Compassion and Solidarity: Les Miserables and the Plight of Syrian Refugees

President Francois Hollande of France announced yesterday that his country will continue to honor its commitment to settle 30,000 refugees over the next two years. This is in stark contrast to the bigoted and racist responses from various U.S. Governors and GOP presidential candidates, many of which have called for Nazi era registration ID cards for Muslims and the closing of mosques, effectively torching the First Amendment on the spot.

Navigating through all of the hate and ignorance towards the millions of people that are fleeing war can be depressing. In this moment it seems appropriate to invoke some lessons from the literary masterpiece that is France’s own, Les Miserables. 

At the beginning of the book the noble peasant, Jean Valjean, is leaving the galleys after spending 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s seven children. He spends 5 for theft and the rest for repeated escape attempts.

Jean Valjean

After many miles of traveling on foot seeking refuge he is taken in by the gracious Monsieur Myriel, the Bishop of Dinge. What happens next is one of the most beautiful acts of compassion and goodwill in all of literary history:

The bishop, who was sitting beside him, touched his hand gently and said, “You didn’t have to tell me who you are. This is not my house; it is Christ’s. It does not ask any guest his name but whether he has an affliction. You are suffering; you are hungry and thirsty; you are welcome. And don’t thank me; don’t tell me that I am taking you into my house. This is the home of no man, except the one who needs a refuge. I tell you, a traveler, you are more at home here than I; whatever is here is yours. Why would I have to know your name? Besides, before you told me I knew… your name is my brother.”

One would like to think that somewhere deep in the French spirit and the spirit of the world the words of Victor Hugo reverberate from the past and continue to have a lasting effect on the way we treat one another. Whether we have read this book or not; whether we live in the West or the Middle East or South Asia, our humanity shines brightest when we show compassion and solidarity in the darkest of times, this is something that Victor Hugo illustrated so well in his grand epic about a poor peasant that stole a loaf of bread.

Photo: Frontispiece of Les Miserables via archive.org

Reading of this section available here at Awesome Stories

A Benghazi Resident’s Take on Michael Bay’s “13 Hours” Movie

Brave New Libya

Benghazi just can’t catch a break. As if an all-out war isn’t enough, the city is being vilified nation-wide by those who see the war as a misdirected endeavor, and the people of Benghazi are being accused of, yes, destroying their own city! I won’t point out the insensitivity and blatant ignorance of this stance. If you’ve been reading this blog over the years, you’ll be familiar with the slippery slope that led our city to the circumstances it’s in today. The war is horrific and it’s hurting us, but it was also an inevitability brought about by the same people currently pretending like there were other options.

One of the very first incidents that sparked the descent down this slope was the killing of American ambassador Chris Stevens. This event launched the start of Benghazi’s international vilification, as pundits and citizens alike decried the Libyan revolution and the international intervention that bolstered it. “We shouldn’t have…

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Origins of the police

Works in theory

The Five Points district of lower Manhattan, painted by George Catlin in 1827. New York’s first free Black settlement, it became a mixed-race slum, home to Blacks and Irish alike, and a focal point for the stormy collective life of the new working class. Cops were invented to gain control over neighborhoods and populations like this. The Five Points district of lower Manhattan, painted by George Catlin in 1827. New York’s first free Black settlement, Five Points was also a destination for Irish immigrants and a focal point for the stormy collective life of the new working class. Cops were invented to gain control over neighborhoods and populations like this.

In England and the United States, the police were invented within the space of just a few decades—roughly from 1825 to 1855.

The new institution was not a response to an increase in crime, and it really didn’t lead to new methods for dealing with crime. The most common way for authorities to solve a crime, before and since the invention of police, has been for someone to tell them who did it.

Besides, crime has to do with the acts of individuals, and the ruling elites who invented the police were responding to challenges posed by collective…

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Nonviolent Delusion and the Black Lives Matter Protest Movement

 

 

MLK said a riot is the language of the unheard. Thank you Ferguson and Baltimore, maybe they are starting to listen now. . .

 

Seattle two

Our pursuit for justice for Mike Brown, Eric Garner and now Freddie Gray, along with hundreds of others has hitherto existed in a curious paradox when it comes to debating the effects of nonviolent pacifism versus direct action and confrontation. In terms of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, Garner was murdered before Michael Brown. His death was caught on camera for the world to see and the perverse violence and culpability of Daniel Pantaleo’s chokehold is undeniable. In Michael Brown’s case Darren Wilson had the benefit of the prosecutor and law enforcement on his side and no video evidence of what happened. The main difference between the two cases is that in Eric Garner’s death people passively and ineffectively marched and pleaded for justice to no avail by the state. In Mike Brown’s case an entire community rose up, fought back, literally stood their ground, and succeeded in building one of the largest protest movements in recent history. Freddie Gray’s death and ensuing protests have focused the world’s attention back on the U.S. and its racist, militarized police forces. The authorities are running out of fabricated explanations as to why they haven’t brought these thugs in blue to justice and the uprisings and anger, not the pleasantries and marches, are helping to drive this reality home.

Many of the protests thus far have been dominated by activists that are unfortunately victims of the racist, ineffective ideology of nonviolence by any means necessary. It is their go-to tactic to vilify and riot shame anyone that does not adhere to their authoritarian version of passivity in the face of immense violence. They will even do the NYPD’s work for them by becoming citizen cops and reprimand anyone who decides to employ a “diversity of tactics” while protesting. The institutionalized, white supremacist ideology of nonviolent acton is religiously adhered to even by the majority of black organizers. Nelson Mandela did not believe this. Malcolm X did not believe this and even MLK understood the reality of rioting.

The delusion of nonviolence and pacifism stems from the notion that oppressed peoples do not know anything about liberating themselves or fighting back against state brutality. Nonviolence comes from the idea that safe and often times privileged white  intellectuals that have never had to deal with issues of racist cops wontonly murdering them know best how to lead and organize on behalf of the colonized. This is a dangerous road to traverse if we want to truly revolutionize social relations in our society. Nonviolent activists maintain that the “violence” of, say, breaking a window, is somehow commiserate with that of the structural violence of institutionalized racism and imperialism. Furthermore, they cater to the state’s demands, thus validating a system that is predicated on injustice and exploitation . They ask why the protesters are resorting to violence as if we weren’t already living in a society in perpetual violence, both in our local communities as well as abroad where drone strikes seem to operate with the same amount of impunity.

Do these people not realize that it is thanks to the rebellion in Ferguson and now Baltimore that we have even arrived at this inflection point? If Ferguson would have amounted to nothing more than a few marches and vigils similar to what happened after Garner’s murder then we would not have arrived at this moment the way we did. Many people fail to see the effectiveness of the riots and the so called “violence” that the citizens resorted to because the mythology of nonviolence has been so deeply embedded into the national psyche despite the evidence to the contrary.

If oppressed peoples are supposed to be the ones leading such movements then why are we allowing the movement against police brutality to be dominated by tactics that come out of the privileged bourgeois tradition of nonviolence?  Most of the time supporters of pacifism have been afforded the luxuries of have their basic needs met. Oppressed people have no other option other than to take direct action against such abominable oppression.

So if you see any of your brave comrades decide to do something other than hold a sign or walk on the sidewalk please support  them and understand that we are all allies of the same cause with the same goals, some of us believe in using different tactics at different times rather than always adhering to the state’s prescription of nonviolence.

Time to fight back against police impunity!

Justice for all those of police brutality, racism, imperialism.

#blacklivesmatter

Expect Resistance!

From Mike Brown to Eric Garner, the Specter of Revolt is Haunting NYC.

ferguson curfew

“A riot is the language of the unheard.” – Martin LutherKing Jr.

Louie Michel

A specter is haunting New York City, the Specter of Ferguson.

Virtually every major news outlet, member of the black liberal establishment, and authority figure in government has been stressing the importance of peaceful, nonviolent protest to the killing of Mike Brown. They say that rioting is counterproductive and accomplishes nothing. They are wrong. Proof of this can be seen in the local and international response to the deaths of Mike Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in NYC.

– July 27, 2014, in Staten Island, New York, Eric Garner was murdered by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo’s vicious chokehold for selling untaxed cigarettes. His murder was caught on camera by a brave bystander by the name of Ramsey Orta and uploaded for the world to see. Eric Garner’s murder gained some national news in the United States and outcry from various civil rights organizations but soon after fell out of the 24 hour news cycle. Garner’s death became just another black man brutally killed with impunity by law enforcement despite the incontrovertible video evidence, including Mr. Garner himself pleading, “I can’t breath, I can’t breathe” numerous times before he senselessly died. His death was on the verge of being shelved in the rolodex of “another black man murdered by the cops.” Then Ferguson happened. People began to stand up to injustice by doing something other than just march. They began to defy curfews, expose the militarism of the police-industrial complex, and make history rather than be shaped by it.

– August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, Mike Brown is gunned down and killed by officer Darren Willson. The shooting took place not because Brown robbed a helpless person at gunpoint but because he was stopped for jaywalking! As most people in this country now know, Darren Wilson was acquitted by a grand jury that was led by a law enforcement friendly prosecutor, Robert McCulloch. Riots broke out in Ferguson after Mike Brown’s death, as well as when the announcement was made that there would be no indictment of Darren Wilson. These riots sparked protests and mobilizations across the country and spearheaded a 21st century discussion of institutionalized racism, militarism of communities, policy brutality and systemic impunity in the age of Obama.

What did the peaceful protests that took place against the death of Eric Garner accomplish other than a few news pieces and the same old condemnation by the black liberal establishment led by the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson? Not many people in this country even heard of Eric Garner before Mike Brown’s death. In the end the few days of direct action in Ferguson created more attention and were more effective than the peaceful protest marches on behalf of Eric Garner.

In Ferguson they torched cars and businesses, resisted the police by throwing their tear gas canisters back at them, refused to disperse and courageously made their voices heard to the world on their own terms and no one else’s. And their resistance instantly gained international attention. From France to Russia to China to Iran, Ferguson was front page news around the world   and it wasn’t because people peacefully marched like they did in Staten Island. No, it was because they employed the tactics of direct action to bring attention to the fact that a unarmed black teenager was killed by a white officer and nothing was done about it.

The monopoly of violence that the state possesses should never go unchallenged, particularly when a great injustice has taken place. There is nothing wrong with peaceful marches and nonviolent civil disobedience, but we must not be fooled into the false narrative that direct action and violence as it is defined by the state is always wrong.

Expect resistance!

Authorities in Ferguson – Expect Resistance!

violence-erupts-ferguson-missouri

The state has a monopoly on violence.

The grand jury’s decision not to indict Deron Wilson, the police officer that killed Michael Brown, further proves what many of us have known for too long: that the state is the only legitimate source of violence in our society. It validates its impunity through a judicial system of kangaroo courts that protect the rich and oppress the poor. Domestically it imprisons black and brown people at astronomical levels via the prison industrial complex and literally obliterates entire cities internationally.

And they expect us to listen to them when they demand we remain peaceful?

Haven’t we remained peaceful long enough? We marched one million strong in opposition to the invasion of Iraq (again) in March, 2003. We peacefully marched to demand justice for Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Ramarley Graham and Michael Brown. To no avail.  While police were stopping and frisking black and brown people in 2012 to the tune of 500,000 in 2012 in NYC not one banker from any of the major financial institutions that caused the financial crisis was put in jail.

Many of us knew when Robert McCulloch, the prosecutor that presented the case to the grand jury, was selected to present the case that the decision was already made. His family ties to law enforcement guaranteed his partiality and commitment to protect the interests of law enforcement. We’ve had enough!

When Eric Garner was brutally choked to death on camera in Staten Island, NY, there was discontent. People marched in protest to his death. But after a few news cycles his death was no where to be seen in the news despite how blatant the evidence of his murder was.

In Ferguson the protesters responded with rage and that rage generated global attention and placed Civil Rights in the age of Obama front and center. Michael Brown’s death became front page news around the world. It also brought global attention to the fact that the Department of Defense is supplying local law enforcement with weapons and vehicles that are used in war, not local policing. What caused the international light to shine on Missouri ? It was the extremely brave activists that defied authorities and refused to do what they were told. Ferguson will be remembered not because people did exactly what the authorities forced them to do but because they defiantly protected the spirit of Michael Brown. His death will not be remembered for the quiet lines of people cowering to the police, but by people at the barricades that fought back to the oppression that the hangs so heavily in the air in America.

Expect Resistance!

Panopticon Rising: Citizenfour Film Review

panopticon 2

By Louis Michel

New York – Virtually everyone in the world at some point in the past year saw Edward Snowden’s face on a telescreen. His image was ubiquitous and the information he coveted and later divulged to the world is one of the biggest releases of classified government documents in history.  Citizenfour, the new documentary directed by Laura Poitras, premiered in New York City on Oct 10th and has since shook the film world to its very core. Not only is the documentary about one of the most explosive news events in recent history, it is also a moving portrait about one man’s journey of self-sacrifice in the name of the public good. Much of it was filmed in real time when global headlines were reporting on the encounter between young “infrastructure analyst” at Booze Allen Hamilton and a few passionate journalists. Along with some contextual scenes about the NSA and other relevant activists and whistleblowers such as William Binny and Jacob Applebaum, her film mainly chronicles the initial encounters that Poitras, along with Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian, had with Snowden in Hong Kong’s Mira Hotel just days before they broke the story.

The many thousands of documents released by Snowden detail how the NSA, along with Britain’s GCHQ and several other government agencies around the world, illegally and systematically collect and analysize personal data under the obscure guise of “national security,” thus invading the privacy of millions of people around the world, including various heads of state, such as Angela Merkel and Dilma Rousseff. In the U.S., the surveillance state that the government is constructing is an all-seeing, monolithic apparatus “whose reach is unlimited but but whose safeguards are not.” As Snowden explains, NSA programs such as Prism and Upstream take data directly from the servers of various tech firms such as Apple, Google, Yahoo, Youtube, Skype, and Microsoft. And the worst part of all, the tech companies provided full assistance to the NSA. 

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Despite Snowden’s insistence that the stories being published should never be about him the film can’t help but hone in on the soft-spoken, extremely brave, yet vulnerable 29 year old that felt compelled by his moral convictions to tell the world how the oppressive tentacles of the state are slithering their way deep into the everyday public life. In the film Snowden explains how this creeping intrusion has the effect of diminishing the functionality of democracy so much so that society is not longer made up of a social body composed of the elected and the electorate but one of the ruling and the ruled where the ruled have less and less agency over the decisions made by those in power. Despite the severity of Snowden’s situation, as the film unfolds there is a calmness to him that one only finds in someone with a clear conscious. He makes it clear that not only does he have nothing to hide but that he feels at peace with the idea that the public is now empowered to better make its own decisions about what the reach and scope of the government’s power should be. He is also unwavering in his conviction to not be bullied by the powers that be, and it is inspiring almost beyond comprehension.

Perhaps the most chilling scenes in the movie come when the viewer is able to see firsthand the real life implications of the surveillance state on someone that has full knowledge of the brute scope and power of the NSA’s unrestrained capabilities. In one scene Snowden is casually sitting on his hotel bed in conversation with Mr. Greenwald when he takes a red cloak and pulls it completely over himself to prevent any potential eavesdropping, from what it is not certain. The only thing certain is that the gaze of the panopticon is omnipotent and that is enough to encourage him to take every precaution he can. His keystrokes cannot be seen nor heard and those in the room are in disbelief that what they are witnessing is in fact not science fiction but the direct result of immense danger of unchecked political power. In a different age this would have been a type of paranoia that only the likes of George Orwell would conceive of, but in Citizenfour this truth is brought home with a terrifying realism that even one sitting in their auditorium seat will ask themselves, “I wonder if they are watching me watch this movie?”

In order for state power to be effective at negating challenges to its hegemony over the body politic it is necessary to normalize the relations of power between those who wield the tools of oppression and those that are subject to it. The implementation and duration of that power must be so frequent and so rigorous that it becomes normalized, and most importantly, internalized by the social body. If these power relations become internalized in every day behavior then it no longer becomes necessary to directly subvert democratic processes because the internalization of oppression becomes a self-perpetuating phenomenon that infects the subconscious and compartmentalizes itself into the social fabric. The surveillance will thus become automatic and perpetuate itself, even in the event that a great majority of people may oppose the illegality of say, the NSA collecting data on millions of people. The insidiousness of such a powerful global power dynamic has hitherto never been created in the history of mankind. When watching this film one cannot help but wonder if the “docile bodies,” as Michel Foucault referred to them, have become so imposed upon that the tipping point to turn back the other way has eclipsed itself.

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