“People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” James A. Baldwin
We are sitting on crevices that lie under our feet. We often don’t see them because there is a fine veneer of aphorisms and seductive, multi-hued easy-outs that allow us to skate along on the surface and ignore the crevice below. We are oblivious or choose to be so, and pretend that the crises lie somewhere else and for someone else to resolve. And as we carry on in our contrived zones of peace and aloofness, the explosions get closer and closer. Explosions of anger, fury, revenge and severe intolerance. We gloss over the headlines, be it a massacre in Istanbul Airport, Orlando or now Dhaka, and in our minds we say, “there is something wrong with these people!” Judging from a distance is so satisfying, is it not?
This issue of Montréal Serai has as its theme Fault Lines: the root causes of cultural, political, social and artistic divisions that distract rather than seek the real reasons — the underlying conflicts that are smeared with the oily veneer of mainspeak, so we can continue to skate on and ignore the crevices below.
Let’s take Hillary Clinton and what happened in Benghazi. The Republicans will eventually make a heroine out of her, simply because they want to politicize the slaying of four American functionaries, and in the end it will only backfire. The Republican militia’s entire agenda in its indictment of Clinton is about bad security arrangements, bad intelligence and poor decisions of a militarized bureaucracy.
What is the real fault line here? Nobody’s discussing the killing of Gadhafi, a respected leader in Africa for several decades (all quixotic traits aside) – and yet he was slowly and savagely shot and butchered with bayonets by the same fighters who had been deployed by the “allies” to fight the Russians in Chechen and the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan and to carry out the wars in the name of “democracy” in Iraq and Syria. A debt-free nation that had billions of dollars in reserve, Libya had chosen universal free education and health for its entire citizenry. Libya has now been turned into a lawless land where only banditry thrives. Before, 87% of Libyans were literate, electricity was free, housing was guaranteed (as an example, see http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-884508).
Gadhafi was respected not only in Libya but also in the rest of Africa, as someone who had strategically developed his country without IMF dependency. With oil revenue, yes indeed. Mandela hailed him as one of the greatest African leaders. In spite of the fact that both Sarkozy and Blair had hugged and kissed him only a few months before for his statesmanship, we have been assiduously told that he was a monster. And then word came that Gadhafi had held two conferences to make a gold-based currency for use all across Africa. That was when all hell broke loose. The fault line emerged and was quickly slated for cover-up and “mitigation.”
Clinton appeared on the scene and in a widely-televised interview said, “We came, we saw, he died! Hah! Hah! Hah!” If an average Libyan was asked to react to this monstrous act, what would be his/her reaction? The entire might of NATO, British Special Forces and French Rafale jets were deployed to bomb and strafe Gadhafi’s convoy, while the murderous “Transitional Council” carried out its butchery on the ground. Subsequently, the US Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in Benghazi, not because Islamic fundamentalists were crazy, not because Hillary failed to provide security cover, but because the United States as a self-described “exceptionalist superpower” decided who should stay and who should go, no matter how popular they were in their own nation. Perhaps Iran’s Dr. Mossadegh was the first example since WWII of a leader who was assassinated for not bowing to the interests of the superpower. Then followed Lumumba, Bishop, Rodney, Allende, Che and seventy-six attempts on the life of Castro and the list goes on.
Why do we avoid probing the root causes behind a calamity, be it a flood, a massacre, a genocide, or severe environmental catastrophes? Because we have a ready list of contrarian arguments and popular-speak that deflects from the essential fault lines.
In 2011, a total of 135,585 people committed suicide in India, of whom 14,207 were farmers. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farmers’_suicides_in_India) It is said that every 15 minutes a farmer kills himself, because he is unable to deal with the complex arrangements of buying GMO seeds and taking bank loans at exorbitant rates, in the face of overwhelming pressure to convert to non-organic farming. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1082559/The-GM-genocide-Thousands-Indian-farmers-committing-suicide-using-genetically-modified-crops.html) In the last decade, more than 250,000 Indian farmers have killed themselves because of Monsanto’s costly seeds and pesticides. Why are we not talking more often about GMOs and the pervasive control of organizations like Monsanto, instead of fatalistically discussing drought, floods, lack of rains (which incidentally have a lot to do with the mess we have created in weather patterns)?
Je suis this, Je suis that… and then what?
And how about the Je suis hysteria? How many takers for Je suis Dhaka, Je suis Istanbul? None! The Je suis business, candlelight vigils, the bouquets placed on massacre sites reek with the stench of manipulated and misplaced emotions, humanity’s cry for help covered with the veneer of distractions from the real fault lines. But is it only about Western interventionism in other peoples’ lives that has triggered fanaticism and extreme acts? It would be facile to take that route. The killing and maiming of atheists in Bangladesh, the attacks on abortion clinics in the US, the stigma against science and the continuous attacks on the way “other” people dress in Québec and Canada demonstrate the blind religious instigation that comes from temples, mosques, synagogues and other pulpits. Religion is incendiary as well as an opiate. It is also a fundamental fault line. Divisive and intolerant. Some religions have managed to cover their primitivistic attributes with modernist refinements. Others have not.
Let’s take female genital mutilation. What’s the word on that? It’s an Islamic problem, right? That’s the common parlance. Really? In Eritrea and Ethiopia, where 90% and 77% of the population are Christian, the largest number of genital mutilations in Africa occur. So, it is really an African problem. Yet we keep repeating the same tired old memes, the facile generalizations about Muslim fanaticism.
In this issue of Serai, we have produced a significant collection on the theme of Fault Lines. It includes critical original essays on the TPP by Michael Fish, an extraordinary photo essay on the condition of fleeing migrants in Europe by Darren Ell, an incisive book review by Patrick Barnard of Djemaa Maazouzi’s Le Partage des Mémoires about recovering memories of the Algerian War of Independence, a poignant short story by Dorota Kozinska on growing up in Syria, far-reaching coverage of partitions and dividing lines in history by Nilambri Ghai, my commentary on the Orlando shootings, the works of Montréal artist Dan Delaney, and a hilarious short story by Susan Dubrofsky on how to survive a nuclear disaster.
The central thread in all these pieces underscores the need for deciphering fundamental fault lines instead of hovering over superficialities. Further contributions will be staggered over the coming weeks, along with a peppering of Montréal street art, as we explore more dynamic presentations and interactions with our far-flung readership. Keep an eye out!