The heartless in power: Targeting head scarfed women downgrades selected citizens

The first story takes place in France in the regional council of Bourgogne Franche-Comté, a region in the east of France. School children are invited to witness how democracy works. They embark on a fieldtrip. In need of chaperone for the field trip, the school teacher solicits the help of the mother of one of her students. She probably explained that it will be an interesting experience to attend a parliamentary session for the children and for the chaperones as well.

Once seated in the public gallery, she hears a representative from the extreme right wing Rassemblement National, National Rally (RN) Julien Odoul address the speaker of the council demanding the chaperone to remove her “Islamic veil.” She does not need to look around to know that she is being targeted since she is the only one who is wearing a headscarf. He erupts that it is the law of the republic and it is in defense of secularism or even in respect for the women who are fighting for their rights in Islamic nations. His rowdy fellow FN representatives shout at the speaker that it is the law. It is not the law, and, further, his party has never defended secularism and has no track record of defending women’s rights. Blinded by his own fundamentalism and drunk on his own power and authority he creates an environment of humiliation. Humiliation of a woman who is fully part of French society, humiliation for her young son who starts crying and humiliation for the entire school and community.   

The speaker of the parliament, Marie Guite Dufay shocked, retorts: “Are you done yet? cool off now.”

The Preamble of the Constitution states, “The French Republic is secular, (…) it protects all beliefs.” This means the Republic does not favor any religion but relegates all beliefs to the private sector. This also means that under the French law, no one must be discriminated based on their religion or their atheism. This guarantees freedom of conscience and freedom to manifest one’s religious affiliation. Religious freedom presupposes the freedom of everyone to express their religion, to practice it and to abandon it, while respecting public order. This requires for the Republic, and the representatives of the Republic, neutrality in the face of all religions and beliefs. This does not apply to citizens who are free to express their beliefs in the public space in the respect of the public. 

Women facing constant inequality in the west like elsewhere have to be saved by the men of that same society that based its colonial enterprise on a patriarchal view of domination and of redistribution of territories. This event made headlines, and rightwing politicians went on to demand restrictive laws for women who are involved in public life, directly targeting Muslim women. Julien Odoul’s comments were able to put in public space hatred of women’s right to be full citizens and hatred of Muslims, two of their favorite targets!

The second story occurred in the south west of France in the city of Bayonne. An 84-year-old man, a former National Rally member, attacked the city’s mosque, injuring two men who happened to be there. He felt that he had the mission of avenging the destruction of Notre Dame. A high-ranking member of the National Rally (RN), Jean Messiha, disseminated his poisonous question “Notre Dame didn’t burn by chance, the Islamic involvement hasn’t been explored enough.” His allegations are completely false and are part of the war path that has been developed against one group identified racially and attacked. Have we already seen this before? How many more déjà vu before the Global North learns its lesson from history? The city of Bayonne known for being an inclusive municipality immediately expressed its support of its Muslim community. 

The third story takes place in the United States. On October 19, 2019, high school cross country runner Noor Alexandria Abukaram, found out that she was not on the list after she had finished her fastest 5K at the Division 1 Northwest District meet. Abukaram was disqualified on account of her hijab. As Abukaram told Sports Illustrated, “My race is supposed to be under my control, but that control was taken away from me because of my hijab, something I hold so close to my heart. I felt so let down by the sport that I had trained so hard to run in. It was humiliating and embarrassing and upsetting.” Rules have been changed by major sports organizations, including the Olympics, to include the diversity of participants. Why then does the Ohio High School Athletic Association enforce an outdated rule about headgear? Abukaram is asking precisely that, “I’m running just like everyone else. Why should you have to sacrifice your religion and a part of who you are to run, to do another thing that you’re very passionate about?”

Are the United States government’s current policies, such as the travel ban for Muslims and surveillance of Muslim families, now reaching their long arm into the arena of sports by attempting to exclude Muslim athletes who wear the hijab? This is not paranoia, but policy that is destructive of democracy.

These rightwing attacks on Muslim women are part of a war machine to impede a targeted community from living as full citizens in their countries. Targeting women in order to rally for some nationalist ideal has become the de facto line among right wing groups. If the chaperone had been a man wearing a beard, would the RN representative have articulated insulting comments? Imagine the result if an RN representative shouted, “Man with beard, shave it at once! It is against the law!”Destabilizing civil society is always a way to keep neoliberalist doctrine controlling the world. According to theorists Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, “Fascism is when a war machine is hidden in every niche, when in every nook and in every cranny of daily life a war machine is hidden. This is fascism.”

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(Photo Credit: Luis Galvez)

The heartless and immigrants: Blindness about the reality of healthcare in the United States

Let’s examine what the heartless are doing. From his position of power, Trump made a de facto decision, issuing a proclamation, on October 4, 2019, that immigrants coming to the United States will have to purchase private health insurance or prove that they have enough funds to pay for their healthcare cost. Taking effect on November 3, this will concern visa applications.

Trump’s position about making immigrants and asylum seekers pay for their health insurance is based on the Republicans’ view of discriminating between who lives and who dies, which life is valued and which life is not. He tweeted, “Let’s take care of our own instead of paying for the undocumented.” But that’s wrong. Let’s look at the numbers of Americans who have been neglected by the health care system: the poor, African Americans, youth, the aged, people who work multiple jobs without benefits, the homeless, the unemployed and precaritized women. Since the health care system in the US is based on private policies that are profit driven, health itself is the casualty. What’s more, there is a false notion harbored by many Republicans that the United States would receive an influx of medical tourists if we offered healthcare to all immigrants entering the country. The reality is that the outrageous health costs force many American citizens to seek care as medical tourists in countries like Mexico, Thailand, India and many others.

So why pit immigrants against citizens and residents? 

Trump’s decision fuels the anti-immigrant sentiment and rhetoric that have permitted the most cruel actions against people looking for safer ground. Between 2016 and 2019 under the Trump administration the number of immigrant deaths detention centers has increased due to ICE’s poor medical standards. As Human Rights Watch has described:  “ICE has proven unable or unwilling to provide adequately for the health and safety of the people it detains.”   These detention centers are expanding across the country. This part of the business of controlling bodies at the border is based on violence, humiliation and redefinition of bodies, as children are put in cages and babies are snatched from their mothers’ arms. Achille Mbembé has developed the concept of borderization to address the treatment that has been randomly applied to undesirables, to immigrants’ bodies, in our world of quantification and digitalization, leading to division between immigrants and citizens who are as a result oblivious to their own deprivation of rights and health care. 

It is crucial to note the heartlessness of the Trump administration’s treatments of immigrants at the border. Although ICE declares that its medical care in detention centers has in fact improved under the Trump administration and provide statistics to support their claim, many organizations including Human Rights Watch provide different detailed accounts that show the rise of immigrant deaths, children and adults, as the result of untimely and poor medical care. Meanwhile, the Trump administration seeks to expand immigration detention centers, which will put more people at risk.  

This dehumanization of the undesirable migrants is occurring around the world. While in France, under the “Fight against Exclusion” program the state provides free health care, Aide Medical d’Etat (AME), to undocumented immigrants with immediate coverage for minors, the conservatives have been calling this program into question. The Health Minister immediately declared that this program is “an absolute necessity”; nonetheless, the President agreed on an audit of the program that can open it to lowering the level of coverage. France is one of the rare if not the last country to provide health care to undocumented immigrants. 

(Image Credit 1: Immigration Impact) (Image Credit 2: Mitch Blunt / Human Rights Watch)

Mots Écrits: déterrer les mots des femmes, archives de femmes, histoire de femmes: les féminicides (2)

La poétesse Pramila Venkateswaran écrit des poèmes féministes qui avec humour et rigueur parlent de la vie des femmes et de leurs batailles pour leur émancipation et leurs droits. Pour elle son travail n’aurait que peu de sens si elle ne pouvait pas le lire à voix haute ce qui lui permet d’entrainer son audience dans l’expérience du poème en faisant vivre le texte.

Pour Mots Écrits il importe de donner vie aux archives de femmes, histoire des femmes qui étaient emprisonnées dans des cartons d’archives. Le son des voix donne à ce texte venu d’outre-tombe une vie sans filtre tel qu’il est. Sophie Bourel explique «on tire le bouchon de la lampe du génie et d’un coup il y a quelque chose qui surgit; c’est ce parfum-là, cette vie-là, cette trace et c’est cette trace qui va réveiller l’imaginaire des spectateurs qui ne font qu’écouter ce que la personne lit. Les archives deviennent vivantes!» 

Mais avant de pouvoir lire à haute voix, il faut constituer le corpus de textes. Quand nous l’avions rencontré un matin, c’était une belle journée pour elle, elle venait de recevoir des documents d’un département français. Elle nous accueillit avec un bonjour de joie comme si elle venait de découvrir un trésor. 

Ce qui l’avait réjoui était l’arrivée d’une archive anonymisée comme elles doivent l’être lorsqu’elles viennent de fonds d’archive de moins de 75 ans. Il s’agissait d’un crime sur une femme survenu après des années d’alertes et comme encore aujourd’hui une femme qui se retrouve seule devant son agresseur qu’elle ne connait que trop bien. Le 16 septembre 2019, la 105ème victime de féminicide de l’année, a été frappée par son ex conjoint de 14 coups de couteau, au Havre en plein jour dans un supermarché devant ses enfants de 2, 4 et 6 ans. Elle s’appelait Johanna. Elle avait déjà déposé deux plaintes dont la dernière en aout 2019 toutes deux classées sans suite. 

Les femmes victimes de féminicide ont prévenu, appelé à l’aide, et elles sont restées seules, elles sont mortes, abattues avec un fusil de chasse, une arme à feu, poignardées, étranglées, battues à mort. 

Au début de son travail Sophie Bourel voulait mettre en relation toutes les femmes tuées de façon similaire à travers les temps. Elle avait créé une liste de tombeaux, comme elle l’avait appelée, de femmes tuées, il y en avait 78 puis 80 et cela ne s’arrêtait pas. L’idée était de former une sorte d’écho, entre la femme tuée il y a cinquante ans ou avant et la femme décédée de la même manière en 2019, elle voulait les relier dans la mort par le mode opératoire, par le lieu où elles avaient été trouvées, etc. Et puis son projet a évolué. Sans renoncement, elle l’a transformé en raison de l’inévitabilité des meurtres de femmes, du caractère inexorable du décompte des corps tombés sous les coups des hommes. L’artiste constate que la liste des femmes féminicidées en 2019 ne s’arrête jamais.

En poursuivant sa recherche dans les archives, elle s’est aperçue que les assassinats de femmes au 19ème siècle étaient si nombreux que les mises en relation entre femmes féminicidées auraient été incommodes et « de toute façon cette liste n’a ni commencement ni fin» précise-t-elle.

La composition du corpus est la vraie difficulté du projet; il faut une diversité d’archives, de matériaux, pour que 50 minutes de performance de lecture à voix haute ouvrent les consciences, les réflexions sur l’omerta qui a si longtemps régnée sur la vie des femmes, leurs histoires invisibles. 

De ce travail de puzzle elle veut montrer que les morts sont chargées de signaux sociétaux qui en disent long sur le silence entourant la subjectivation des femmes. L’artiste se demande pourquoi nous en sommes toujours là. Ce qui lui est intolérable c’est ce système qui consiste à faire d’une différence une hiérarchie ; suivant les mots d’Édouard Glissant, elle ajoute, «je cherche donc à agir dans mon lieu et à penser avec le monde dans lequel je vis.»

Mots Écrits: déterrer les mots des femmes, archives de femmes, histoire de femmes: les féminicides (1)

Chaque premier janvier, les bonnes résolutions sont prises, et puis il y a la première de l’année, assassinée par son conjoint ou ex.  Le 12 aout elle était la 88ème ou peut être la 89ème elle avait 71 ans. Il n’y a pas d’âge pour être tuée par son partenaire ou ex. Le 27 septembre 2019, la nouvelle tombait, la 111ème victime de féminicide de l’année en cours avait été découverte. 

L’épidémie est mondiale et quasi permanente pratiquement invisible à l’œil politico économique, dominée par le patriarcat, habitué à ne voir que les enjeux stratégiques, «sécuritaires,» qui occupent le devant de la scène publique. En France, le gouvernement organise cette année un Grenelle (Une conférence regroupant de nombreuses organisations) «violence contre les femmes» du 3 septembre au 25 novembre arguant qu’il faut trouver des solutions globales à ce fléau, mais sans envisager jusqu’à présent le déblocage de nouveaux financements.

L’Espagne a consacré 200 millions d’euros pour lutter contre les violences conjugales considérées parfois comme du «terrorisme misogyne.» L’Espagne a reformée son système pénal en 2004, créant 106 tribunaux et un parquet spécialisé. En 15 ans le nombre de femmes tuées par leur conjoint chaque année est passé de 71 à 43.  En comparaison, la France affiche des résultats médiocres avec ses 79 millions d’euros promis. Or, la Fondation des Femmes estime qu’il faudrait entre 500 millions et 1 milliard d’euros de budget pour lutter efficacement contre les violences conjugales à elles seules. Le budget alloué au Secrétariat à l’Égalité femmes-hommes présenté le 25 septembre 2019 pour l’année 2020 a baissé de 25.750€ par rapport à 2019 (budget 2019:  29.871.581€ ; budget 2020: 29.845.831€). Comment une telle réalité de vie et de mort pour plus de la moitié de la population peut-elle non seulement avoir persisté mais ne pas constituer une priorité sociétale? Et pourtant, il y a eu écrits, études et autres formes de recherches et d’information sur ce fléau qui s’abat sur des femmes prises dans un tourbillon de violences de la part de leur proches ou ex, et pour quels effets?

L’invisibilité des crimes sur les femmes vient du fait qu’ils sont mal nommés comme le rappelle Amélie Gallois dans «On tue une femme,» pire encore ajoute-t-elle, «mal nommer un objet c’est lui en substituer un autre.»

Jusqu’en 1975, l’adultère était considéré comme une circonstance atténuante dans le cas d’un meurtre commis par l’époux sur son épouse : seuls les époux étaient excusables. En Italie, le crime d’honneur n’est aboli que depuis 1981. Dans sa thèse intitulée «Le crime passionnel. Étude du processus de passage à l’acte et de sa répression», Me Habiba Touré explique «à l’époque, l’homme qui tuait sa femme était un romantique».

En France, ce n’est que depuis 25 ans, que le crime conjugal est devenu une circonstance aggravante du meurtre/assassinat (Décret no 94-167 du 25 février 1994 modifiant certaines dispositions de droit pénal et de procédure pénale). En 2006, cette disposition sera élargie aux concubins, «pacsés» et aux «ex», le meurtre sur un conjoint, pacsé concubin ou ex étant puni de la réclusion criminelle à perpétuité (à noter que le code pénal ne pose que des peines plafonds et non des peines planchers; le juge étant libre de condamner « le mis en cause » à une peine bien moindre). Depuis quelques années, les associations féministes emploient le terme «féminicide» (le meurtre d’une femme/fille pour le fait qu’elle soit femme/fille, que ce soit dans la sphère intime, non intime ou publique) pour parler des violences conjugales et militent pour sa reconnaissance pénale.

Comme souvent, l’art doit venir à la rescousse pour sortir des mythes qui ont permis le patriarcat, et revenir à la réalité.  La performance dans les lieux publics possède les qualités de la dissidence et aussi de la conscientisation nécessaire.  

Suite à la grande collecte des archives de femmes de 2018, l’artiste Sophie Bourel a conceptualisé un projet de mise en espace de lecture à voix haute intitulé Mots Écrits, à partir de la réalité des textes d’archives de femmes pour mettre sur la scène une histoire des femmes qui a été invisibilisée. Les textes seront lus à voix haute par des amateur.es qui auront été formées par l’artiste. Sophie Bourel croit, en effet, en la force de la lecture à voix haute qui est à la fois un art exigeant et accessible à toutes et tous, «et cela fait du bien mécaniquement.» 

Disinterring Women’s Words (Mots Ecrits)

In France, on August 12, she was the 88th or maybe the 89th victim. She was 71 years old. There is no age limit to being killed by your partner, husband or ex. There are now 101 women victims of feminicide since January and the death toll will continue to grow. The epidemic is worldwide and almost permanently active. In France the government declared its intention to organize a conference in September to address the issue widely but failed to announce more funding. Compared to the 200 million euros Spain devoted for a national pact against domestic violence that is also called machismo terrorism, France scores poorly with its promised 79 million euros. It is time to face the reality of feminicide in France, and elsewhere.

The theatrical project Mots Ecrits, conceptualized by the actress Sophie Bourel from a collection of archives on women’s lives, makes visible invisibilized violence against women. Bourel decided that the first part of her project will concern the issue of feminicides, an issue that brings the everlasting danger for women of being killed as well as a sense of urgency.  For Mots Ecrits, Bourel collects a corpus of archives on feminicides and creates a theatrical performance based on these written words. With a wide variety of documents, what she calls “de la matière” (raw material), she is able to give life to the words to make the performance live fully and independently.

Sophie Bourel feels that she has an enormous responsibility since feminicide still ravages society. When we met her one morning, she was all excited because she received documents from the archives of a French department. She welcomed us with “Hello I am so happy,” as if she had found a treasure. In fact, for her it was a treasure, since finding anything about women including about their assassination by partners, lovers etc. is so difficult. The invisibility of women is multifaceted and the invisibility of their elimination is at the source of their absence in public space. The files she received that morning concerned a crime that occurred January 16, 1975 in a French town on the Loire river. The woman killed that day first appeared in police records in July 1968. She went to the police station to report violence in her home and her son had a head injury; her neighbor also testified. This ended up in a murder attempt in June 1975, when the perpetrator raped and locked her up. She filed a complaint and got an apartment to which she moved with her children. But she was not safe. At the end of 1975, he visited her. She went to the police station to say that she was scared. On January 16, 1976, he waited outside her apartment building, grabbed her, dragged her to the riverbank and shot her twice.

Sophie Bourel doesn’t see this as an isolated case. She created a list of 78 and then 80 graves. She says, “If I look at my list, I am going to find a woman who has been killed in a similar way: 2 pistol or gun shots! I am going to put the two women in contact with one another to create a sort of echo, the one who died 50 years ago with the one who died in 2019. Killed in the same manner. It is as if one opened her casket to welcome the newly killed.” She adds that it is also a way to fight because we must fight, for if we don’t, nothing will happen to save women. Men should be afraid of killing women.

Within the archive she received, there was also a petition sent to Francoise Giroud, Secretary of State in charge of the condition of women from 1974 to 1976, the first ever ministry established in France that concerned women’s issues The text said:

Reasons for the choice of this type of petition:

The Judicial procedures and the possibilities of intervention of the bodies in charge of people’s safety seem to be able to work only after the crime has been committed. This procedure has the inconvenience of requiring the death of the person first before being able to activate the wheels of law. On the other hand, it has the advantage of not forcing the judges to make preventative decisions (that can be traumatic for the perpetrators).

This petition clearly shows the objectification of women and sadly points to the State as engendering such a view. Representation of human beings in the State means visibility and therefore the opportunity to be heard and seen. It means conferring the person or group with an identity, or a face. If a human being is not recognized by the State, that person is an object and can be killed. As Hannah Arendt points out, when people are objectified, they can be eliminated. Objectification of humans or the environment is the precondition to destruction. Conscience or ethical responsibility is tossed. 

When Pramila’s mother, disabled and sick, was threatened by a family member, she had to get the help of police and lawyers. In one instance, the police said that she could be left alone with the violent family member. When Pramila objected that her mother is in danger of being hurt or even killed, the police responded, “Then we can bring a case against the perpetrator. No problem.” She was aghast. To even suggest that an old, ill and disabled woman should be killed in order to bring her perpetrator to justice is unconscionable.

When Nirbhaya’s rape, known as the Delhi rape case in 2012 led to mass movement for justice for women, a British journalist interviewed the rapists for the BBC. Recounting the incident in which Nirbhaya was sexually assaulted, one of the rapists, Singh, said “While being raped, she shouldn’t have fought back. She should have remained silent and allowed the rape.”  We know that passivity would not have saved Nirbhaya’s life. 

Worse yet is the law’s weakness when it comes to justice for women. Nirbhaya had to die after the gruesome mauling of her body in order for her case to go to the fast-track court! Alive, she had no protection against her assaulters. 

French law has evolved very slowly, and has repeatedly failed to protect women. In March 1994, France introduced a series of laws against violence (in general), but it is only in 2003 that domestic violence is seen as an aggravating circumstance by the law. Since then, almost every year, a new amendment was passed in the desperate attempt to tackle the number of women killed by their partners and exes, but to no avail (articles 221-4222-12 and 222-13 of the French criminal code). 

In comparison, in 2004 Spain reformed its criminal court system to bring down domestic violence, creating 106 specialized courts and an adapted prosecution bringing the rate of Spanish women killed by their husbands from 71 to 43. In Canada, because of the nature of the harm of domestic violence, the judges can provide for release conditions such as “no contact” until the trial or appeal even where no offence has been committed. Yet, where personal injury or damage is feared, courts can also order “peace bonds or recognizances.” The French Criminal laws also contain a number of special provisions that serve to protect victims, but these means are almost never used by the judges and the police. 

How many women have to die in order to change the mentality about the role and rights of women? How many women have to show the scars, the badges of abuse, in order to be heard, and in order for the law to be comprehensively enforced? Laws regarding “national” security are immediately carried out and enforced! The urgency of the situation should have forced us to act a long time ago. Meanwhile, in France, 93 women have died since January 1st. Every week, 3 women are killed by their respective partners. For 3000 years women have been abused by men. In many countries, our laws have been written by men and (un)enforced by men. This is not acceptable.

(Photo Credit 1: France Culture / Denis Meyer / Hans Lucas / AFP)

On (mis)representation: Baltimore, El Paso, violence, death

I moved from Europe to Baltimore more than 25 years ago. I came to develop a kind of chauvinistic attachment to this peculiar city. After all its nickname is Charm City. Baltimore is slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, post slavery. 2/3 of the city is black. The white establishment of the city and the state incessantly try to sweep under the carpet these elements of its past and present. A segregated city with liberal feelings, Baltimore developed as an industrial city in the 19thcentury with one of the most active ports in the United States. Certainly, the tensions from the industrial revolution to deindustrialization are colored by the stigmata of slavery, racism. 

Baltimore got its international fame with the series The Wire described by its author David Simon as a “Greek tragedy for the new millennium,” in which institutions such as the police had increasing power with growing impunity, in part due to the lack of oversight from the state government which has controlled the Police Department since its inception. David Simon explained that the series showed “the triumph of capitalism over human value.” Nevertheless, Baltimore is a place of resistance and debate, a place where people are trying to imagine a sense of community despite class, gender, race/ethne systems that are part of the history of Baltimore and the United States.  

On July 30th, the 45thpresident of the United States missed a chance to celebrate the 290th anniversary of the creation of the city of Baltimore, but he never misses an occasion to express his basic racism and xenophobic political ideals. His attacks on Baltimore particularly the Baltimore of Elijah Cummings, in short Black Baltimore (Cummings represents the 7thMaryland’s district, which encompasses over half of the city of Baltimore), is his latest strike on humanity. For a president who has made a career in reality shows, it is difficult to understand the true reality of an abusive system of police, justice, poverty and violence generated by a capitalistic society that reduces human dignity to a racialized, gendered determination of human value. The murder by police of Freddie Gray in the streets of Baltimore is one example. Why did Freddie Gray decide to run away from police?  When people demanded justice for Freddie Gray, the entire city was punished. Remember, Baltimore is where Central Booking was invented, where the parallel economy of narcotics trafficking is a variable to undermine any emancipation of the Black community. But none of that was expressed by the president of the nation, because he is just president for the racist and xenophobic part of the population oblivious to its history.  

There is a special spirit of resistance in Baltimore, as the day that followed the last presidential election reminded me. A bar near Penn Station, the train station of Baltimore, put a sign on the sidewalk saying: “Happy Hours, it’s a terrible day”. The sign was inviting in the bleak context of the day and the years to come to enter a nondescript place. The crowd inside was mainly Black and some White, the discussion was about resisting and the sense of solidarity was present. 

Donald Trump was designated 45thpresident of the United States. He immediately demonstrated an unapologetic and nasty understanding of what wielding power means. His caricatural, white supremacist, misogynistic position is not new but as the president, he supposedly must have attempted to be the representative of the people of the United States, all of them. I am joking!  His base is white, some are supremacist, other have simply grown up cajoled by the idea of the natural superiority of their race or their social position. His base and his financial and business supporters are now the only nation. 

On this basis, he aimed at four women of color, duly elected members of Congress, Alexandria Occasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar.  The four congressmembers have been the target of outrageous utterances and threats coming from the occupant of the White House. He accused them of hating the United States, advising them to go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they come. For clarity, three are American born and Omar came as a refugee when she was 11. These muckraking comments indicate that xenophobic, anti-feminist hatred is part of his campaign strategies for 2020, but beyond this is a sign of the desperate attempt to maintain white supremacy as well as the supremacy of the capitalist neoliberal system that has been under the control of the “non-representative” leaders of this world. 

Instead of being vilified, the four women should have been applauded for their achievements, their commitment against oppression and marginalization. Their constant engagement against the villainy of the current immigration policies pushed by the president, the violence of the treatment of refugees. They should be an inspiration for anyone who thinks about representing a population. 

Representation is at the heart of the current political tensions surrounding elections. These women were elected on a ticket that demanded health care not health insurance, respect for the dignity of asylum seekers, respect for women’s rights and for the principle of the law and justice. 

Representation is a gendered and racialized battle field. When the leader does not obey the community, he (rarely she) commands the community in response to their votes. The struggle is global, the rise of extreme right intolerant voices has many causes; the responses should encompass the ideals of an open participatory democracy. This utopian vision is far from the reality in Baltimore and elsewhere in the United States. Black lives still don’t matter, women are still persecuted for wanting to decide when to be pregnant and keep their body safe, all that in the reality of climate change. Vested interests still manage the system of representation in the United States and in the globalized world. It’s time to end misrepresentation. In the United States, after this deadly week-end, we see once more that racist, xenophobic representatives entail xenophobic violence that leads to killing. End misrepresentation now. 

(Photo Credit 1: Baltimore Sun / Julio Cortez / AP) (Photo Credit 2: Vox / Mario Tama / Getty Images)

How do heartless leaders win elections? Part 2: India and beyond

In India, although Modi failed to deliver on election promises of economic growth, he drew public through hypocritical arguments about the importance of protecting the Hindu nation against Pakistan. The elections came at a crucial time when two Indian Army pilots captured by the Pakistani military were released back into India. The fanfare around their release gave the BJP and Modi enough momentum to stoke nationalist fires. Parties associated with the BJP had already done plenty to fan communalism through social media, and so Pakistan’s capture of the pilots created the means to continue nationalist messaging in public spaces to keep the fervor at fever pitch. The supremacy of the far-right Hindu nationalists is becoming widespread and overt in its reach under the Modi government. Modi openly articulates his allegiance with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, RSS, and its divisive nationalism and Hindu militancy.

Besides masking economic growth with nationalism, Modi and the BJP have used the figure of the woman as a symbol of nationalism. This ploy has been enacted since before India’s struggle for independence from British rule. In the last election, Modi promised that he would make sure women had rights but did nothing to curb violence against women. While the BJP under Modi talks about Hindu womanhood and protecting women, drawing upon the religious trope of worshiping goddesses, we see the government’s hypocrisy in turning a blind eye to the rape of young women and children, particularly in Muslim, Adivasi and Dalit communities. Witness the rape and murder of an 8-year-old Muslim girl by 9 Hindu youth, four of them police officers; the crime was politicized and although the rapists were charged, Hindu right-wing protesters, Modi silently lending them support, wanted the rapists exonerated: “Some of the staunchest defenders of the suspects in the girl’s killing have been high-level officials in Mr. Modi’s party. Analysts said this was consistent with how the party has operated for years.”Throughout the country it has become an increasingly onerous task for any sexual abuse victim to get justice. 

While the government won re-election based on national security, the country has become unsafe for women, Muslims and Dalits. Dissenting voices are in danger of being assassinated, as we have already seen in the murder of prominent journalists and writers for their critique of the government: Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, and M.M. Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh and many more.

While abortion is legal up to 20 weeks, many women around the country do not have access to safe abortions. Maternal deaths from pregnancy and abortion continue to plague the country. A recent report from Mumbai showed a sudden dip in the numbers of abortion among girls 13-15. While this may sound like a good thing, a senior gynecologist from one of the BMC hospitals thinks that the dip could mean that young girls may be getting unsafe abortions. No statistics are available on the number of abortions as a result of the abortion pill. In short, unsafe abortions are prevalent, including self-selective abortion, which is unlawful.

What does all this mean? Within a neoliberal philosophy we see an increase in right-wing political parties in Europe and in India. Many scholars have made connections between this current political climate with the 1930s as the EU has gone through various turbulences that have exposed the fragility of the principle of democracy in society. In his book “Recidive,”(Recurrence), Michaël Fœssel uses press and journal articles to analyze the dynamics that prevailed in the year 1938, noting, “I didn’t research 1938 with 1940 in mind, but rather with 2018 and the years before.” He remarks that French women in 1938 were mostly invisible; one would have thought that France was inhabited only by men “whose only ambition was to become chief.” Men forbade women to vote until 1944, which is a significant difference compared to 2019. In addition, Fœssel observes that in 1938 many principles were challenged. France had passed new labor protection laws and progressive social laws 2 years earlier. In 1938, with a new government elected on negative campaigns to restore order, the goal was to weaken social protection and the new rights of middle and lower classes. Although women were not allowed to vote, two women held ministry positions in the previous government, and still progress stopped there. With the more conservative government of 1938, women were sent back to the private home and family duty. 

In a time of crisis, we observe the reoccurrence of these discourses of rights and protections reductions, making the vulnerable more precarious and supporting right-wing messages of nationalism and dominant powers. Besides the obvious differences between both electoral situations (in India and in the EU), the commonalities are important to identify. 

For the time being, patriarchy as a system of control and accumulation has reinforced its power. The heartless leaders are patriarchal leaders. Their networks of influence have, through social media, disseminated their discourses using the mythology of virility to legitimize inequality between genders and unleash intolerance toward everyone outside of their normative view of human society. They have successfully eliminated the ethics of reciprocity and care from the political discourse. The destruction wrought by climate change that affects the most vulnerable in society is a casualty in this patriarchal power grab in the elections in Hungary, Poland, Italy and India. Ending the power of the heartless demand constant criticism of the patriarchal order that outrageously begets inequality and suffering. 

(Photo Credit: Reuters / Mukesh Gupta / The Guardian)

How do heartless leaders win elections? Part 1: In Europe

In the past month, around the world, heartless populist leaders have had successes in numerous elections. The Indian election occurred over 6 weeks, with 900 million registered voters, and 63 percent actively voting. The European elections were organized in 28 countries to renew the European Parliament where European laws are discussed and passed or not. It comprises 751 Members of the European Parliament, or MEPs. The European Elections presented a great danger for women and minorities. European populist groups have organized since 2013, creating a structure called “Agenda Europe”, promising to “restore the natural order”. This fabricated argument about a “natural order” is precisely unnatural and threatens violence against women, minorities and Nature.  Despite all its shortcomings, the European Parliament has, in general, over the years pushed for more progressive laws. In response, the current generation of heartless leaders have developed ultra conservative doctrines to curtail any possibility for inclusive and progressive evolution.  

As political scientist Rosalind Pollack Petchesky has noted, “Abortion acquires political volatility in periods when the social position of women generally is under siege.” Today, access to sexual and reproductive health has been challenged by the heartless leaders even in places where one would have thought these rights inalienable. The heartless movement materialized with neoliberal austerity measures and structural reforms. Neoliberalism opportunistically aligns itself with various strandsof neoconservatism and religious fundamentalism. 

Heartless populist leaders bear common features: an opportunistic mind guided by big data algorithm systems and an unfettered desire for power. They use nationalist – racist messages through social media without concern forethics or veracity. Theirtargets have included immigrants, feminists, Romas, Muslims, and more. The European and Indian elections have brought these neoliberal, conservative, propagandist, and rights-unraveling elementstogether. In Europe a resistance has also strongly emerged. In some countries, Socialists and European Green parties gained seats. Meanwhile populist parties having difficulty agreeing to form one group in parliament; their divisions appear deeper than expected. 

In France, the populist party, Rassemblement National, RN, finished with less than 1 % ahead of the center liberal party. Marine Le Pen’s RN party list led by Jordan Bardella garnered votes from the popular discontent represented by the Yellow Vest movement, mostly a vote of rejection of the liberal doctrine of the current President Emmanuel Macron. The surprise came from the Greens who became the third party ahead of the regular conservative and socialist parties. The German Green party became the second party in Germany this time, ahead of the populist party. Spain, Portugal, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark sent more socialist and social democrats to the parliament with, again, a representation of the Green party.    

In Poland, the extreme right-wing/populist Law and Justice party (PIS) won 45.6% of the vote, sending 26 MEPs to the European Parliament, while the opposition European Coalition (Social Democrats) won 17 seats and the leftist coalition obtained 8 seats. The Law and Justice party increased its representation compared to the previous European election. Their conservative campaign was based on imaginary Polish values which included strict control of sexual and reproductive rights, reducing health services for women.  Although Polish women have had total access to abortion until 1993, conservative religious leaders in Polish politics have made Poland one of the European countries with the most restrictive laws on abortion. Currently, each year 150 000 Polish women get back-alley abortions. Women in Poland have organized to block a total ban on abortion. The PIS based its campaign on repetition of social media slogans against immigration, supporting family values and energy independence. Actually, they implemented the most xenophobic and anti-women’s rights policies, including lowering protection against domestic violence, reducing access to contraception, and keeping coal energy production, refusing to comply with reducing CO2 emissions according to the Paris Agreement. 

In Hungary, Viktor Orban’s ruling party won a landslide victory with 52.3%, giving 13 seats to Orban’s EEP, 7 seats to the opposition and 1 seat to the Fascist party. When Viktor Orban was first elected, only 3% of the Hungarian population thought that immigration was an issue. Orban’s domination took off when he met Arthur Finkelstein, an arch conservative Jewish American homosexual, just to challenge common assumptions. Finkelstein has built a discreet career using invisible parallel means of communication, such as negative messaging in public spaces and social media. He has been behind many elections of conservatives around the world from Ronald Reagan to Benjamin Netanyahu. The Hungarian slogan for the European elections was similar to the Polish one. Women had to curtail their desire for emancipation to serve the great country of Hungary, migrants had to back off from entering the country, and environmental issues were irrelevant in comparison with the rebuilding of Hungary’s great past.

According to Ludmila Acone, in Italy, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Italian right-wing party ‘The League,’ and current co-vice Deputy Premier and Minister of Home Affairs, won the most seats with 34,3%,which gave ‘Identity and Democracy’ 28 seats. Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the anti-establishment Five Stars movement, with whom Salvini shares executive power, received 17,1% of the votes, or 14 seats. Nicola Zingaretti, leader of the democratic party, came in second with 22,7%, or 19 seats. These elections strengthened Salvini’s power in Italy. At the last European election in 2014, The League only received 6.2% of the ballots and sent 5 MEPs to Brussels. His success is based on his ability to «speak to people’s guts. » Bordering the Mediterranean Sea, Italy is the main land of arrival, and often a place of transit, for migrants and refugees traveling by sea and seeking asylum in Europe. Salvini based most of his political program on the urgency of fighting immigration and the right to defend oneself against migrants who are supposedly more violent. The League, supported by Steve Bannon, extended its power by producing fake news, thanks to social media. Negative messages annihilated the discourse on climate change: Italy is not sending an MEPs of the European Green Party.

The League’s political agenda rests on ‘replacement theory.’ This approach claims to protect «the traditional family» against the danger of abortion, divorce, contraception, and gender equality. Salvini pretends to protect women, thanks to one of the Five Stars movement’s legislative initiatives: the code red laws, protective measures against domestic violence. Italy has one femicide every two days.

(Image Credit: European Views)

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)