ROAR Magazine

On this day in 2013: Mandela’s death

Read ROAR Magazine’s coverage of Mandela’s death in 2013: “Nelson Mandela passes away — his struggle continues“.

While Mandela’s symbolic leadership helped unite a country that teetered on the brink of racial violence or even civil war, a new form of political activism will be needed to help South Africa emerge from the deep-rooted socio-economic divisions and widespread political abuse that still persist. The Mandelas of the future will be faceless and plural; they will be nameless multitudes of disaffected poor people — those who grew up in the Rainbow Nation and have learned as much from Mandela’s unrivaled moral fortitude as from the many mistakes he made on his long march to freedom, not least his embrace of a neoliberal economic policy framework. Today’s liberation movements are here to remind us that the only appropriate way to honor Nelson Mandela’s legacy is not to beatify the man but to take his struggle to its logical conclusion.

Also see: “Mandela’s legacy: what if apartheid never really ended?

Just days after his passing, a fierce battle is already raging over Nelson Mandela’s legacy. On the one hand, smug liberals who have never dared to raise a finger to injustice in their own countries, and insincere conservatives who are doing everything possible to undermine human rights in their capacity as world leaders, are all over the good old man, praising him for his immense moral fortitude. Apart from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who, in an attempt to whitewash Mandela’s support for the Palestinian cause by praising him as “a fighter for freedom who rejected violence,” and whose heavily armed soldiers then proceeded to violently crack down on peaceful Palestinian gatherings in Mandela’s honor – it is hard to imagine a more hypocritical statement than the thoroughly Orwellian New York Times headline praising the founder of the ANC’s armed wing as an icon of “peaceful resistance.”

On this day in 1969: Black Panther Fred Hampton killed

On the morning of December 4, 1969, lawyer Jeffrey Haas received a call from his partner at the People’s Law Office, informing him that early that morning Chicago police had raided the apartment of Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton at 2337 West Monroe Street in Chicago. Tragically, Hampton and fellow Panther Mark Clark had both been shot dead, and four other Panthers in the apartment had critical gunshot wounds. Police were uninjured and had fired their guns 90-99 times. In sharp contrast, the Panthers had shot once, from the shotgun held by Mark Clark, which had most likely been fired after Clark had been fatally shot in the heart and was falling to the ground.

Haas went straight to the police station to speak with Hampton’s fiancée, Deborah Johnson, who was then eight months pregnant with Hampton’s son. She had been sleeping in bed next to Hampton when the police attacked and began shooting into the apartment and towards the bedroom where they were sleeping. Miraculously, Johnson had not been shot, but her account given to Haas was chilling. Throughout the assault Hampton had remained unconscious (strong evidence emerged later that a paid FBI informant had given Hampton a sedative that prevented him from waking up) and after police forced Johnson out of the bedroom, two officers entered the room where Hampton still lay unconscious. Johnson heard one officer ask, “Is he still alive?” After two gunshots were fired inside the room, the other officer said, “He’s good and dead now.”

Via the Zinn Education Project.

Orwell quote

War against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it.

In pictures: constructing the public parliament in Rojava

Excerpt from the article written by Jonas Staal, founder of New World Summit, for ROAR Magazine about the construction of the public parliament in Rojava:

Many journalists have described the Rojava Revolution as a surprise, as a curiosity that emerged out of nowhere. But those who visit Rojava are quickly brought to reality: on every corner, in every house or commune, the names and images of martyrs are displayed. Every inch of Rojava was fought for, in past and present.

Every idea, every achievement that formed this new democratic paradigm is thus tied to a communal memory of those who helped to bring it into practice. And still today, in Rojava, as well as in Bakûr, Rojelat, and Başûr, this sacrifice continues. The saying that “Kurds are born in struggle” is the harsh reality on which a revolutionary imaginary of a new world is founded. One cannot embrace a revolution without accounting for those who were willing to resist at the cost of their very own lives.

Now the public parliament is being built: by the hands of artists, workers and revolutionaries alike. The concrete, circular heart of the parliament has become visible. The first arches of the parliament have been erected. Artists such as Abdullah Abdul help us paint the enormous canvasses that will cover the structure.

Read the full article here.

Jonas Staal: “With thanks to the great artists Abdullah Abdul and Ahmed Shamdin, and to photographer Ruben Hamelink for these images.”

Turkey arrests 1,000+ refugees after deal with EU

Just hours after a deal was brokered between the EU and Turkey about the containment of refugees within Turkey’s borders, 1,300 asylum seekers were arrested on the country’s coast where they were getting ready to cross by boat to the Greek island of Lesvos.  The EU has promised to pay Turkey the sum of 3 billion euros and a relaxation of visa regulations. In exchange, Turkey will serve as Fortress Europe’s border police.

“Turkey has stepped up a crackdown on people smuggling, arresting 1,300 asylum seekers in a single operation just hours after the country promised to curb the flow of refugees to Greece in exchange for financial aid from the EU. … Hundreds of Syrians, Afghans, Iranians and Iraqis and three people smugglers were seized on Monday in the countryside near Ayvacık, a Turkish town north of the Greek island of Lesbos, Reuters and the Associated Press reported. … The Ayvacık sweep is thought to be the largest single mass arrest of refugees in recent months, and follows an agreement on Sunday that saw the EU pledge to give Turkey €3bn (£2bn) in exchange for increased border patrols. … the arrest of more than a thousand people in one day suggests Turkey is increasing efforts to secure its borders in response to the EU deal. Rights groups warn this development will endanger refugee lives, since those who still want to reach Europe will be forced to try riskier methods.”

Continue reading at The Guardian.

Žižek: Fortress Europe’s staunch defender on the left

Žižek’s thoughts on the refugee crisis are useless, even harmful, for creating a pan-European leftist movement capable of challenging the far-right.

Photo by Mariana Costa, via Flickr.

In a recent article Žižek replied to the critique of a previous text he wrote on the so-called ‘refugee crisis.’ The exchange between Žižek and his critics essentially revolved around whether the left should support the refugees and migrants’ demands for open borders and the right to live where they choose, or not.

Žižek claimed that the refugees’ dream, represented by “Norway,” doesn’t exist, whereas one critic points out that it is our duty to create it. Particularly problematic is his use of phrases like “our way of life,” “Western values” and figures like “the typical left-liberal.” The most important thing that is missing in Žižek’s text is an analysis of the potentiality of the refugees and migrants’ struggles.

In his response to the criticism, Žižek begins by complaining about the shift from what he calls “radical emancipatory movements” like Syriza and Podemos to “the ‘humanitarian’ topic of the refugees.” This, we are informed, is not a good thing because the refugee and migrant struggles are actually nothing but “the liberal-cultural topic of tolerance” replacing the more genuine “class struggle.”

Why this is the case is left unclear. Rather, we are told that:

[t]he more Western Europe will be open to [immigrants], the more it will be made to feel guilty that it did not accept even more of them. There will never be enough of them. And with those who are here, the more tolerance one displays towards their way of life, the more one will be made guilty for not practicing enough tolerance.

There are several problems in this statement, especially the idea of a “we” of “Western Europe” contrasted against an image of a “way of life” somehow shared by all refugees and migrants. Before turning to that problem, however, it is useful to examine one of Žižek’s favorite tropes — the “typical left-liberal” — which sits at the heart of his critique.

Žižek’s “typical left-liberal” — a figure that is reiterated and criticized throughout much of his writing — is a figure who holds tolerant and multicultural views, but whose antiracism is actually a kind of subtle racism. In the piece in question the “left-liberal” humanist figure is a person who is afraid of criticizing Islam and who (according to Žižek) unjustly accuses those who do so of being Islamophobic.

But who is this “left-liberal” Žižek has spent so much time criticizing? On closer inspection this figure does not actually represent any position on the left. The left does not face a problem of too much tolerance, this is a straw man. If anything, it faces the twin problems of nationalism (or a national imaginary) and an inability to adequately critique Western values — problems which Žižek’s text demonstrate.

Žižek’s critique therefore completely misses the heart of the discussion: how to thoughtfully criticize fundamentalist religious views as well as “the West” and “Western values.” Žižek does neither of these.

Žižek places this misrepresented figure of the “left-liberal” on the one side, while countering in with an even more problematic and essentially racist stereotyped figure of the refugee/migrant:

Many of the refugees want to have a cake and eat it: They basically expect the best of the Western welfare-state while retaining their specific way of life, though in some of its key features their way of life is incompatible with the ideological foundations of the Western welfare-state.

Now, compare this to a recent statement made by Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French Front National:

“Without a policy restricting immigration, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to fight against communalism and the rise of ways of life at odds with … values of the French Republic.”

Žižek’s sentiments are remarkably similar to the rhetoric of the European far-right. Representatives of Front National, the Danish Peoples Party or UKIP couldn’t have been more precise on the fundamental views of nationalism within Europe today. Žižek completely capitulates to this nationalism, showing the dangers of utilizing the language of your enemy.

Essentially, Žižek accepts the dominant idea — shared by institutional Europe and the extreme right — that refugees and migrants pose a problem, threat, or some kind of crisis for “us” and “our egalitarianism and personal freedoms.” In doing so he reiterates a common nationalist argument, which can be found both in an institutional form promoted by national governments and in a radical right form: they and their way of life are incompatible with “us” and “our way of life.”

The problem here is not the degree of tolerance or exclusion as Žižek suggests, but rather the opposition itself, which is intrinsically false. In his critique of the (mis)figure of the humanist “left-liberal,” Žižek falls back on the illusion of a totalizing European or Western “we.” A “we” that is superior to the “way of life” of refugees and migrants, because “our” values are universal.

Naturally, this poses a problem, or rather a “refugee crisis” that “we” need to solve. Instead of criticizing this “we,” Žižek reproduces the mainstream media’s image of refugees as a kind of impersonal stream of humans posing nothing but a problem or even a crisis. This, Žižek says, calls for “militarization,” a topic he (fortunately?) doesn’t elaborate on any further.

In the text, all refugees and migrants are defined by the same way of life. However — in risk of stating the obvious — the refugees and migrants come from very different geographical areas and very different cultures. The homogeneity suggested by Žižek clearly draws on an old orientalist trope, where different non-homogenous cultures are categorized within the one culture with opposite and conflicting values to Europe and the West. Gone are not only different cultures, traditions etc., but also variations within these, as well as the myriad forms of secular, liberal, and socialist traditions that have also existed in parts of the vast geographical area that Žižek simply subsumes under a single way of life, sure to create a “crisis” when coming to Europe.

The European figure of the “we” that must solve the “crisis” created by the refugees is of course problematic, but even more problematic is Žižek’s proposed solution to this supposed crisis.

His proposed starting point of action is not, for example, a movement that brings together both migrants and different sectors of European proletarians like precarious workers, the unemployed, students etc., but rather the European nation-states and their political elites.

Rather than fighting together for freedom of movement for all, Žižek thinks the national and supranational elites should curb this right. Rather than fighting for open borders and against the nation-states and their political elites, he supports a centralized distribution of refugees by the nation-states. Rather than analyzing the current conjuncture and the possibilities for contesting the institutions of European political and economic elites — Fortress Europe — Žižek falls back on the same institutional solutions and becomes the “left defender” of Fortress Europe.

Moreover, instead of situating the struggles of refugees and migrants within an analysis of capitalism, Žižek refers abstractly to the problems caused by “the integration of local agriculture into global economy.” Žižek’s avoidance of political economy is not new, but it becomes particularly problematic in this case because it’s not coupled with an analysis of the current social struggles throughout Europe and beyond, resulting in a strange opposition between abstract “class struggle” and the struggles of refugees and migrants.

There is no serious attempt to analyze the potentialities of these struggles and how their articulation to other social struggles could potentially challenge the extreme right.

Rather than try to answer such questions, Žižek suggests that the “left must embrace its radical Western roots.” Unfortunately, Žižek uncritically adopts the concept of “Western values” which seem to imply “universal values.”

But what are “western values” and the European cultural heritage if not a deeply bourgeois heritage? A heritage with a history full of mass killings, mass extermination, war, colonialism, and imperialism etc.? This history of western values is not just the past but also the present. The so-called war on terror has cost 1.3 million civilian lives.

It is not refugees and migrants who have created any crisis. Instead, it is Europe, the West and global capital with its self-claimed universal values that pose a fundamental threat to humanity in general. What are western values if not “freedom, equality, property, and Bentham,” as Marx once said?

Žižek criticizes the left for wanting to “fill in the gap of the missing radical proletarians by importing them from abroad, so that we will get the revolution by means of an imported revolutionary agent.” Like the figure of the “left-liberal,” this notion seems to be pulled out of thin air.

It would be far more interesting if Žižek actually participated in the discussion on how to connect migrant and refugee struggles with other kinds of struggles. Instead we get a critique of these unsubstantiated figures of positions on the left. Who is Žižek actually criticizing?

In the last couple of months, we have witnessed how migrant and refugee struggles in Calais, Greece, Hungary, Slovenia, Germany, and even Denmark have sparked a new antiracist movement that could potentially challenge the growing extreme right. This is a movement that overcomes the national “we” and contains networks of solidarity between different sectors of migrants, refugees, and the European population.

How these struggles can be combined with other kinds of struggles is of crucial importance. Yet Žižek manages to reduce this potentiality to “the liberal-cultural topic of tolerance.” Žižek’s last two texts are completely useless for creating an anti-capitalist and anti-national movement across Europe capable of challenging the radical right and European elites; indeed, they have been harmful for such a project.

Esben Bøgh Sørensen is an intellectual historian from Denmark with a Master’s degree in History of Ideas. He has been engaged in various social movements, most recently the student movement and the refugee solidarity movement. You can find his writings on academia.edu.

Swedish fascists burn homes, blame crisis on refugees

Refugees flee their homes destroyed by a neoliberal thirst for cheap oil, while in the recipient countries the same forces have ruined many lives.

“Burn all of them down, but first nail the doors and windows shut.”

”If you want to achieve the full effect, wait until the house is full of people.”

These are just two examples of the several thousand remarks left by Sweden Democrats’ online following the most recent case of arson; an incident that left a home sheltering 14 refugees destroyed. One Internet thread detailed the various recipes and necessary ingredients to make napalm.

The formerly obscure and enfeebled Sweden Democrats (SD) – a far right, anti-immigrant, nationalist party whose roots are in neo-Nazism – has been transformed into one of the most potent political forces in Sweden. By transmogrifying immigrants into villains – enemies of both the welfare state and Swedish values – the party has gleaned over 25 percent of the popular vote.

The most recent refugee-home torching came after SD political leaders announced that the immigrant issue should be taken to the streets, outside the ambit of parliament. The intentional ambiguity of the statement galvanized more than a few zealous of their supporters to action, resulting in a spike of refugee-home burnings, a trend that was only recently – after the 17th fire – condemned by SD officials.

While the world might have united for a few ephemeral seconds around the image of Aylan – the Syrian boy who drowned alongside his brother in the Mediterranean – in the end the refugee crisis only seems to have bolstered the xenophobia, nationalism, and violence sweeping across Europe. In Germany alone, there have been over 505 attacks against refugees and refugee-homes this year. It is a trend that seems, at first glance, to challenge our approximation to what Jeremy Rifkin coined The Empathetic Civilization.

And though all this might come as a surprise, there is nothing surprising about prejudice and intolerance in Europe. What is surprising, is how the current right-wing political trend as well as the refugee crisis find their origins in the same systemic illness.

European intolerance and Swedish neo-Nazism

While you might think that the experiences of World War II and the Bosnian War would be sufficient deterrents against pursuing anything remotely nationalistic or ethnically intolerant, history invariably reveals our collective short-term memory. The current anti-immigrant demagoguery and the consequent resurgence of nationalist parties across Europe, many of whom have their origins in neo-Nazism, seems to testify to this.

Kenan Malik reminds us in a recent article that Europe has never been a homogenous place – even when its citizens shared the same skin color and religion – and that intolerance has always had its place in European society. The former urban and rural poor were often treated and referred to as “inferior savage races”.

Sweden’s history is no different. Its romance with Nazism precedes World War II, and while it might have dematerialized for a little bit, this uncompromising current never altogether vanished.

The country’s economic crisis in the 1990s, coupled with an immigration policy that provided asylum for around 85,000 war refugees from the former Yugoslavia, led to emergence of various neo-Nazi movements. As immigration slowed so did these sentiments. However once again, the kind of cultural prejudice and intolerance that wouldn’t have been out of place in 18th century France, Victorian England, Nazi Germany, or 1990s Sweden is on the rise.

Bushisms and republican machinations in Europe

The spate of burnings represents a recent and more outwardly aggressive trend against immigrants. It has been fueled in part by Europe’s latest generation of nationalist demagogues, whose irresponsible rhetoric – and subtle complicity, at least in Sweden, by not denouncing these burnings until recently – is partially responsible for the proliferation of this violence.

While it is hard to imagine Europe becoming as politically intransigent as the US, its ultra-right parties are well on their way to sounding as fear-mongering as American Republicans. Jimmie Åkesson, the current leader of SD, ran his last, and very successful, campaign on a platform of fear-inducing casuistry, proclaiming: “The election is a choice between mass immigration and welfare. You choose.”

Nothing is that cut and dry in Sweden or Europe. These are parliaments with an array of eclectic political parties; negotiations, pacts, and compromise are an immutable part of the political machine. Furthermore there isn’t any reliable evidence demonstrating the incompatibility of immigration and a healthy welfare state; as we will see, studies show just the opposite.

But by drawing such a stark line – rendering immigration and the welfare state seemingly irreconcilable – Mr. Åkesson, just like other right-wing politicians in Europe, has polarized the argument. He has pitted immigration directly against the welfare state – a sacrosanct entity in Sweden and Europe.

You almost begin to wonder if Europe’s ultra-right are emulating the rhetorical stratagems of Bush and Rumsfeldt. Mr. Åkesson’s ultimatum had a similar ring to the infamous, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Fear corrodes rationality and reason, and such polarizing and fear-mongering rhetoric in the post-9/11 era allowed Bush and Co. to manipulate the American public with the precision of Butcher Ding. In this post-Paris epoch such tactics will be especially potent.

Indulging the particular fears of Swedes, whose long history with the welfare state is an indelible part of the national ethos, is a particularly effective way of gaining support, especially from a demographic whose tenuous position in society renders them especially susceptible to such sophistry.

There are few general demographic features that are characteristic of not only SD supporters, but also ultra-right adherents across Europe. On the whole they are young, male, under-educated, and under-employed. In Sweden their main interests are cars, motorcycles, TV, video games, and sport fishing.

Though it would undoubtedly be much easier to just shake our fists and rebuke the throngs of right-wing voters as racists, Euro-trash, or bigoted nationalists, in the end we would only be playing the same superficial and spurious blame game as their demagogue leaders. Furthermore, this would only give us a very superficial understanding of a population that has been shaped by a much more complicated process.

Neoliberalism – the real enemy

Historically Sweden was one of the strongest and most equitable welfare states in the world. However, in the early ’90s Sweden endured a financial crisis and things began to change. As a stopgap measure to parry the crisis, and the resultant hyperinflation, Sweden instituted a series of austerity measures and reforms that cut social benefits, curtailed union power, reduced the size of the public sector, and initiated a process of privatization that continues today.

If this sounds familiar, it is because it is the same process that has been replicated almost universally since the 1980s around the world. From the US to Latin America, to Africa, to Asia, to Russia, and most recently Greece, IMF and World Bank economists as well as technocrats from these same regions, have been imposing this same package – often coercively or with the support of autocrats propped up by the West.

These reforms reflect a mode of economic thinking known as neoliberalism. Under neoliberalism the individual and the market are supreme entities to which modern nation-states genuflect, serve, and remain subservient. As Margaret Thatcher, one of neoliberalism’s greatest champions said: “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women…People look to themselves first.”

Whereas it was previously the state’s responsibility to provide employment to its citizens, according to neoliberalism it is the individual’s responsibility. If you are unsuccessful, it isn’t the state, economy, or any of the distortions and inequalities therein entrenched that are accountable; it is your own failure as a human.

SD’s unfortunate relationship with Neoliberalism

So how does this relate to ultra-right in Sweden and Europe, you might be asking. The shrinking of the public sector, and the curtailment of unions meant the weakening of union and labor power, and as a consequence, also a loss of solidarity and identity. The Swedish welfare state, which had previously unified different sectors of Swedish society through its collectivism, was slowly dismembered.

Moreover, by dissolving the public sector as well as union power, many Swedes were left without jobs or the social benefits that would’ve previously buffered the unemployed. With fewer jobs, a greater burden and pressure on the individual to find work – meaningful or not – and no social safeguards to mitigate the precariousness of being unemployment, many Swedes were left behind. One universal legacy of neoliberalism is inequality. Today, among all 34 OECD countries today, inequality is growing fastest in Sweden.

Rising levels of inequality, economic marginalization, and social isolation have limited participation in mainstream Swedish society and the economy. The result has been the disenfranchisement of many Swedes. Today, out of a population of 9 million, 618,000 Swedes are working temporary jobs with little security.

The economic vulnerability and peripheral social status of this vast population renders them susceptible to the populist rhetoric of right-wing politicians, who pander directly to their deepest fears and insecurities. Not only have these leaders created a tangible, albeit specious, enemy and source to their woes, immigrants, but they have also forged a collective sense of identity – through their struggle against both immigration and the neoliberal technocrats in the EU – under which they can unite.

The discourse around immigration has invariably been fueled by misperceptions and xenophobia. You don’t have to dig all that deeply to see the benefits of migration, something that has been for too long severely and irresponsibly misrepresented.

Immigrants are generally entrepreneurial, they fill various labor niches of the economy – especially in Europe where the aging population necessitates more working-age laborers – generally contribute more to the welfare state than they take in benefits, and are highly motivated to contribute and create a better society. Furthermore, over 50 percent of immigration to Europe in 2015 will come from Syria, a population whose highly-skilled workforce sets them apart from immigrants emanating from other countries.

Refugees, Neoliberalism’s collateral damage

Ironically and sadly, neoliberalism – and the associated economic and geopolitical machinations that have swept through the Middle East and Africa over the last 30 years – is also largely responsible for the current refugee crisis.

The imperative of neoliberalism is to open new markets through liberalization and increase global demand by creating new consumer bases. Where certain powers like the US, China, or the EU, see themselves as guardians of the market, and where they have certain market interests, such as mineral extraction in Africa and oil, there are inevitably transgressions, especially where regulations and law are ineffective and corruption is commonplace. Unfortunately this is ubiquitous in most of the developing world.

Neoliberalism might have opened the economies of Africa up for direct foreign investment, but the price has been the disruption and reshuffling of economies, labor markets, and public sectors, such as education, health care, and sanitation, according to Western paradigms and interests. There have been a few winners, but mostly there have been losers. Many immigrants are economic refugees whose livelihoods have been crushed by global capital, corporate interests, the commodification of local agriculture, and the downsizing of the state.

Those refugees fleeing failed-states, where violence, human rights’ abuses, and insecurity prevail, such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Libya, are the collateral damage of neoliberal geopolitics.

In these areas oil, finance, business, autocracy, democracy, and national economic interests all mix, mingle, and blur into something that may appear opaque but is pretty straightforward. Like an addict, neoliberalism depends on a constant and dependable source of cheap oil. Cheap oil means more pocket money for consumers, and generally, global economic growth. The neoliberal paradigm requires constant growth to continue functioning. Cheap oil is an expedient but very short-term and costly way of achieving this.

While we would all like to believe that the refugee crisis inspired the latest international interventions in Syria, it seems more likely that it is just one more geopolitical power play as Europe tries to wean itself from Russian gas, and Russia tries to protect the several billions it has already invested in oil investments in Syria. And let’s not forget that war has become an economy and market unto itself, with US defense firms making a killing on weapons sales to Iraq and Syria.

We are all burning

There are boons to crises. They bring us face to face with certain paradigmatic insufficiencies and by doing so they encourage us to engage in a kind of collective introspection. While “Generation Me” signals the fruition of Thatcher’s dream, we are beginning to see that a life of me is not only narcissistic and vacuous, but also noxious to the common good.

Neoliberalism, according to former Uruguayan president Jose Mujica, has created, “…a civilization against simplicity, against sobriety, against all natural cycles, and against the most important things: Adventure. Solidarity. Family. Friendship. Love.”

Ironically it isn’t “rational” self-interest, but giving, kindness, and cooperation that guarantee our own longevity and that of our species. If anything is going to change, it will require a collective effort of disengaging ourselves from the current mythology of individualism; of sublimating the self to the whole, taking to giving, and engaging not in the myopic trappings of the hedonic treadmill but in a politics of compassion and empathy.

In the end aren’t we all refugees – a great diaspora of randomness sheltered under the thin blue atmospheric line of the planet? By leaving the roots of neoliberalism in tact and unattended we are only stoking the existential and economic flames that will, at some point, engulf all of us.

Rory Smith is a freelance writer with a masters in International Development and Management and founder of Escalando Fronteras, a non-profit in Mexico that uses climbing as a way of getting at-risk youth away from gangs and organized crime in Monterrey.

Thanksgiving: celebrating the privilege to forget

Forget the past and today’s suffering, and join in the collective act of giving thanks. But beware not to remember and mourn all that has been lost.

Photo showing Navajo environmental protesters, by Nihígaal bee Iiná.

America is the land of amnesia. “Forget who you were, so that you can become American,” we are told.

Because who we were has no buying power in the colony. This is the land of skyrisers, not basements. Turn in our luggage, our languages. Uproot our identities, in exchange for new and better selves, complete with a well-earned white picket fence and an office with a view. Happy hour, golden retriever, two-week-paid vacation in Barbados, summering in the Hamptons. Take it now and leave everything else behind, this place was made for us.

Who we were would only confuse or anger those who have already properly assimilated. My blood is Sicilian, but I speak no Italian. I don’t even know how to pronounce my own last name correctly. The pasta maker in my mother’s kitchen is the only remaining vestige of my Mediterranean ancestry; the only connection I have to the lost.

But actually, this experience applies only for the privileged among us. Those of us whose parents and grandparents were allowed to choose forgetfulness in pursuit of capital, the American dream, are now encouraged to participate in the broader process of suppressing those who were never given this choice.

So on this thanksgiving, we are all American. We must all sit at the dinner table and choose forgetfulness: “Don’t bring up politics and rain on everyone’s parade. This holiday isn’t about ethnic cleansing; it’s about sharing and giving thanks now.”

Welcome to our Shangri La; our exclusive paradise where as long as one is an owning class, educated, white, able-bodied, cis-gender, heterosexual male English speaker with proper documentation, one has a seat at the table and a voice that will be heard. Regardless of whether one has a seat at the table, we all damn well better be thankful.

In many regards, those at the table are free: free from concern about losing property as it is appropriated in land grabs by the state, free from the burden of considering racial, gender, and legal-status categories as crucial determinants in ability to survive.

It is a freedom that provides suburban families central air while people of the Navajo nation choke on coal dust. Capitalism eats the lives of occupied peoples, collateral damage in a process of wealth accumulation. Our industries seep up, contaminate the ground water that once sat fresh and clean beneath what is left of the Navajo lands, so that America can maintain a healthy middle class with access to affordable electricity.

Black lives are cut short with the shot of a police gun, the poison of an unjust food system, countless violences of inherited dispossession and systemic racism. Beyond territorial borders, the finances of the American colonial project, for which so many nice families are thankful, fund the ammunition of other colonies, where other colonized people continue to resist the encroachment of capitalism’s beneficiaries.

Subhuman, those subaltern people always already are, just as other black and brown people have been throughout contemporary history. “They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.” How many homes have been destroyed, how many humans have been killed by those whose white-supremacist, euro-arrogant hallucinations transform children into serpents.

Gently, let’s all be thankful for forgetfulness.

Those of us whose grandparents turned in their cultures in exchange for capital and social inclusion, we must be thankful for, though not overly cognizant of, our privileges. Everyone else must forget the past, forget the present dispossessions in order to join in the act of giving thanks. And in giving thanks, no space will be left for us to collectively remember and mourn all that has been lost.

Sarah Yozzo teaches English Literature at a high school in Nablus, Palestine. She is a graduate from New York University’s Near East Studies program.

In defense of the Grayzone: between ISIS and the West

The targets of the Paris attacks were not primarily the civilians killed but the world they inhabited — one not yet divided into two civilizations.

Photo: Mural of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at the Abode of Chaos, by Thierry Ehrmann, via Flickr.

At this moment of closing borders and of politicians calling for surveillance of Muslims and deportations of refugees—with thought suspended and grief draped in the French flag—I hear whispers of the worst horrors of the last century. However, the document to which I turn to make sense of it all is a contemporary one. The Extinction of the Grayzone, an article published in the official ISIS magazine Dābiq, is a slick PDF that deftly binds together theology, politics and history in service of the so-called “caliphate.”

Reading Dābiq, I am struck by its reflection of the transnational, heterogeneous background of ISIS—demonstrating an impressive knowledge of contemporary graphic design, it is written in erudite English by those well-versed in ISIS’s theology. In its graphic depictions of violence, it is a document of barbarism, but then—as Walter Benjamin reminds us—so is every other document of civilization.

A world divided into two camps

Scrolling past images of militants brandishing kalashnikovs, knives held against bare necks, and graphic scenes of decapitations, I arrive at the issue’s eponymous article, “The Extinction of the Grayzone.” While “counter-terrorism experts” have argued that exploring the motives of the Paris attackers is futile, I believe this article demonstrates the importance of doing precisely that.

Through an examination of the establishment of their “Islamic Caliphate” and the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, the article clearly explains the goals of the Paris Attacks. In a tweet, the author and activist Iyad El-Baghdadi captured the main thrust of the article:

This world imagined by ISIS is one in which difference is contained, sterilized, and homogenized. It is a world of stark contrast where belief adheres to one of two strict orthodoxies and there is no middle ground.

Confounding those who argue ISIS is merely the product of blind adherence to an antiquated tradition, the author cites a distinctly modern figure as ISIS’ inspiration. This figure is none other than one of the most horrendous and violent individuals of this millennium: George W. Bush. The article cites Osama Bin Laden:

The world today is divided into two camps. Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.’ Meaning, either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam.

The only thing standing in the way of this world of two clearly opposed camps is the “Grayzone,” the messy zone of coexistence. As Iyad El-Baghdadi suggests, the grayness of the Grayzone contaminates the purity of ISIS’ clean division. As much for ISIS as for the “West,” the trouble with the Grayzone is that it ruptures and renders absurd the binary logic which forces a choice between us or them, between friend or enemy, the camp of Islam or that of the Crusaders.

In this sense, the Grayzone is what philosopher Giorgio Agamben refers to as a “zone of indistinction,” a zone which renders impossible the ability to determine inclusion and exclusion. Furthermore, in its contaminated grayness, it is an opaque blot that clouds the panoptic gaze of a regime of legibility, a gaze which forces the world to appear as a collection of discrete, uncontaminated wholes. Hidden from this gaze, the Grayzone is home to all those who live messy, entangled and irreducibly complex lives.

Planting one’s feet in the Grayzone and looking at the forces arrayed against it, the attacks of ISIS and subsequent jingoistic and military maneuvers of the West appear not as skirmishes in an almighty Clash of Civilizations but rather as different moments of a single strategy carried out by a Janus-faced power, a strategy intent on bringing about the extinction of the Grayzone. This is to say, the targets of the Paris attacks were not primarily the civilians killed but the world they inhabited, one not yet divided into two civilizations on the brink of total war.

Yet, the Grayzone offers more than a perspective to make sense of unfolding events. It also provides a footing to ward off the spectral presence of creeping fascisms and resurgent nationalisms. In these dark times, it is of the utmost importance to see the world from the Grayzone, to make common cause with those who inhabit it and to struggle for its defense.

Living in the twilight of the Grayzone

Created and inhabited through living messy lives that cross borders and don’t neatly correspond to fixed identities, the Grayzone is something we all experience, but some more viscerally than others. There are those who live entirely in the crepuscular light of this entangled indeterminacy. For these people, the experience of the Grayzone is not an abstraction, but their home in this world—a visceral texture of their day to day lives.

Dābiq’s “Extinction” depicts the Grayzone as inhabited by “hypocrites” and “deviant innovators.” It encompasses, for Dābiq, the parties which “claim to be independent of both opposing camps.” I count three signs that mark these denizens of the Grayzone:

  1. those with a heretical relationship to orthodoxy;
  2. refugees, migrants and all the others living a life straddling two worlds; and,
  3. those fighting a war on two fronts and being “independent” of both ISIS and the West.

Being branded a so-called “heretic” or “hypocrite” is the first mark that you are a denizen of the Grayzone. However, this “heresy” is not an empirical reality that exists in-and-of itself but a question of judgment. For the “heretic”, their beliefs are not blasphemous but faithful to their own interpretation. Indeed, the “heretic” is only named as such by the particular orthodoxy or prevailing systems of norms which marks their beliefs or behaviors as deviant.

The “heretic” thus establishes the Grayzone by arriving at an alternative (marked as “deviant”, “heretical” or “blasphemous”) interpretation of a common code and living their life accordingly. In so doing, they demonstrate the contingency of any interpretation, threatening to topple the orthodoxy and turn the fictive homogeneity of one camp into a heterogeneous space of discussion and disagreement.

Dābiqs main focus is this form of “heresy.” Indeed, the magazine’s cover displays the “hypocrites” who reacted against the attacks last January on Charlie Hebdo. This danger of these “heretics” or “hypocrites” lay in the fact that their disloyalty does not take the form of a desertion, renouncing Islam, or moving to the camp of the crusader. Instead, by retaining their allegiances to Islam but deriving different interpretations, they fundamentally challenged the so-called “Islamic State” as the univocal enunciator of religious truth.

This is the exact strategy of the ISIS #NotInMyName campaign in which Muslims reject ISIS’ ability to act in the name of Muslims. For ISIS, the task of eliminating the threat these heretical interpretations pose lies in convincing the “heretics” to move “from Hypocrisy to Apostasy.” In other words, ISIS wants to eliminate the heretics by leading them to renounce their faith, to abandon the camp.

This call for apostasy is echoed by the other camp as well. It finds its purest expression in the Islamaphobic proselytization of secularism. Last Spring, in his thinly-veiled call for Western military occupation of Iraq and Syria entitled, “What ISIS Really Wants,” Graham Woode embraces ISIS’ hegemonic grasp on the interpretation of Islam. Arguing that Islam is a fundamentally “backward” religion and that the only principled thing for Muslims to do is to renounce Islam altogether, Woode leaves no room for faithful Muslims to live according to the example of the prophet and the Koran:

The only principled ground that the Islamic State’s opponents could take is to say that certain core texts and traditional teachings of Islam are no longer valid,’ Bernard Haykel says. That really would be an act of apostasy.

Here again, the Grayzone is under siege not just by ISIS but also by the opposing camp. The West, especially in its most fervent defenses of the “enlightenment,” “western values” and “secularism” cannot step outside of the Clash of Civilizations narrative. The only choice they offer Muslims is apostasy or desertion to ISIS’s camp—the Crusader’s choice of conversion or exodus at the barrel of a gun.

To destabilize this notion of a singular fixed truth — this destructive certainty upon which wars are waged and spaces of thought and discussion are closed — we must renounce the idea that there are “true” or “false” notions of concepts like Jihad or freedom. Instead, we must recognize that truth itself is the result of a struggle over interpretation.

In the wake of the Paris Attacks, a widely-circulated story celebrated the actions of Zouheir, the Muslim security guard who allegedly turned away bombers from a crowded soccer stadium. The popularity of the story depended on the “exceptional” character of Zouheir’s “selfless” and “heroic” actions, a framing which assumes all Muslims are aligned with ISIS.

Yet, if the Paris attacks are understood as a strategy of destroying the Grayzone—the space in which Muslims who do not accept ISIS’ interpretation of Islam reside—this story becomes one not of “selfless heroism” but of self-defense, defending the possibility of Muslim life outside the orthodoxy of ISIS.

But we must not tokenize these acts of self-defense; we must stand in solidarity. To do this means to assert the value of Muslim life and, like Zouheir, to defend the Grayzone which fosters and supports it. For non-Muslims, to not tokenize Muslims means to avoid claims about the “truth” of various interpretations of Islam. Such statements not only efface the diversity of Islamic interpretation but also risks furthering ISIS’s claims that the “heretics” are nothing more than “western puppets.” Yet, solidarity with Muslims undermining the authority of ISIS is not enough. The bombings, police raids, calls for ID cards, detentions and deportations in the West must also be met by cries of “#NotInMyName”.

The Grayzone is also a home for those who straddle different worlds. They cannot be neatly sorted into either camp. In this sense, the Grayzone is also a space inhabited by migrants and refugees. Forming a thread which entangles the fate of remote locales, they are a living testament to the porosity of borders.

Once more, we see ISIS and the West unified in their strategy to destroy the Grayzone, both undertaking measures to sterilize and purify their camps. In the West, this sterilization targets the bodies of migrants and refugees: restricting their movement, turning them away at borders, surveilling, containing, detaining and deporting them. For ISIS, the refugees fleeing violence are also heretics and apostates, blasphemously failing to heed the call to move to the so-called Caliphate. Yet, in Dābiq, ISIS envisions the outcome of these attacks as the production of a West so hostile to Muslims that they will have to choose between the “Caliphate” and renouncing Islam entirely.

Reflections and ghostly shadows

In this moment of widespread xenophobia cloaked in the language of security, I see reflections and ghostly shadows. ISIS’s desire for a West hostile to Muslims mirrors the xenophobic nationalists’ fantasy of Muslim self-deportation. And in the logic of immobilization, containment and sterilization, I see the specter of the unthinking bureaucratic administration of bodies—that specter which recalls some of the most horrific memories of the past century.

Our collective memory is crucial as we formulate responses to calls like those of Donald Trump for databases and identification cards for the two million Muslims living in America or by Slavoj Zizek for coordinated military detention and transportation of refugees. To honor this memory, we must reject attempts like those of Trump and Zizek to transform migrants and refugees into numbers in an administrative database or bodies in heavily guarded camps and instead forcefully affirm their freedom of movement that marks them as denizens of the Grayzone.

A final sign that marks someone as a denizen of the Grayzone is being targeted by or otherwise being at war on two fronts. Here, Dābiq gives significant attention to the “grayish calls and movements” of the “independent” Islamic parties in the Syrian Civil War.

To this account of “grayish” factions of the Syrian Civil War, it would be remiss not mention the Kurdish fighters of Rojava who are attacked regularly by both ISIS and the West—in the guise of NATO-ally Turkey. In their struggle for neither a nation-state nor a caliphate but a large territory of autonomous self-governed communities the Rojavan Kurds offer a powerful articulation of the Grayzone and the ethical and political possibilities that exists beyond the two choices proffered by ISIS and the West.

It is, however, not necessary to look as far afield as the Syrian civil war to find examples of those targeted by both ISIS and the West. As I have already discussed, this is also the case for Muslims in the West who face the daily threat of Islamophobic violence but would just as likely face violence at the hands of ISIS. So too is it the case with the refugees, who find themselves trapped between two hostile worlds and are thus forced to inhabit the Grayzone between them.

Facing this many-headed hydra intent on the destruction of the Grayzone, we cannot stand idly by.

Instead, heeding the grayish call, we must resist any attempt to divide the world into “us versus them” and rupture the fictive unity of these two camp by refusing to allow violent acts to be perpetrated in our name.

To defend the Grayzone means to call out Islamophobia and make sure that Muslim communities are safe. It means to counter an isolationist border policy by welcoming the stranger, the migrant and the refugee into our midst. And it means to refuse to let our grief to be draped in a flag, responding with the same outrage and grief to the airstrikes of the West as we did to the attacks in Paris.

Rejecting the narrative of an inevitable Clash of Civilizations, we must instead insist on coexistence. In the face of calls for its extinction, we must celebrate the entangled life that flourishes in the messy indeterminacy of the Grayzone.

Sam Law is a delivery boy in Brooklyn, NY. When not delivering bagels, he writes about and participates in struggles for autonomy, life and the commons. He blogs at The Counter Apparatus. Follow him on Twitter at @walmas.

Dreaming of democracy: refugees on Europe’s periphery

Tensions are rising in Slovenia, where passing refugees continue to dream of Europe while the local population is losing all hope of a better future.

Photo: refugees waiting in line to board a ship in Greece, by CAFOD Photo Library, via Flickr.

Many Slovenians have very firm opinions on refugees without ever having seen one of them: surely, they are all dangerous Islamists and they come to Europe to take something away from us. The few people here that have had personal contact with the refugees generalize their singular experience into a bigger picture: if one sees a group of refugees composed of mostly men, then surely only men are coming, and women and children are there just for the cameras.

Others still create a pattern based on second hand information: one refugee with an expensive smartphone turns into all of them just pretending to be destitute; one woman saying on TV that she would not stay here because Slovenia is too poor, explains why all the refugees want to go to Germany.

I can agree that the refugees are about to take something away from us, here on Europe’s periphery. They threaten our miserable status quo, imposed by our neoliberal rulers. Yes, Slovenia is poor, compared to Germany. There is a certain subconscious concession in the indignation over the refugees unwilling to stay here: were Slovenia a prosperous, tolerant and open minded society, they would certainly think twice.

By merely passing through, they hold up a mirror to us. If they managed their ultimate pilgrimage so far, they will persevere to a place where they feel welcome. They cannot easily feel welcome in Slovenia. Let me explain why, as someone working at a refugee camp.

Slovenian authorities have perfected a “humanitarian corridor.” It is intended for the transfer of refugees across the territory of Slovenia as quickly as possible without any contact with the local population–lately not even with the media. Considering the majority’s intolerance towards the refugees, the corridor protects the refugees at least as much as the locals.

Presently, a barbed wire fence is being erected on the Slovenian-Croatian border. Only weeks ago the Prime Minister publicly boasted of Slovenia as ‘too European and progressive’ to ever follow the example of our Hungarian neighbors and close off the border. To save his face, he speaks of ‘technical barriers’ being installed, but no one is fooled.

The media also do their part. First they referred to “refugees”, then to “migrants” and now to “foreigners”. These are not exactly synonyms. Refugees fleeing to save their lives have the right to international legal protection. Migrants “only” flee poverty — as if extreme poverty in Nigeria or Iraq was not a matter of life and death; as if both, refugees and migrants were not pushed to leave their countries by the same factors and actors ruling our unequal world. And foreigners are simply all those who are not us. Yet, from what I have seen, these people, however we call them, are us in more than one way.

So far, the barbed wire on the European Union’s outer rim has only stopped local wildlife in its tracks. The free flow of people is one of the EU’s trademarks, after all. The refugees cannot be stopped and there is something hopeful in this power of the powerless. Their sheer number is formidable, when encountered in an open field, at a train station, or in a refugee camp. Perhaps that is why sensationalist media speak of an “invasion”, when only a million of them have reached Europe this year. I say only a million, because there are 500 million Europeans, and the thing to fear most is still our own irrational fears.

To feed this fear, the refugees better remain abstract numbers to us. If we knew their personal stories and saw them as human beings, it would be much more difficult to fear and loathe them. Numeration is good for something else too: it helps to dehumanize the refugees in their own eyes.

Have you ever wondered why they had to ride, walk and even swim the 2,000 kilometer Balkan trail, while an airplane would take them to Germany in a few hours? Maybe, so that now when they arrive at their final destination, they’re so exhausted, deprived, humiliated and apathetic that they are easy to handle. Moreover, they are grateful their ordeal is over and many cannot wait to start their new careers as cheap labor — pushing labor costs down for all workers and promising an uncertain future for their integration.

Crossing Slovenia, the refugees are so detached from their surroundings they often do not know where they are. But the isolation in the “corridor” is only one reason Slovenia doesn’t appear welcoming to them. In the refugee camp where I volunteer for the Red Cross, some government employees and even humanitarians are quite openly hostile to the refugees.

A soldier guarding the camp told me that his entire unit was to go on a mission abroad. Instead, they were stuck on endless freezing night shifts at the refugee camp. Missions abroad are the only opportunity for the soldiers to augment their sorry salaries. The refugees on the other hand, the soldier said, traveled with hundreds of thousands of euros on them. I asked him how many cases like that he knew out of over 180,000 refugees that have crossed Slovenia recently. He knew two.

The police in the camp have other understandable worries. They are in charge of preventing the refugees from scattering outside the corridor (although upon their registration the refugees receive a temporary Schengen visa allowing them to move freely). When a large group of refugees are waiting at the camp to be let across the border to Austria, special police forces in full combat gear yell at them and have their clubs out, ready to prevent a stampede. The police must feel uneasy for they are perhaps a few dozen commanding close to a thousand sometimes.

Their mission to keep the crowd in check reminds somewhat of the “1% versus 99%”. Our oligarchs are also well armed by extension of the state repressive apparatus and well protected by our political and legal institutions. Their media discourse is loud and authoritative to make them appear more powerful than they are. The multitude opposing the outnumbered police is poorly equipped for survival, let alone for confrontation. They obey because they still have something to lose: hope. Hope for a better life in the Promised Land of Europe. What hope, what future do we Europeans on the periphery have left, hopelessly caught as we are in daily struggle for survival, debt, consumerism and instant gratification? What can we still believe in?

No one speaks of religion in the camp; I have seen no one pray. The children are numb with hardship and discomfort, as if they had no more tears to cry. Adults look serious and irritated with extreme fatigue. Some tell me that this refugee camp is the first on the Balkan trail where they are entitled to a warm shower, a proper dinner and some sleep, albeit in noisy and smelly tent structures increasingly unfit for winter temperatures. Meanwhile, neighboring Croatia claims to champion humanitarian solidarity by opening its borders and letting all incomers to gather at the gates of Slovenia.

This “humanitarian” policy consists of setting the maximum time for a refugee to spend in Croatia between 6 and 12 hours. Slovenian authorities follow the rules of a de facto defunct Schengen system that slows down the flow of refugees for the sake of bureaucracy. The refugees end up being grateful for that because it means warm food and rest. They are after all human beings, not goods to be transported and delivered ASAP. Some have been traveling for weeks, those from Afghanistan and Pakistan for months. I have met three young boys from Kabul who made it to Slovenia alone, covering 6,000 kilometers.

Although exhausted, many refugees are willing to recount their experience. Young Syrian university graduates, two men and a woman, travel together. Syria is currently being depopulated, they say, the border with Turkey is unguarded; a sign of a failed state. So those who prefer peace to war and cannot identify with the radical Islam of ISIS leave first for Turkey. When these three saw the conditions in Turkish border refugee camps, they pushed on to Greece and survived the rubber boat crossing of the increasingly choppy Mediterranean. They are critical of Arab contemporary art: it lacks abstraction and memory, they say, seemingly unaware of the orientalization by the orientalized.

They abhor traveling together with other refugees who are different from them and who, unlike them, have nothing to offer to Europe. These educated atheist Syrians complain so earnestly of those “peasants’” eating and hygiene habits that they make me smile at how similar we are, similarly intolerant to Others. They try to keep their individualism – another very western concept – alive, just like that young woman who badly needs a coat but is not happy with the size of the one I find for her in the clothes storage tent.

The shoes are the wrong color, too, but this is her challenged self, trying to survive in anonymous crowd, not vanity or pickiness as the soldier outside the tent hisses. Today you help them, tomorrow you’ll get a bullet in the head, he adds knowingly. I have learned not to react to such assumptions; one cannot win an argument with those who know it all. Only children deserve unmitigated compassion, perhaps some of the police and military have kids at home, too.

From a distance the refugees all seem the same, even within the camp. A dark crowd of the malnourished and poorly dressed, faces tight with worries. Only from up close can you tell Syrians from Afghanis–the two most represented ethnicities–hear a Babylon of languages, and appreciate their diversity. Were the European Union’s motto ‘United In Diversity’ anything more than a political platitude, these people would be an asset, for they are all sorts and kinds.

On my evening shift, one large group is leaving for the no man’s land between Slovenia and Austria where they will wait for long hours in the freezing cold to be transported onwards. Meanwhile, another group is already walking off and limping on the next train. For a short time, the enormous tents housing hundreds are almost empty. A family in the far corner waits for a child who had to be hospitalized. An old man and his daughter have also been allowed to spend the night inside with their gravely ill wife and mother. The doctor says that she has hours to live and her hollow face has the gray color of the dying.

She refuses to go to the hospital so her deathbed is set amidst temporarily empty army bunk beds and aggressive smells of garbage and excrements. Her dignified relatives seem at peace with her departure. The frail old man starts telling me of his life in Syria as a journalist and political activist, his 16 years in prison, the horrors of torture by five different Syrian secret police, and finally, the difficult escape together with his sick spouse.

The daughter, a lawyer, shows me her father’s sentence: to become a non-human, unworthy of funeral, were he found dead. I bled for democracy, the old man says in French. How could this man not have a place in the stronghold of democracy the European Union claims to be?  Unless this word, democracy, means nothing anymore.

It seems that Europe cannot get rid of barbed wire. The bygone era of borders and fences is catching up with us all over again. The Europeans–at least the ones on Europe’s periphery–see their European dreams shattered by non-Europeans who still believe in it. Maybe the refugees will settle down among us, and open their eyes to the reality around them. Then, we can finally get to know each other, and perhaps even start creating a different Europe together.

Cirila Toplak is a professor of political science at the University of Ljubljana, animal welfare activist and Red Cross volunteer.

Paris attacks: it’s time for a more radical reaction

In the wake of the Paris attacks fingers were pointed in all directions, but few were directed at France itself. What has radicalized the French youth?

Photo: A young man is arrested at a student protest in Paris, by Philipe Leroyer, via Flickr.

The deadly attacks in Paris on the night of Friday, November 13, were quickly met by a global rush of solidarity with France and the French people. From world leaders expressing their sympathies, to raising the French flag on buildings across the globe, and more visibly, on Facebook profiles, everyone stood unequivocally united with France.

The sentiment of solidarity behind this mass concern is heart-warming, however it must come hand in hand with a demand for a serious debate on matters of terrorism, violence and war. Rage and sadness should not hinder our ability to think.

Why Paris? Who were the attackers, and how could they do such things? How can we counter these kind of attacks? Before bowing to the often narrow interpretations provided by the media and our political leaders, we must look for well-informed answers to these important questions. The current response–including more French bombings in Syria and extreme security measures on French territory–may be a fuel for further violence, rather than bring viable solutions.

“Us versus Them”

As a French national, the sudden inundation of the tricolored flag on my Facebook wall was a little unsettling. I do feel grateful for the surge of solidarity and wonderful messages calling for love and unity from all over the world. However, I find myself wondering if the French flag is truly the appropriate symbol to demonstrate this call for peace and inclusiveness, and to bring people together in unity against terror.

To me, the French flag represents first and foremost the French state, the respective governments that have ruled my country, and their foreign policies. Domestically, it is mostly a nationalist symbol, too often used by the likes of Marine Le Pen to create enemies out of foreigners. It represents certain values defined as “French”, as opposed to foreign values France should not welcome, and as such it can be a dangerous vector of racism.

In parallel to this bleu-blanc-rouge frenzy, many artists and humorists have responded to the attacks defending the stereotypes of French culture; drinking wine, enjoying life, smoking on terrasses. They state that any attack on French values is an attack on enjoying life itself. Although flattering in a way, as they praise what may seem the essence of being French, it unjustly encourages us to see the attacks through the lens of the “clash of civilisations” where enemy and foreign ideals threaten our way of life, our moral values.

Let us be clear about two things. First, in this “us” versus “them” discourse, I am not sure who the “us” is supposed to be. Am I–a French citizen who has long opposed aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East–all of a sudden on the same side as my government?

To many of us, the political elites of the country, who have insisted in involving France in wars that we did not want, are part of the problem. The different successive French governments have indirectly contributed to the rise of extremist groups and the radicalization of young men to join them. Waving the French flag could contribute to diminishing their role and the responsibility they hold in this crisis. Worse, it could legitimize further undesirable military actions abroad.

And second, who is “them”? The “War on Terror”, as it has been clearly framed by world leaders, is not a war in the traditional sense, with a clear, visible enemy. The attackers of the Paris killings weren’t foreigners; most of them were French or European citizens, born and raised on European soil. We are not talking about a mysterious, faraway enemy, but about young French men and women who are as much a part of French society as anyone else.

A show of force

And yet, the French president so promptly declared “war” and intensified the direct and aggressive bombings of IS targets in Syria. The terrorists being mostly European citizens, may it not be wiser to ask ourselves what is wrong in our own societies instead of taking such rash military action abroad?

Worryingly, there has been little resistance within the media or even within French left-wing circles, to Hollande’s policies. Has the emotion and anger from the Paris attacks impeded our ability to recognize that dropping bombs in the Middle East will not resolve the security threats that emanate from within?

Terrorism is an invisible enemy emanating from complex socio-political circumstances, which needs to be tackled in a more subtle and thought-through way. History has shown us that 14 years of “War against Terror” in the Middle East has only contributed to more violence, more terrorism and sadly, more deaths. Isn’t it time we started thinking about different tactics?

Since the attacks, Francois Hollande has proposed changes in the constitution, to make it easier for the state to resort to the use of force when facing terrorism. These changes include an increase in presidential powers, allowing Mr Hollande to enforce security measures without the usual scrutiny of the parliament. The president wants to extent the duration of the state of emergency, limiting freedom of movement and freedom of association, including mass demonstrations, in the name of national security.

The suggested changes could also result in widening the definition of targeted citizens to anyone who is “seriously suspected” of being a threat to public order, opening the door to a worrying reality of aggressive police tactics directed towards poor, disillusioned youth. Furthermore, Hollande wants to withdraw French nationality to any bi-national citizen suspected of terrorism acts.

The president’s reaction is deeply disturbing, and reinforces the skewed vision of a “foreign” enemy, which will inevitable result in discriminatory and racist policies and reactions towards foreigners, or anyone perceived as foreign, in France. More worrying still, is a recent poll in Le Parisien, which shows that 84% of respondents supported the decision to increase the manoeuvring power of the police and the army, while 91% agreed with the idea of withdrawing French nationality to suspected terrorists.

Where are the French values of openness and multiculturalism that we so ardently defend now? We must not let fear and an inaccurate “us” versus “them” discourse justify aggressive policies against our own citizens, or against anyone else for that matter, including refugees fleeing the very terror we claim to fight.

Why did French citizens decide to kill?

The reason why the media has focused on this angle of opposing the French values of liberté, egalité, fraternité, with the fearful and hateful values preached by the IS, is that it gives easy answers to complex questions. Why was Paris attacked? Because, we are told, it represents the heart of freedom, multiculturalism, secularism and joie de vivre. But does it really? France doesn’t always seem to live up to the values it professes.

The real question should be: why did young French (and Belgian) men and boys decide to sacrifice their life to kill members of their own society?

Two answers seem to have emerged. The first, mainly employed by the political elite and the media, is that the killers were “insane”, “brainwashed” and “barbaric”, and could not have acted rationally. This approach refuses proper analysis of the killers’ motives, brushing them aside to favour irrational and extremist religious ideology, and thus justifying a purely violent and heavy-handed response.

The second answer, coming from many left-wing, anti-racist circles, claims that such acts of terrorism are a direct result of France’s foreign and domestic policy. Although both seem radically opposed, they do have one thing in common: they undermine the agency and accountability of the attackers. This second approach, which points out undeniable political considerations, remains flawed in the same way as the first: it forgets that the killers are people who think and act, and not simply passive products of racist and imperialist foreign policy.

It is important to recognize the attackers as human beings, capable of acting and thinking rationally, as it is a first step towards understanding the reasoning behind their actions. Religious fanaticism is simply a vector of violence, as has been the case for many other ideologies in the past, such as nationalism, fascism, or communism. These ideologies are not the root causes of violence. Although this may seem obvious, there is a need to stress that religious extremism is not the reason why a young man would take up a gun and shoot into a crowd, it is simply an instrument to channel their anger.

We must try to look at the very roots of these young men’s discontent. Debates should be opened about the school system, about the ghettoization of urban areas across France, about police violence and domestic anti-terror security measures, about the prison system, about structural racism, about our skewed justice system, about oppressive and strict secularism; and the list goes on.

These questions are complex ones, and ones that are not easy to address. Thus, we prefer to paint the picture in black and white, our values versus their values, rather than to face the internal problems of our broken societies.

The little research that has been conducted on IS fighters, abroad and within Europe, shows that young men don’t necessarily join the extremist group for religious reasons. The Kouachi brothers who carried out the Charlie Hebdo shootings had suffered a difficult childhood in poverty after the suicide of their mother, with little support from social services and surrounded by extreme violence as children.

Anger at injustices they face, alienation, and years of increasing humiliation from the very societies they are meant to be a part of can push young men to express their frustrations through the vehicle of religious extremism. IS just happens to be an organized group, which seriously threatens European societies, and which offers these humiliated and enraged young men a way to defend their dignity and their pride.

As Anne Aly explains: “Religion and ideology serve as vehicles for an ‘us versus them’ mentality and as the justification for violence against those who represent ‘the enemy’, but they are not the drivers of radicalization.”

Radical solutions to radical problems

Radical solutions mean, first and foremost, tackling the problem at its roots. Julien Salingue expressed this idea very eloquently after the Charlie Hebdo shootings: “Deep change, and therefore the questioning of a system that generates structural inequalities and exploitation of violence is necessary”.

Every injustice and every act of humiliation towards a member of society can only cause anger and hatred, which might someday transform into violence. James Gilligan has written extensively about the way the prison system in America serves to intensify the feeling of shame and humiliation that push individuals to violence in the first place. This analysis is useful when looking at European societies, and the processes of discrimination and humiliation that push young men to react violently.

We must condemn all policies, discourses and actions that legitimize and reinforce the politics of hatred. Police violence towards young men of Arab origin, for instance, is frequent in France. Amedy Coulibaly, another actor in the Paris shootings in January 2015, suffered the death of his friend in a police “slipup” when he was 18. This kind of direct aggression perpetrated on a daily basis adds to the structural violence and discrimination young men from underprivileged backgrounds experience in European societies. War for them is not such a distant, disconnected reality, but closer to their every day life.

Every racist insult, act of police brutality, unfair trial, or discriminatory treatment brings them one step closer to carry out tragedies as the massacre in Paris. We must therefore question the very system we live in and the way of life we defend so defiantly after the attacks, for the problem may be closer to us than we imagine.

Claire Veale is a graduate from the SOAS, University of London, in Violence, Conflict & Development. Having lived and worked in several continents, she is particularly interested in writing about social movements, Latin American politics, gender rights and international development issues.

Don’t make refugees pay for the terror they’re fleeing

Shutting down borders and blaming Muslim immigrants for the Paris attacks would give ISIS precisely the type of “civilizational conflict” it craves.

Photo: refugees arriving in Europe in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.

The recovery of a Syrian passport at the site of one of the Paris terror attacks has the European press and the continent’s right-wing politicians in an uproar.

The document, found near the remains of one of the suicide bombers, had been registered by Greek authorities on the island of Leros on October 3, 2015, leading to speculation that some of the assailants may have been jihadists traveling from the Syrian battlefields to Europe posing as refugees.

Even as the identity of the actual assailant remains unknown (the document could have been stolen or forged in Syria or Turkey), the xenophobic right is already seeking to capitalize on the news for political gain.

On Saturday, Poland’s new right-wing government slammed EU plans to deal with the ongoing refugee crisis by redistributing asylum-seekers among member states. The country’s Minister for European Affairs stated that “Poland must retain full control over its borders, asylum and immigration.”

Horst Seehofer, the conservative Prime Minister of Bavaria and a key ally of Angela Merkel, similarly declared that “we need to know who is traveling through our country. As well as more security measures, we need tighter control of the European borders, but also of the national borders.”

Giving in to such fear-mongering would be the biggest mistake Europe could make right now. It would give the attackers precisely what they were after: the intensification of nationalistic tensions, the framing of the attacks as part of a wider religious conflict, and the closure of Europe’s borders to the hundreds of thousands trying to escape from ISIS’ so-called “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq.

The truth is that the terror attacks play straight into the hands of Europe’s xenophobic right, whose stereotypical over-reaction in turn reinforces the resolve of the jihadists, in a vicious cycle that will only lead to further bloodshed. Every time there is a terror attack, there is a rise in support for anti-immigrant parties; and wherever the right feels emboldened to attack or rail against Muslims, the jihadists present it as yet another justification and recruiting tool for their holy war against the infidels and crusaders.

The only thing that can break this vicious cycle is to step out of it: by refusing to give in to the fear, the binary narratives, the calls to close borders, to further abrogate civil liberties and militarize society.

Solidarity remains our single greatest weapon against terror in all its varieties. As the Arab Spring activist Iyad El-Baghdadi – who actively follows the chatter among hundreds of jihadist and Islamist accounts on Twitter – has noted: “nothing pissed off Islamist extremists” more than “watching [Europe's] very humane, moral response to the refugee crisis.”

This observation makes sense. Many of the Syrian families that recently found refuge in Europe are directly fleeing ISIS’ terror. Others, of course, are escaping the state terror of the Assad regime, while a handful, undoubtedly, are foreign jihadists returning to Europe. And yet large parts of European society (not its states) welcomed the refugees with open arms, fundamentally undermining the “clash of civilizations” narrative on which both the European far-right and the jihadists depend for their political survival and success.

In this sense, the #RefugeesWelcome mobilizations of September were a thorn in the side of extremists on both sides of the supposed civilizational divide — because they actively broke down the false binary that sustains the divide in this first place. Friday’s attacks seemed to reflect this fact.

Unlike the last round of attacks in January, this time the jihadists struck neither the symbols of the French state (like its police, army or national monuments), not its Jewish community or its public intellectuals with a reputation for criticizing Islam (like the Charlie Hebdo editors or the Kosher supermarket).

Instead, as Manu Saadia has noted, the attacks directly targeted the symbols of cosmopolitan Paris: the bustling nightlife on the multicultural rive droite (“the land of hipster socialists”); the young people attending a concert by a Californian rock band; and the national stadium – the very epitome of the black, blanc, beur ideal of the Republic’s “successful” integration of immigrant minorities.

Friday’s cowardly attacks, in other words, deliberately avoided targeting the agents of imperialism and Islamophobia – rather, they directly targeted the progressive elements in French society, not just because they constituted an easy-to-hit “soft target”, but especially because they represent such an elementary threat to the various ideologies of hatred.

As for the Syrian passport, we still do not know who the document really belongs to, but one thing is clear: whoever brought it with them wanted it to be found. Why else carry a passport on a suicide mission? Taking the document was clearly intended to send a political message to the French people: “You bombed us and provided refuge to our enemies. Now we have penetrated your borders and infiltrated your society. You are not safe.”

If this sounds uncannily like the type of statements right-wing politicians like Marine Le Pen have been making over the past years, that is because it essentially reflects the same belligerent worldview – which is precisely why we must reject it. Europe must welcome refugees not in spite but because of what just happened in Paris.

The vast majority of refugees who have been arriving on Europe’s shores these past months are people fleeing from exactly the type of murderous violence that has now struck at the heart of the continent, and that already struck countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Russia before. Instead of setting us apart with ever higher walls and fences, Friday’s attacks should bring us closer to the victims of terror everywhere; Islamist terror as much as state and imperialist terror.

As human beings, we have a moral obligation to continue welcoming those fleeing conflict, wherever they may come from – just as we, as European citizens, have a strong political obligation to continue the fight against terror and fascism in all its forms and guises.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher at the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the European University Institute, and the founding editor of ROAR Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @JeromeRoos. This article was originally written for teleSUR English.

Celebrating survival: tripping into the new Turkey

Hope remains, but fear dominates. Love resists, while the outrage spreads. After the Turkish elections one thing is certain: the struggle continues.

All photos by Ulas Yunus Tosun.

The winners of the elections in Turkey are the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, their party and all the nationalist and conservative people who wanted ‘security’ and ‘stability’. The race was not fair but they won anyway. They set the rules of the game and decided to play it alone.

The minorities that were not killed in the run up to the elections led a heroic campaign. The survivors must be celebrated for their sound politics, their courage, their diligence, their ethics and their open heart. Too many people were hurt, and more are being crushed because the majority won.

We all tried to be rational about the electoral process. We knew that it was a lie, but we tried to motivate ourselves despite daily news of arrests, people being fired, lynched and attacked. We practised suffering together as we were forced to watch peaceful people being killed, towns occupied and forests burned before our eyes.

Some time ago, we noticed that we tended to step out from rational zones. At some point rumours, dramatic and pervert performances of violence, and big lies became serious data. These shifts started a little more than two years ago, and we have been on this strange collective trip since Gezi. We did not have a choice; we were forced on it. No more 24-hour time rules, and usually, it all starts with some sparkles.

We lost control of time one week before the elections. We were just about to happily adapt to capitalist wintertime, but we did not. We started living at two times, one wrong but right, and the other right and false. We were told to do that for one week, because of the elections. Arbitrarily, some time after yet another victory of the political right in Turkey, time went back to normal, until further notice.

In principle, allowing time to flow differently could be quite a pleasant and even liberating experience. However, having your time at the mercy of an important little man has irritating effects. In a blink, his human shape can turn into some undetermined creature with an edgy smile under its moustache.

He looks awful in pink on those posters that celebrate female servitude and capital. And there is that voice in the background, repeating itself, saying nothing but leaving you with a feeling of outrage.

Of course, you must have heard about the real winner. He likes it that the whole world is talking about him. He has the capacity to multiply things like buildings and money and people. He even pulled a palace out of a forest. He can change the places and names of things and rewrite history. A big cold wind spreads when he scolds the world.

If you like living in fear of God, you might also like living in fear of him. Even if you know that he is brutal.

But do not let fear take over. Take a deep breath, try to find your flow and settle back into your space. Listen to some soft music to reset the vibes, gently shake your organs and blow through the hair on your arms. You might start to relax, let your heart explode softly into little diamonds. Kind people really do exist.

Behind the veils of this generous and transparent place, there is death. There is a lot of love here too. There is a constant traffic, some people who arrive in masses, people who can’t arrive, people who arrive too soon, and those who won’t go. It is an entire industry full of suffering, mutilated bodies, very little bodies, young smiling faces, old bodies and lungs in need of air.

And suddenly, just like magic, no more potential bombs in the metro.

Does this mean that we are safe now? Why is everything slowing down as they grow bigger all around? Is it because they have the licence to kill now? Who are all these people happy to see a woman’s dead body left naked in the street after being tortured? Will they kick that door in and step through your life with their boots? Do you have anything to hide?

Will you get rid of the books or keep them, even the controversial ones? Do you have strong networks and smart connections since you can’t trust the laws? Did you clean up your computer, save your data and erase all your history, especially the sexy stuff? How will I fight back with these long skinny arms? Will you object consciously and disobey?

Cagla Aykac has a Phd from the EHESS in Paris. She currently lives and teaches in Istanbul.

 

Threatened with eviction, Vio.Me calls for solidarity

The Greek worker-run factory Vio.Me was abandoned by SYRIZA and now faces eviction by the state. They have sent out a call for international solidarity.

Editor’s note: We just received this appeal for international solidarity from the workers at Vio.Me, the recuperated factory in northern Greece:

As a result of the legal battle waged against the Vio.Me workers’ collective, a state-appointed trustee is now organizing a series of auctions with the aim of liquidating the plot of land on which the Vio.Me factory is located. The sale of the land would create the legal ground for evicting the workers from the factory.

Although the workers and the solidarity assembly are determined to stand their ground and defend the factory in all eventualities, the auction process represents a threat and it requires mobilization in order to be prevented.

A first step is to block, through direct action, the first auction that is programmed for 26 November.

This is why we reach out to you, to ask for help and mobilization to put pressure on the government to satisfy the long-standing demands of the Vio.Me workers for the legalization of their activities; the expropriation of the factory and granting it to the Vio.Me workers’ cooperative. After that, Vio.Me will continue to be run in a horizontal and self-managed way, as it has been for three years now.

We appeal for an international week of solidarity, from 17 to 24 November.

  • We welcome any international acts of solidarity, especially ones that involve non-violent direct action towards Greek embassies worldwide.
  • We urge you to organize screenings of this 30-minute documentary by Dario Azzellini and Oliver Ressler, detailing the struggle of Vio.Me through interviews and participation in its assemblies (with English subtitles). You can download a high quality version of the documentary here (407mb).
  • You can send us announcements of your events, and/or photos to be uploaded to Vio.Me´s website, to protbiometal@gmail.com

Please read and circulate the following appeal of the workers for support:

A call for support of the struggle of Vio.Me

Dear solidarity supporters,

We would like to inform you about the latest developments in the struggle of the workers of Vio.Me.

As you know, for four years we have been fighting for our life and dignity. We, the workers, have chosen to establish social alliances. We have rejected the proposals made by various political organizations to have an “exclusive” relationship with our struggle and to direct it on narrow partisan criteria. Nevertheless, we have always all accepted invitations to speak and communicate.

When large parts of society decided to stand by us and support us with whatever means they had available, a large solidarity network was created. Consequently we managed to build relationships of trust, through common assemblies were the wider community can participate, where together we make decisions on the political course of the struggle, as well as on many other issues.

Many political organizations agreed with the political framework that we, together with the wider community, have set. To this day they support our effort to operate the factory with workers’ control of production and self-management by the workers’ assembly.

Among the political forces that supported our struggle was SYRIZA, through statements and commitments for an immediate solution to the issue of operation of the factory, made by the current prime-minister himself.

Of course, after SYRIZA came to power, the statements and the commitments became more and more vague. The determination they demonstrated when they were in opposition was replaced by timidity, and by proposals that we make compromises in a different framework than what we had previously agreed upon.

Their great “achievement” after eight months in government is to abandon the struggle of Vio.Me to the machinations of the judicial system. The same judicial system that, despite having condemned former owner of Vio.Me Christina Philippou to dozens of months in prison, allows her to walk free, supposedly to do community service at a municipality where she has strong “connections”. To this day, she has never showed up at the place where she is supposed to do community work.

We are faced with a judicial system that allows those who have abused and destroyed the Greek society for five years now to walk free, never taking any action to punish them. The “first ever left-wing government” leaves us in the hands of this judicial system.

The political standpoint of the judges is evident through the decisions they have made up to this moment: they have gone as far as saying that we have no legitimate right to demand the money owed by our former employers! In all our attempts to claim our money, both by intervention of the property of Philkeram, and by demanding to operate the factory again, we have received the same answers.

And of course, they do not take any action to find a solution for the operation of the factory, so we, the workers who have decided to stay on, can escape unemployment.

According to the court decisions, the unified plot of land where the Vio.Me premises are located is auctioned on Thursday 26 November, 2015, and for three consecutive Thursdays thereafter. If no interested buyer is found, they will continue with the process until they achieve to sell the land, therefore evicting us from the factory.

This land consists of fourteen separate plots, some of which were directly or indirectly donated by the Greek government to former owner Phillipou in recognition of the “social contribution” of job creation. Now they are put to auction to satisfy the creditors of Vio.Me’s parent company Philkeram: the Inland Revenue Office, the Social Insurance Service, former workers of Philkeram, banks and suppliers.

The premises of Vio.Me represent about 1/7 of the total land, and the area in which it lies could easily be separated from the rest of Philkeram’s real estate. But the employees of Vio.Me are never mentioned in the bankruptcy proceedings, although Vio.Me was a subsidiary of Philkeram, driven to destruction by the parent company’s bankruptcy. Vio.Me is completely neglected, although the mismanagement of the Phillipou family, who transferred funds from Vio.Me and overburdened it with debt for their personal gain, was largely responsible for the bankruptcy. This is a proven fact, since a study by consultants DELOIT concluded there was capacity for normal operation for both companies.

The judicial system once again sides with the forces of capital and makes rulings against the workers who assert the right to work. And of course, the state does not stand up to the challenge of providing solutions.

For this reason, we, the workers of Vio.Me, invite all of you, who have been standing beside us during all this time of struggle, to be present on Thursday 26 November at the auction of the land, to abort their plan to evict us from the Vio.Me factory. A space that we have, for two years now, managed to turn into a place of work and a place of freedom.

We invite you to stand beside us, to support every effort of the workers to make the forces of production autonomous from the capitalist class, a class which anyway has relocated all production abroad.

We invite you to support the operation of the factory, since we, the workers, have declared that we are not leaving, that our lives are now linked to this factory.

We invite you to stand beside us, so we can affirm all together that a solution exists beyond the advice of the “experts”: this time around, the solution lies with those who are directly involved in the struggle, not with the luminaries.

In solidarity,

The general assembly of the workers at Vio.Me

COP 21: movements rally to Paris for climate justice

The COP 21 summit in Paris is approaching, but while the situation is grim the planned social movement mobilizations offer hope and opportunities.

Photo by Alberto Ñiquén.

We know how it all started — colonialism was the original metabolic rift in our history, which has been profoundly extended and deepened by industrial capitalism. Yet as we enter the 6th mass extinction, there is an ambient sense that there is no alternative to this way of life.

We collectively hallucinate that the present order of things will persist indefinitely, silently abiding the comfort and enslavement this disposition provides, all the while waiting for the apocalypse we are living through to blossom fully.

Many have been waiting for the totalizing revolution that appears as a vanishing point on a receding horizon, a perpetually deferred future. The intersecting ecological and climate crises stand as a refutation of more than a hundred years of left-wing teleology that ‘in the end we will win.’ Instead they reinforce the need for constant molecular struggles to open and expand cracks for resistance and new forms of life to flourish.

World governments acknowledge that catastrophic climate change is the defining crisis of our times, and simultaneously fossil fuel corporations continue to benefit from subsidies of $5.3 trillion in 2015, according to the IMF. This is more than all governments spend on health care combined and amounts to an astonishing $10 million every minute.

We have reached a point where we need to keep 80% of fossil fuels in the ground, which would require emission reductions of at least 10% per year by 2025, even as Lord Stern counsels us that a mere 1% emissions reductions rate each year would be associated with economic recession and upheaval.

This requires radical global degrowth, which understandably is unacceptable to billions of people trying to lift themselves out of poverty wrought by colonial and neocolonial depredation and the enforced inequality of smoothly operating capitalism. Yet the overdeveloped states deny their historic responsibility, disregarding principles of equity by refusing to recognize their immeasurable ecological and social debts accrued through their ruinous development processes.

The landmark COP21 provides ecological justice struggles with an unparalleled opportunity to come together as a global movement to put into sharp relief the echoless chasm separating the minimal conditions for a just and livable planet and the political order’s capacity to secure these.

The system is exhausted. The UN COP process merely simulates its continued viability, thus performing the regeneration of its legitimacy. Its collapse is inevitable, in its orbit looms only the question whether it will take civilization with it in its violent, implosive heat death. Futurity dangles ridiculous.

Social Movements

Given the planetary scope of the climate crisis, climate justice is not an ‘issue’ amongst others, but a global frame that permeates the struggle for all forms of social justice. The call for ‘climate justice’ has become the rallying cry of the global movements connecting local struggles for survival across the world in blocking the extraction and flows of carbon and capital. It foregrounds those in the global South who bear virtually no responsibility for the crisis but disproportionately suffer its effects. This demands a forceful response, one cutting across movements in consonance with their interlinked nature.

Imagine the predicted 200 million climate refugees by 2050 as Europe’s Fortress walls (or common border) buckle under the weight of 600,000 refugees arriving across the Mediterranean so far this year. Austerity operates to socialize the risks and privatize the costs of the ‘natural’ disasters that will accelerate in magnitude and scale due to climate change. TPP and TTIP will eviscerate the already meager environmental regulations that could begin to rein in emissions because they also generate friction for accumulation.

The industrial food system is responsible for 44-57% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, making the fight for food sovereignty coextensive with the fight for climate justice. The destabilization and social upheaval attendant with climate disruptions and increasingly scarce resources will be met with merciless state violence that disparately impacts vulnerable and marginalized populations. Although necessary, a mere (just) transition to 100% renewable energy only partially responds to the radical transformations across interconnected dimensions social justice requires.

To maximize its effectiveness, the climate justice movement can endeavor to maintain a capillary nature circulating through the streams of other movements, overflowing the banks of their tributaries and connecting with them on the basis of their existing campaigns to become a roaring confluence of movement flows. Ecology and climate are the molecular integrals across these movements, a shared thread to link them that can be mutually and reflexively incorporated as common terrains for struggle.

The climate movement has matured and changed complexion dramatically since the debilitating failure of Copenhagen. The rhetoric from the movement’s center of gravity has begun to shift away from delegating its power to politicians to calling for system change.

Increasingly, the climate justice wing of the movement has assimilated the radical tactics and tools of movement building mainstreamed through the movements of the squares. It has learned from the experiences of the last six years, as the irruptions of Occupy and the Arab Spring show the potential for explosive social situations in the current context of the dissolution of the political order.

This is why the time is ripe and the climate movement is unique and crucial in its capacity to shine a particularly penetrating light, joining with those of other movements, to show the abyssal depth of these interrelated crises.

Welcome to Disneyland

Against this backdrop, the liberal democratic order holds out the UN COP process as the ideal framework for global governance of a global commons issue par excellence — climate. It is the prevailing order’s mechanism for addressing the existential crisis the climate catastrophe uniquely constitutes. However, the discourse and purported solutions have virtually no relationship to the reality of unraveling planetary ecosystems.

The COP and the political system do not even pretend to countenance the science. The UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christina Figueres confirmed that the Paris agreement is not expected to meet the 2°C target necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change, disavowing the authoritative conclusions of the (conservative) IPCC reports. The negotiations focus endlessly and exclusively on emissions reductions and degrees, never questioning the fundamentals of unending productivism and consumption underpinning the rapacity of the system.

As such, the COP process functions principally through simulating the system’s capacity to resolve the climate crisis with voluntary pledges and intended nationally determined contributions, ‘net zero’ or ‘negative’ emissions relying on geo-engineering, carbon capture and storage and other undeveloped technologies. These blend with the barrage of scientific warnings and swirling quotidian apocalyptic images breeding the sense that we are all in this together and that we can continue our lifestyles uninterrupted via green capitalism.

All these signs become detached from the underlying reality of disintegrating ecosystems all around us and simply exchange for one another in a vertigo-inducing vortex of self-referentiality. It becomes a Baudrillardian simulation, wherein signs (that is, images, symbols, anything interpreted as having meaning) efface the distinction between the imaginary and the real.

These signs do not refer to or represent anything real or authentic, but themselves precede and engender reality and refer to themselves as evidence of this reality: “Then the whole system becomes weightless, it is no longer itself anything but a gigantic simulacrum – not unreal, but a simulacrum, that is to say never exchanged for the real, but exchanged for itself, in an uninterrupted circuit without reference or circumference.”

To further illustrate: The complete set of 400 IPCC scenarios for a 50% or better chance of staying under 2°C assume either a global emissions peak around 2010 (i.e., time travel) or the successful and widespread adoption of speculative geo-engineering technologies to guarantee negative emissions — a substantial proportion of the scenarios rely on both “time travel and geo-engineering.”

Thus the IPCC’s emissions scenarios depend either on non-existent technology and/or the ability to go back in time to 2010 and make global emissions actually peak that year. By rendering indistinguishable the imaginary and the real, the IPCC’s scientific models weave flawlessly in to the simulation as the models themselves produce a real without origin or reality that forms the floating circuit in which the negotiations are conducted.

In this way, the scenario of the COP does not primarily function to falsely represent political reality (ideology) but to conceal that the real of the political has disappeared. The COP is a tool for the metastabilization of a fundamentally destabilized and unsustainable system. It functions to perform the “vitality and viability of politics itself,” the continued reality of the political in the face of the exhaustion of its capacity to resolve the civilizational catastrophe we are living.

Like Disneyland, the COP is neither true nor false; it is a deterrence machine set up to maintain the fiction of the real of the outside, of the extant political order.

We are, thus, no longer primarily in the domain of the ideological. This is a crucial distinction because critiquing the system as ideologically obfuscating is itself ideological, holding out hope for an authentic politics behind it if only we removed the corporate influence from the UN, from politics.

Ideology is a false representation of reality by signs, while simulation is a short circuit of the real and its doubling by signs. Ideological analysis always attempts to resurrect the objective, true underlying process; whereas “it is always a false problem to want to restore the truth beneath the simulacrum.” The COP is an instrument and vehicle of global capital, a key tool in maintaining its endemic unsustainability and enabling it to continue increasing emissions for 20 years of COPs.

Resistance in Paris

Hence, COP21 offers an exceptional global platform for movements, not to restore an illusory political process behind the simulation, but instead to pierce its fascinating surface to reveal the vacuum behind it. Power in the era of simulation does not operate primarily through ideology, but through producing desires and modulating affects. Our political challenge is to disabuse ourselves of viewing the world through an ideological lens, assuming that the provision of information to the masses will dissolve the supposed ideological grip of power.

Resistance needs to touch people at the level of affect and desire, through aesthetic, theatrical, performative actions that are effective and empowering. These can operate to intensify life by opening up micro-spaces to access more potentials, making one incrementally less enslaved to situations, less determined by accumulated tendencies and habits. The major actions planned for COP21 can be seen as responding to this challenge in varying ways, while integrating the ecological justice perspective as indispensable for social justice across struggles.

As those most vulnerable and affected by the already accumulating effects of the wrecked climate, communities at the frontlines of the interlocked struggle against ecological degradation and capitalism will descend on the COP. The summit will be ushered in by the convoys of the French ZADs (zones à défendre) and other territorial struggles converging on Paris on 27-28 November.

Even as this is being written, numerous autonomous spaces are in the process of being opened, drawing on lessons from the ZADs, to organically fertilize resistance and nurture new forms of life that will carry forward beyond the COP.

Then as the latest iteration of the simulation officially begins, Climate Games will launch its opening round on 30 November lasting through 12 December. It is a trans-media platform that merges online disobedience and street action to create a global framework for direct action against the root causes of climate change. It aims to provide a new tool for grassroots autonomous affinity groups to take action through creating a crowd-sourced cartography of creative resistance in real time and real space.

In addition to facilitating effective disruptions of carbon and capital, it works on an affective level to tap the fount of playfulness and imagination. This opens opportunities to augment capacities and enhance degrees of freedom to respond to the apparently irresolvable circumstances in new ways beyond rote mass mobilizations and leftist rhetoric.

Meanwhile, Solutions COP21 begins on 4 December and is the quintessential greenwashing event, where corporations’ relentless efforts to commodify the entire earth and atmosphere will overflow from the Grand Palais. It blends seamlessly into the mise en scène of the COP’s simulation sowing the conditions for the smooth march of green capitalism — a response to climate change ensuring the materialization of the shadows of geo-engineering, resource wars, genocide gathering on the horizon. It will be prevented from opening and perfecting the swirling sea of signs constituting the COP.

Finally, as the COP finalizes its genocidal deal, the “Red Lines” mass action has been called for December 12th (D12) to encircle the conference center. It is considered to be the first time such a wide coalition — over 150 organizations ranging from big NGOs to trade unions, faith groups to radical collectives — has supported a day of disobedience for climate justice.

As such, the action is patterned off the success of Ende Gelände (where more than 1000 people took direct action to shut down an open-pit lignite coal mine in Northern Germany this summer) in endeavoring to normalize direct action across a range of diverse actors, many of whom may not have done disobedient actions before.

The Red Lines will have aesthetic and performative dimensions seeking to fray the COP’s simulation, in part by creating a dilemma moment with the police, wherein they will have to decide whether to allow the disobedient action to flaunt their capacity for control or to brutalize peaceful protesters.

The action strives to seize this opportunity to maximally delegitimize the COP and its performance of the system’s continued legitimacy. It will launch the movement beyond the COP, leaving behind the discursive terrain to reengage in relations of forces through the continued cultivation of a culture of resistance in which direct action is a daily activity fully integrated into our lives. Our collective future demands this.

Last Word, First Steps

The effects of climate change have entered the mainstream psyche, prompting calls of alarm to ring out from liberal institutions like the Pope, the Guardian, and Dutch courts, all highlighting the gravity of the problem and the incapacity of the system to offer any meaningful response.

With the COP’s demonstrated inability to take action in accordance with even the clear dictates of science — the apotheosis of modern rationality — it signals the deeper and more profound malaise of liberal democratic late capitalism, the growing social recognition of an acute systemic impasse, the decomposition of a paradigm that has provided our cognitive coordinates for centuries.

This crisis of legitimacy can be seized transversally by movements. Although the system appears completely entrenched and intractable, its polymorphous crises attest to its precarious ephemerality as a surface without depth. The exhaustion of the Habermasian project of modernity is an index of the times, not just another critique of state and capitalism. The climate and ecological justice lens is the clearest issue to show how incapable the socio-political-economic order is of resolving this existential crisis.

Armed with the weapons and tactics newly generalized across movements from the experiences of Occupy, the Arab Spring, and their mutant offspring, the ecological justice movement can wage this transversal social war to accelerate the implosion of the state-capitalist machine. December in Paris can be a critical waypoint in the global struggle of nature defending itself.

Acknowledgments: The author would like to thank Selj for his invaluable comments and feedback on earlier drafts.

Skye Bougsty-Marshall is a researcher, writer and activist working on mobilizations around COP21.

Kurdish struggle continues, with a smile and a shrug

After the AKP booked an unexpected victory in Turkey’s elections, the country’s Kurdish population looks ahead, determined to continue the struggle.

This article was originally written for teleSUR English. Photo by Aris Messinis.

Just days before last week’s elections in Turkey, the people of the small village of Kocaköy, at an hour’s drive from Diyarbakir, had gathered to commemorate the death of one of their sons. Renaz Karaz had been his nom de guerre, but his mother remembered him as Muhammed. He was only 21 years old when he died on October 30, 2014, in Kobane, where he was helping with the defense of the town against attacks by the so-called Islamic State (IS).

Muhammed’s mother, Rukiye Şık, walks around shaking hands, kissing cheeks and providing comfort to her guests. There’s a sparkle in her eyes, and her face is beautified by a smile that only sometimes disappears. It’s hard to understand how someone who has endured such a loss can still find the power to comfort those around her.

When asked how it is possible for her to maintain a smile on her face, her answer provides a unique insight in the Kurdish mind in these critical times:

“I have so much pain in my heart, but I’m smiling, I’m laughing, because I’m going to win this battle by smiling, not by being sad,” she explains herself. “I have all the power to win this battle. I’m going to stay here, to be living in my country, to be eating my own food. [Erdoğan] is the one that comes to my country and asks me to leave. He’s the one.”

“But,” she continues, “this is my country, and so I’m going to stay here. I’m not going anywhere. God willing, I’m going to stay here, and I’m going to smile. The Kurds’ numbers will increase, and we’re not going to lose anymore. We’re going to win. We’re going to stay in our country and smile until he loses the battle.”

The results of Turkey’s snap elections came as a shock to many, but especially to those who had bore the brunt of the AKP’s anger after the party had lost its majority in parliament for the first time in thirteen years.

The five months between the two elections were marred by violence in which hundreds of people lost their lives; guerrillas and soldiers, policemen and citizens. Two of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Turkey’s history killed almost 140 people, and dozens of people were reportedly killed when security forces attacked neighborhoods and towns were militant youths had picked up arms to protect themselves from the state’s violence.

Just after the closing of the ballot boxes, cars could be seen driving around Diyarbakir, honking their horns with people hanging out the windows, waving flags of the HDP, the leftist party with its roots in the Kurdish freedom movement. Some premature celebrations were livened up by bright fireworks, and slogans of ‘Biji biji HDP!‘ (‘Long live the HDP!’) could be heard in the streets.

And then, the first results were released. These showed an unexpectedly large victory for the AKP, who by the end of the evening seemed to have gathered close to fifty percent of the votes. The HDP only just passed the ten percent electoral threshold, and lost around a million votes compared to June’s elections.

Hope turned to anger; euphoria to disappointment. “How can the people reward them for all the corruption, the killings and the repression?” was an often-heard credo on the streets of the de-facto capital of Turkey’s Kurdish region.

But, after a brief night of mourning and a few isolated clashes between excited youths and the police, Diyarbakir woke up the next morning to a bright blue sky and the warmth of the Mesopotamian sun. People were still angry, disappointed, sad and indignant, of course, but this is something the people of Kurdistan have dealt with all their lives. And they weren’t about to give up hope just yet.

“We don’t focus on these elections, we focus on the struggle,” Süreyya, a 33-year old district manager in one of Diyarbakir’s most impoverished neighborhoods had explained a few days earlier. “We’re fighting against patriarchy and we’re fighting in our daily lives. Not just in politics.”

“The individual struggle is important,” she stated, while sitting down on a plastic chair in a small room of the neighborhood council’s building. “But even more important is the communal struggle. If we want justice, we have to change the entire system. Whatever happens [at the elections], we’ll keep working towards our future.”

The general post-election mood seems to be one of honorable defiance, as if the people won’t allow Erdoğan and his lackeys the pleasure of seeing the Kurds walking around with their heads down, defeated. Shoulders are shrugged, and the struggle continues. With a smile, of course, because that’s how battles are won.

Joris Leverink is an Istanbul-based political analyst, writer, editor for ROAR Magazine and columnist for TeleSUR English. You can follow him on Twitter via @Le_Frique.

 

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