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.

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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

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

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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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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. . .

 

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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!

Panopticon Rising: Citizenfour Film Review

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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.

Occupy Comics Review: love letter to an ongoing struggle

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The Occupy Comics anthology was finally released a few days ago via Black Mask Comics and it is nothing short of breathtaking. It is an example of the the great things than can happen when the spirit of the DIY punk attitude converges with some of the greatest talents in the comic industry. What they have produced is a love letter to one of the most inspiring social movements in recent history. The comic is alive. It is a living, breathing collection of stories and art that will live on and, just like the movement itself, continue to inspire for generations to come.

The project was organized by Mat Pizzolo and funded by a simple Kickstarter page.  A few of the of the contributors include Charlie Adlard (The Walking Dead), David Lloyd (V for Vendetta), Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night), Joshua Dysart (Swamp Thing, Unknown Soldier), and the legendary Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell).

There are vignettes and short stories about everything Occupy: historical snippets of the Homestead Massacre, the Occupy Sandy efforts to assist people out in Far Rockaway, and the touching story of a family getting evicted from their home. All these works serve as powerful stories that encompass the struggle for social justice. Occupy Comics explores many different aspects of the movement, including a vignette from an “evil” banker that engenders sympathy from even the most anti-capitalist of Occupy supporters. The work is poignant while being non-partisan when it comes to the ideological vistas represented in OWS and that is one of its greatest strengths.

Anyone who participated in Occupy Wall Street before its main hub in Zuccottii Park was was brutally razed by Michael Bloomberg and his repressive army will immediately be transported back to the park where all of the great discussions, activism, interaction and protest took place on a daily basis. Reading through the comic is like opening a time capsule to the days when thousands of people were coming down to the park or marching against all of the impunity and criminality that precipitated the largest global economic crisis since the Great Depression.

One of the highlights of Occupy Comics is the brilliant essay by Alan Moore. His piece alone is well worth picking up the anthology. He wrote a 23 page article entitled, “Buster Brown at the Barricades: Foment in the Funnies and Comics as Counter-Culture.” Many people have been writing off Mr. Moore lately because of his acridity and criticism of the mainstream comics writers and the industry as a whole. Perhaps he hasn’t read a lot of their work. Perhaps he is a little jaded, but he is correct in his lamentations and opinions and his article proves that he continues to be passionate about comics and the power that they have wielded throughout history, both politically and as a story telling device. By reading his piece one gets the sense that his criticism comes from his sadness and frustration over the potential of what comics could be if they were not hijacked by the philistines in the entertainment industry.

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His article also reads like the perfect condensed history of the comic book: From its beginnings on the back of stones that nameless toilers stacked on ancient Egyptian pyramids to the Prohibition bootleggers that smuggled their booze from Canada, comics have always been a medium where the dispossessed, illiterate and unloved found solace, where the origins of the political cartoon scribed on an unused carton in 17th century Italy spoke truth to power. Occupy Comics is the perfect manifestation of that power and potential. It is a throwback to the origins of comics and a contemporary protest piece that will stand the test of time and serve not as a monument to a movement defeated, but a rallying cry to a struggle that continues every hour of every day.

To purchase this comic go here

NASA funded study warns of societal collapse-or, godspeed you bleak civilization!

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A trending article in The Guardian, along with a recent study funded by NASA written by Safa Motesharrei, Jorge Rivas and Eugina Kalnay, warns of the imminent collapse of global civilization. In their paper they maintain that two major themes reoccur throughout history that contribute to the collapse of societies: “(1) Ecological Strain and (2) Economic Stratification.” They also say that technology will only solve so many issues before it becomes obsolete at preventing the collapse. It sounds alarmist, but in 2014 the precariousness of planet Earth and the fragile fabric holding it all together becomes more strained every day.

They point out that societal “collapse” often appears as trivial but is indeed backed up by historical data. “The rise-and-collapse” process has occurred many times over the centuries and for largely the same reasons. From ancient Babylon, Mesopotamia, Sumeria and Maya, civilizations rose to great heights only to precipitate eventual collapse and downfall. They observe that the rise-and-collapse of civilization is the norm rather than the exception to large agrarian based civilizations.

One would not be mistaken for feeling compelled to believe that modern society is prone to the same fate. In fact, not only does their study, along with the thousands of years of the historical record say so, but so does any observation of the current state of the global capitalist economy. Capitalism, from its very inception, is a system based on compound, exponential growth. This, of course, is a great problem on a planet with finite resources. The ecological strain that the planet is currently undergoing due to this phenomenon is one of hitherto unprecedented heights. From global warming to resource extraction and unimaginable pollution the Earth is under extreme duress at the same time the expanding middle class in China is being told that with market discipline they will be able to behave like consumers in the U.S. This obviously is not sustainable but the system is not built to effectively and critically think about this. With every country under the the spell of global capitalism the rapacious onslaught on the world’s natural resources will continue unabated for the foreseeable future in the name of GDP, “progress” and “modernity.” Something has to give, the question is when.

The second major theme, economic stratification, is also rampant throughout the world and growing more acute in the U.S. each day. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at its highest point ever on March 5th, 2013. There are indicators all over that illustrate how the richest of the rich are doing better than ever while the poor and working class are suffering at near immeasurable levels. In 2012, the top 10 percent of  earners took home more than half of the country’s income– the highest recorded level ever.  Porsche reported its best year ever in 2012 and anyone living in NYC can simply walk down the street in Manhattan and see just how many high rise luxury rentals are being built, in fact, 2013 was the largest luxury real estate boom in NYC history. This explosion of wealth for the 1% is contrasted by the continued immiseration of the proletariat. Poverty has risen in the U.S. since the Great Recession despite the ostensible “recovery.” And perhaps the most condemning  report from Oxfam recently found that “Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population, and seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.” This stratification is extremely dangerous to political systems, particularly in the democratic tradition, as the disparities pose serious threats to political inclusion, government stability and the general welfare of people.

The specters of the past are not haunting us, they are already here, waiting to usher in the end of civilization as we know it and from the way things are going we welcome it.

At least we will have a soundtrack for it. . .

Obama, Putin on the “wrong side of history”– A short list on the irony of intervention.

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NEW YORK-The headlines are rife with irony laid bare before the world. On March 3rd, Obama said that the U.S. is doing all it can to work towards isolating Russia over its incursion into Crimea. Russia, according to Obama, has violated Ukraine’s sovereignty, its territorial borders and shown disdain for international law. He stated that Russia’s actions in Crimea are illustrating that Putin is on the “wrong side of history.”

Secretary of State John Kerry was on “Face the Nation” on Monday where his statements could be seen as nothing more than ludicrous to anyone that has knowledge of U.S. foreign policy and aggression. He stated,”You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text.” Kerry said that Russia’s actions are “an incredible act of aggression.”

The Russians must find these allegations amusing and many in the world are surely confused: How can the largest purveyor of violence in the world today say such things without looking uninformed, belligerent and downright ridiculous?

The United States has a habit of condemning other nations when they intervene in the affairs of others yet reserves the right to insert itself anywhere in the world at any given time for any reason, often times intervening on “humanitarian” grounds. Many people wonder how the U.S. can lambaste Russia while it is raining down bombs from drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and has over 700 military bases abroad . There are more than 50 examples of the U.S. intervening militarily or clandestinely since WWII alone. This short list only serves to provide serves to provide some context on the ironies of U.S. imperialism abroad with a few of the lesser known recent interventions.

2003, Iraq – The Bush Administration fabricates intelligence that Saddam Hussein developed weapons of mass destruction and supported Al Qaeda terrorists. Who remembers Colin Powell’s fabricated presentation at the UN to make his case for war?

2001, Afghanistan – After the September 11th terrorist attacks the U.S. gets even with the Taliban for aiding and abetting known Al-Qaeda terrorists. Consequently, the U.S. involves itself in one of the longest and most costly wars ever. The toll on the Afghan people is immeasurable, with nearly 20,000 civilians killed, and many arguing that the U.S. is not safer and that the Taliban is no weaker than before.

1994, Haiti – The U.S. first occupied Haiti in 1915 with 330 Marines to safeguard the interests of U.S. business interests. One of the most famous Marines and two time Medal of Honor recipient, Gen. Smedley Butler, wrote a book entitle “War is a Racket” describing how he was a “gangster for capitalism” and U.S. corporate interests. In 1994, the U.S. carried out Operation Uphold Democracy, which overthrew the elected president, John-Bertrand Aristide.

1989, Panama – One of the main reasons for the invasion of Panama, among several others, given by President George H.W. Bush on the morning 20 December, 1989, was to protect the 35,000 U.S. civilians living there. The relationship between President Manuel Noriega, who was a paid up to $200,000 a year for his contractual services for the CIA and DEA, had fallen out of grace with U.S. officials after his double dealing shenanigans were revealed by Seymor Hersh. He refused to surrender himself and shortly after the de facto leader of Panama was ousted in Operation Just Cause to international condemnation.

1960, Republic of the Congo – Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected leader of the Congo, was ousted in a coup supported by the Belgian and U.S. authorities. President Dwight Eisenhower along with Allen Dulles, director of the CIA, advised “eliminating” President Lumumba. The U.S. was not directly involved in his murder but there are documents that now prove the CIA conspired to kill him.

1971-1973, Chile – Salvador Allende, the democratically elected president of Chile, was ousted in a coup led by General Agusto Pinochet, with the active support of the CIA. Documents from the National Security Archive show the extent to which President Nixon and his cohorts assisted in destabilizing and overthrowing Allende’s regime.

For a more complete list from Wounded Knee to Libya click here.