Eastern Bloc, for example, would be protected, whereas people coming from Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras would not.

The following series of interviews draws attention to many aspects of immigration under the current president who is the first president elected on an anti-immigrant platform.

 

(Photo Credit: Long Island Wins) (Interview by authors)

Daphne Banai: “From an oppressed people we’ve turned into an oppressive people”

The MachsomWatch is a group of Israeli women volunteers who oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands as well as the denial of Palestinian rights. They are women taking notes, documenting all the actions that eliminate the humanity of the Palestinians, and advocating for them, calling politicians for support. With their eyes and their voices, they reshape the checkpoints; they show the soldiers the compassion they have lost. The checkpoints are part of the surveillance of a system of separation based on militaristic power.

These women are transnational from within. Their connection with the people who are isolated by a system of separation is the gist of their action. They demand explanation from the blind “kids” (soldiers) who humiliate Palestinians who are just returning home or going to their fields. The Machsom Watch women create a free space that the militaristic state cannot see since the goal is to close up all spaces. But their very presence at the checkpoints forces the Netanyahu government to “see” them; the resisters are acting in the face of oppressive rule, despite their physical vulnerability.

The reality of the checkpoints (Machsom) and the occupation appeared to Daphne Banai, an activist of MachsomWatch, as an impossibility for her enjoyment of life. 70% of the checkpoints are deep inside the territories and so are materially violent disruptors of everyday life. Meanwhile, the justification given to the Israeli public for the presence of checkpoints is precisely to avoid disruption of life because of terrorist attacks.

Daphne Banai explains that when her daughter could have lost her life because of a terrorist attack, she realized that she was on the same side as the Palestinians. All kind of mythologies have created this impossibility to receive the other. Daphne talks about her own mother, a far-right woman who never saw the other side of the story: “She never talked to an Arab person. At her funeral, there were many of my Arab friends.”

Daphne Banai sees the absurdity of the situation for Palestinian refugees to live sometimes just a mile away from their original village. She recalls the time she encountered an old man returning to his home in Palestine from Jordan with a big suitcase. She and her friend offered to drive him to his village, but a curfew had just been established that the old man was unaware of. They arrived at another checkpoint, where despite the old man having all his papers in order, the soldier didn’t want to let him through. They could see his house from the checkpoint. The two women argued with the soldiers for hours, she said. Daphne remembers the conversation, particularly the soldier’s response that he was following orders and he would shoot her if those were the orders. The old man was 80 and that night she was invited to her uncle’s 80th birthday. The old man was now crying; he had no place to spend the night. They managed to go to another village, explained to a family the situation and dropped him off for the night. Then she drove to her uncle’s birthday party and couldn’t stop thinking about the old man crying. The checkpoints are not there for protection; they are there to assert a position of domination guarded by dehumanized robot-type soldiers.

Women’s bodies at the checkpoints brings up layers of meanings, such as the domination over them, their surveillance, and the violence done to them. Their exposure to the ammunition targeting them accentuates the vulnerability of the Palestinian women and children who are humiliated and violated daily. MachsomWatch defies the sexual and economic exploitation that is the basis of surveillance, as it challenges the formation of memorial historical righteousness that make the ethical relation between the self and the other an impossible story. As historian Shlomo Sand asserts, no history is superior to another.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Palestine Primer) (Photo Credit 2:  Flickr / Michael Rose)

From Mumbai to Paris and Beyond: Transnational Solidarity In the Face of Violence

The following conversation took place right after we received news of the Paris attacks. We were in Milwaukee at the National Women’s Studies Association conference, where we were presenting on a panel on the invisibility of mothers in the U.S. and in India, made more so by social policies, particularly pregnant women in U.S. prisons who are shackled during pregnancy and labor. When the horrific news reached us, taking time out of the conference to respond to each other was the only way we knew to attend to our emotions and thoughts.

B: Yesterday, the news came. Something happened in Paris, the city I know well and where many of my relatives and friends live. The first pop-up news stated, “40 killed.” What? And then there was an avalanche of dreadful messages from friends and family. Then began the task of looking for everyone there. Pramila, with whom I presented that afternoon in Milwaukee, was with me and I clung to her to stay afloat.

P: My heart was in my mouth when I heard of the attacks when we finished our panel on the invisibility of women.  Over the next two hours, we got the news in dribs and drabs on CNN. My feeling of tragedy was overwhelming, especially because my friend Brigitte lives near Paris and visits there often, and it only happened she was currently in the U.S. and presenting at our panel. What were the chances that she and her family were not at that particular site of one of the attacks? What are the chances that any one of us is at the wrong place at the wrong time? But even as I think this way, I am already guilty of surviving. I am also witnessing another kind of suffering that is unfolding before my eyes—the sorrow of the witnesses.

B: Yes, the link to precarity struck me as well. My thoughts went to the family from Syria I met on the train to Thessaloniki. They left Syria to go on this very dangerous journey, crossed the Mediterranean Sea on a flimsy boat, scared. They were abandoned and ended up in the water, from where they were rescued. Yesterday in Paris, people stepped on pools of blood as they ran for their lives. It was difficult to locate friends and family certainly and my heart was pounding at times, but I felt that we had an urge for human connection, for solidarity. We wandered in the hotel and met our friend Sherry who hadn’t heard the news. We told her. Her first words were “Bush and his team opened a Pandora’s box!”

P: I, too, am thinking about how precarious our lives have become, even more so after the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Daesh is no accident—it is the horrific outcome of a violent situation created by the invasion of Iraq under the false rhetoric of bringing freedom to the Iraqi people. The irony of this is not lost as we witness not simply the hardship brought about by the violence witnessed everyday by the Iraqis—a violence that was perpetuated by the U.S. presence and now by Daesh; the spreading of this violence into France that upholds liberty, equality, fraternity in its social policies and its political philosophy.  So it is not surprising that President Hollande’s first word after the shock of the attacks last night was “Compassion.”  Not revenge, not an eye-for-an-eye argument. Because the way out of the revenge equation is more liberty, compassion, empathy toward the marginalized—values that are anathema to fundamentalism everywhere. Because fundamentalism thrives on divisiveness, subjugation and fear.

B: The work of compassion was expressed by one of my interviewees in the documentary “What Do You Mean Shackled?” That is one of the values that we share and forget about so quickly when profit and money animate the elite and put us at risk of violence. Compassion and solidarity work together. Shackling pregnant women is simply horrific, as it was horrific to enslave people from another continent. But we continue to talk about “our values.” What and where are they? This morning, besides the probably necessary forceful responses, everybody in France is talking about the values of compassion and solidarity. How can we reinforce these values in actions instead of acting in opposition to them?

This morning in Paris, people were hugging and kissing each other. My friend there told me how they want to take care of each other, atheists, Muslims, Jews, Christians simply because they are human beings and nothing else.

P: I am recalling the terrorist attacks that happen in cities like Mumbai, the most recent being in 2008. Although the terrorists from Pakistan claimed responsibility, the Indian government followed the legal steps to achieve justice, instead of launching attacks on Pakistan, for it knew that violence only begets more violence. Remarkably, each time a riot happens, the plural citizenry of Mumbai stick with each other, offering support and solidarity. So it is only solidarity that can be the single most effective strategy against violence.

Words of sympathy from strangers…so simple, so natural.

This morning as we were having breakfast in the hotel, the waiter brought us the bill and on it he had written, “Our heartfelt sympathy for the French people.” This simple gesture brought tears to our eyes. Brigitte said, “We need to treasure these moments…such as the moment of solidarity I experienced with the Syrian refugees and the Greek women on the train to Thessaloniki.”

Solidarity and compassion are the only antidote to violence and hatred.

And one must go on. That sense of carrying on with our purpose is best expressed in  W.H. Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts”. The opening line goes, “About suffering they were never wrong.” In the poem, Auden describes the fall of Icarus from the sky into the water; the ships and people keep going on despite the suffering of the fallen boy. One can read the poem as people turning away from the suffering person. They see what happens; they absorb it; and they continue with their task. I want to add a few lines to this poem, depicting the folks on the shore turning toward each other and extending a comforting hand, rather than remaining isolated. Being isolated when suffering unfolds around you diminishes the spirit. What is spectacularly humane is for people to turn toward each other to offer comfort.

B: I watched on French TV the reaction of people in the iconic Place de la République. Some targeted Muslim people to give them kisses and hugs and to tell them thank you. One man said that he was appalled by the distortion of his faith and asserted that he felt more like a citizen. Certainly, people are looking for a common humanity.

Some people and the French press examined how Daesh came to be.

In the name of which god did the U.S. invade a country, with oil in its soil, so far away a country named Iraq?

In the name of which god did they incarcerate so many in jails like Abu Ghraib and carry their violence with them?

They instilled the indistinguishable sense of injustice, detained the innocent with the angry. They tortured, pronouncing that it was fair to torture bodies from another place.

They believe in this competition for violence; competition–another word that negates solidarity and compassion, the basis of justice.

We are listening to countless stories of violence perpetrated in the name of which god? Stories of violence on farmers, women, and the ones who live and enjoy life in Paris.

This violence comes from nearby and far away–this is what deterritorialization of mode of production has produced. It comes from greed, from controlling faith, from competition. I think of your words about Mumbai as a place of laicity; I think of Paris as a place of laicity, a place for resistance maybe. I remember the French President saying no to war in 2001, no to the invasion of Iraq…Will he be remembered for saying the words of the people who never want war?

P: Yesterday I heard from a friend who said she was so disturbed by the Paris attacks that she wanted to reach out to her friends and embrace them. I was touched. In the same email, she said that only one religion is responsible for creating so much bloodshed. I want to tell those who are blaming the Muslim faith, we need to look at the set of circumstances that produced the current violence in Europe.  We need to see the chain of events, beginning with the first Gulf War, then the attack on Iraq as retaliation for the 9/11 attacks, the massive breakdown of infrastructure in Iraq, its repercussions across the region, the vacuum of power that was filled with a government that was divided across sectarian lines, the daily carnage in Iraq, unemployment, loss of hope for young people facing a bleak future.  The ousted government of Saddam Hussein became the Islamic State. Their establishment is not based on religion—it is based on an ideology of violence in order to build territory and acquire totalitarian power. William McCants, author of Isis Apocalypse, says the Islamic State’s territory is shrinking and they are losing much of their money in undertaking organized violence. At the same time, places that are unstable will become the breeding grounds for ISIS recruits and for the establishment of their government. So what can we do to counter this maddening expansion of Islamic State members in our midst?

B: Additionally, the South, where Iraq and Syria are, has been affected by climate change generated in the North. The discriminatory system of the current economic system is also at work. Maybe that is the biggest hidden issue in the invasion of Iraq, the destabilization of the region, and as a result, the building of Daesh with the role of war capability as a rationale. Deleuze and Guattari said fascism requires a war machine. Fascism formed in the Western countries and it imposed a world war on populations in the Pacific Ocean and in Africa and many other places. Maybe the greatest threat for humanity is our divisiveness. We should not lower our guard as many forces would like to use these events to threaten the social and civil cohesiveness that is more than ever needed.

Solidarity and compassion should be viewed as crucial components for organizing, if we want to counter the maddening expansion of the Islamic State power and the maddening often concealed violence of the neoliberal order. Both require resistance.

 

 

(Photo Credit 1: Oliver Hardcore /  The Guardian)(Photo Credit 2: Enzo Dkndt / The Guardian

Women Writers Speak and Write Despite Calls for their Death or Exile

Last month, Sabeen Mahmud was shot dead in Karachi after she gave a talk for the second part of a conference on Human Rights in Balochistan that she had organized at her T2F, a bookstore and café. Sharmila Seyyid is living in a safehouse in South India, far away from her home in Sri Lanka, hounded by fundamentalist mullahs in both countries for some of her innocuous statements in a BBC interview. These are women who are speaking openly about the rights of people around them so that men and women might treat each other with respect and dignity. Both created safe places where the imagination could reign freely without fear. Sabeen created T2F (The Second Floor) as “an inclusive space where different kinds of people can be comfortable,” a place where arts, culture and dialogue could live freely.

In the last two decades the South Asian women writers who have received vituperative harassment have included Arundhati Roy, Kutti Revathi, Bama, Sukirtharani, and others we know little about. An Indian woman writer and journalist, married to an Afghan citizen was murdered a couple of years back. Despite threats, many women writers have bravely persisted. Kutti Revathi received hate mail, but has continued to write poetry. Bama and Sukirtharani in Tamil Nadu have persisted despite protests about their feminism. Women before them have been exiled for their seemingly rational views on religion and women’s right to be free of violence: Taslima Nasrin still remains exiled from Bangladesh and lives in Germany.

We continue to hear of women’s writing that is questioned, hated, banned, and sometimes, the authors harassed and exiled.

Why do fundamentalists fear women’s writing? Why is there increasing violence against women writers? What are they speaking about that so threatens religious fundamentalists? Fundamentalists believe in the need to keep society’s patriarchal structure intact, and so women are kept in their place within expected traditional roles, without rights to their minds or bodies. If they thought or spoke independently, it would disrupt the status quo and bring uncertainty to the roles of men and women in society and disrupt men’s dominant place in all branches of society—politics, law, religion, and family. Sabeen and her organization T2F supported the cause of an independent Balochistan. She invited Mama Qadeer, the separatist activist, and other panelists for her last series of two conferences entitled “ Unsilencing Balochistan.”

The Pakistani secret services have been accused of being responsible for the disappearance and execution of many activists in Balochistan who were working on restoring justice. Sabeen Mahmud was one of the rare women who had the courage to stand up against this injustice.

Sharmila questioned the system of purdah and freely wrote about rights of sex workers. Kutti Revathi writes uninhibitedly about woman’s bodies. Nasrin is openly atheist and argues for women’s freedom from male oppression within Islam. Bama questions caste and male oppression. Roy argues openly for Adivasi people’s right to live without being murdered by the Indian government. Soni Sori, an Adivasi teacher and organizer, has been tortured under police custody. Why? Because she advocates for minimum wages and for Adivasi women’s rights. Why do the police want her in jail? “[Because] she has taken on powerful companies that want the Adivasis’ land, and the Chhattisgarh government that supports these companies. She has taken on the police for their illegal activities”.

Fundamentalists deliberately refuse to acknowledge the tradition of female outspokenness that is part of literary, artistic, and faith traditions. If they are not literate or educated in history and the arts, perhaps their ignorance plays a role in this blind acceptance of a conventional gender division. Worse yet, government support of neoliberal agendas makes officials the henchmen of corporations, colluding with fundamentalist ideology. Sabeen Mahmud was assassinated at the time China put $46 billion on the table to sign a strategic agreement with Pakistan, creating an energy corridor through Balochistan to the Arabian Sea at the deepwater Port Gwadar, Pakistan.

Neoliberalism and fundamentalism see women’s silence as important to the sovereignty of corporations and organized/structural religion. The woman who talks, questions, imagines, writes, wonders is a nightmare for fundamentalism and neoliberalism. So the only thing that can be done to stop this thinking humanistic female machine is to kill or exile her. But as we see in so many examples around us, women writers, artists, filmmakers continue to do what they think they have to do, because there is no other way they know how to live meaningfully. Death threats cannot stop them from saying what they need to say. They must be heard and read beyond borders!

 

(Photo Credits: tribune.com.pk)

For Nigeria and the World, an Anniversary and Much, Much More

A year ago 276 high school girl students were kidnapped from Chibok boarding secondary school located in the state of Borno in the north east of Nigeria. One year later, clearly the national response and global response has been ineffective and disappointing since 219 girls are still missing.

The response from the former President Goodluck Jonathan was slow. Emmanuel Ogebe, a human rights lawyer, showed that the authorities’ apathy was obvious. He interviewed the population and the girls who escaped three months after the kidnapping, and reported that no police or other forms of inquiry had taken place.

Meanwhile, the insecurity is real and affects everyday life in Borno, straining means of subsistence and the region’s social balance. There is massive displacement of the population with 1.5 million forced out of their homes among whom 70% are women and children.

Since the beginning of 2014, over 2000 women and girls were killed in Nigeria.

Although the #BringBackOurGirls campaign got international attention with celebrities involved, a code of silence still sticks to the regular violence against women and youngsters in this part of the world.

While the killings in Paris were shocking and created the movements we know, the killing of 2000 people in Baga, Nigeria did not receive that same attention. BringBackOurGirls along with many activists have not given up. Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize Winner who defends school education for girls, has declared, “In my opinion, Nigerian leaders and the international community have not done enough to help us.”

When women are taken hostages and utilized in a military way, whose patriarchal interest does it serve?

Should we question the lack of clear engagement of some leaders in the region of Lake Chad where important reserves of oil have been found? This oil reserve is shared by Niger, Nigeria and Chad.

Chad’s president, Idriss Deby Itno, has played a very obscure role, sometimes supporting efforts to control Boko Haram and sometimes retreating from the coalition. He also trapped the Nigerian president into a deal to get back the girls, last September, and then nothing happened. Boko Haram’s chief has been seen in armored vehicles made in Israel and used by the Chadian army. The French government has supported Deby, and French companies have also had important interests in the region. Nigerian leaders claim Chad is exploiting Nigerian oil using new drilling methods, while Nigeria is destabilized by Boko Haram’s assaults. The Chadian opposition organization, Mouvement du trois fevrier M3F, sees Deby as a pyromaniac fireman, spreading fire to better control oil exploitation in this area, thus expanding his political and economic control in the region, having already extended his stranglehold on the Central African Republic. Corporations from abroad enjoy a piece of the pie. Boko Haram’s thuggery is aided and abetted by this collusion by governments and corporate interests. And the victims are the school girls, who are still unaccounted for, and the terrorized population.

The questions surrounding the girls’ kidnapping and disappearance are a reminder that women’s lives are subjugated to the interest of a market system that knows no limits in using manipulation and spreading violence.

The exploitation of Nigeria’s oil reserves has a long history. Three decades ago, activists and writers tried to defend the precious Ogoni lands from being exploited by Shell Oil Company. The Nigerian government colluded with Shell Oil, which in turn was strongly supported by both the U.K. and the U.S. Nigeria tamped down the protests by executing the activists, despite international protests. Ken Saro-Wiwa, whose death, he himself predicts in his writing, clearly articulated and challenged the neoliberal corporate and political interests at the expense of the Ogonis. Today his words ring truer than ever as we see the brutal murder of women that mask the transnational neoliberal corporate and political greed to increase the oil fortunes of the one percent.

In this context, Boko Haram’s members maybe viewed as modern mercenaries. Their main targets are women, and to complete their grip on the populations they also target schools, with 900 schools burned in northern Nigeria and some 176 teachers killed. They seek to normalize violence and vulnerability. But resistance continues to be organized and women’s rights organizations have engaged in making these crimes visible. Resistance movements are not giving in. On March 14, one year after the abduction of the girls, a Global School March was organized worldwide. Women are demanding the newly elected Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari who will start his mandate on May 29th to fulfill his promise and to step up the process to save these young women. The movement goes further and demands global protection of women and girls to teach and attend school and to enforce protection of rights. This is a global threat against women and against humanity, which is not poverty driven but driven by vested interests that impoverish and manipulate populations.

We cannot stop marching.

In Pramila Venkateswaran’s “When they Hang a Poet,” poet – activist Ken Saro-Wiwa protests neoliberal exploitation of the Ogonis, and is killed by the Nigerian government. But his words live on, and the protests continue. Try as they might, government and corporations will fail to snuff out the voices raised to preserve democracy free of violence 

When they Hang A Poet…
For Ken Saro-Wiwa

You spoke of a green earth—your dream
a filament of the earth’s desire.
You wrote of Africa pillaging
herself, a prostitute “choosing”
her destiny. I see your blood
in my quiet hands, in the hands
of my country, in the hands
of every human being caught
in the clamor of living,
in the hands of corporate souls
on whom desire sticks like sin;
in the hands of your land, your sentence
is as extraordinary as a poet’s nightmare.

They hanged Saro-wiwa: syllables shock the air
as leaves weep on the cold, cold dirt.
But your words spread like a rain-storm filling
decrepit croplands of the Ogoni.

(published in The Kerf, 1997)

(Photo Credit: bellanaija.com)