Occupy the World

I was having a conversation with my best friend yesterday about the Occupy protests that have been spreading across the globe, and we talked about how scary it must be for those in power that these protests have gone global. For generations now, humans have been divided (often purposely) by sometimes artificial constructs like race, religion, gender, nationality, ideology, sexual orientation. For generations we have learned to see each other through prisms of identity that don’t say much about a person but are easy and neat. Categories have become the currency of identity and communication, and it is enough for us to know which boxes people fit into for us to judge them and decide whether we want to know more or not.

The last decade has seen an intensification of identity politics, with many countries across the globe becoming more nationalistic and more fanatic. The “Other” is an even stronger enemy today than it was decades ago, and this has divided us even more. Through all of this, it is easy to forget that there is more that unites than divides us, and that most of what divides us has been socially constructed for political ends.

So what is happening now across the globe must be absolutely terrifying for those controlling a system that thrives on divisions. October 15 saw Occupy events all over the world, from Tokyo to New York; Amsterdam to Seoul; Rome to Boston; Madrid to Costa Rica. Millions of people across the globe came together to protest the same issues: capitalism, a global political system that is destroying people, livelihoods, cultures, human relations, just so that the rich 1% can continue to accumulate wealth while everybody else falls deeper and deeper into debt, starvation, hopelessness.

Did the 1% ever expect this movement to come? Did they even think that people could unite, above all divisions, against a brutal economic/political/social system that is literally killing people as we speak?

Did they expect people to KNOW what was happening, to be AWARE of what the system was doing to them? Did they not realize that people were just exhausted from fighting for daily survival, tired from working working working, and so did not have the time or energy to rise up?

But this time they were pushed too far and it happened.

Starting with the revolutions in the Arab world and now with the Occupy movement, people are showing that they KNEW, they were AWARE, and now they are fighting back. The patriarchal, neo-colonial, capitalist system needs to come down. We shouldn’t be afraid of what comes after it – is chaos such a bad thing? We shouldn’t convince ourselves that capitalism and dictatorship are better because they are the enemy we know best. Humans are infinitely creative and capable, and we have seen that first with the revolutions in the Arab world and North Africa, and now with the Occupy protests. The world is changing, and it’s scary. But it’s also very, very exciting.

West & Multiculturalism

I just wanted to share one of the best articles I’ve read recently, called “On the West’s Moral Panic Over Multiculturalism” by Gary Younge.

For certain groups the price for belonging and conditions for banishment have shifted dramatically in Western nations, particularly but by no means exclusively in Europe, in recent years. Citizenship is no longer enough. The clothes you wear, the language you speak, the way you worship, have all become grounds for dismissal or inclusion. These terms are not applied equally to all—they are not intended to be. The intention of this series of edicts (popular, political and judicial) is not to erase all differences but to act as a filter for certain people who are considered dangerously different.

To achieve this, certain groups and behaviors must first be pathologized so that they might then be more easily particularized.

Still cannot believe the racist speech in which Chirac said this:

Jacques Chirac, 1991: “How do you want a French worker who works with his wife, who earn together about 15,000 francs and who sees next to his council house a piled-up family with a father, three or four spouses and twenty children earning 50,000 francs via benefits naturally without working…If you add to that the noise and the smell, well, the French worker, he goes crazy.”

Even as the Catholic Church is embroiled in a global crisis over child sexual abuse and the Church of England is splintered in a row over gay priests, Islam and Muslims face particularly vehement demands to denounce homophobia.

The combined effect of these flawed distinctions and sweeping demonization is to unleash a series of moral panics.

And what I think his most important point was:

At a time of diminishing national sovereignty, particularly in Europe, such campaigns help the national imagination cohere around a fixed identity even as the ability of the nation-state to actually govern itself wanes. It is a curious and paradoxical fact that as national boundaries in Europe have started to fade, the electoral appeal of nationalism has increased; fascism, and its fellow travelers, is once again a mainstream ideology in Europe, regularly polling between 5 and 15 per cent in most countries.

I have yet to meet a Dutch liberal who has not done this:

Many who consider themselves on the left have given liberal cover to these assaults on religious and racial minorities, ostensibly acting in defense of democracy, Enlightenment values and equal rights—particularly relating to sexual orientation and gender.

And this:

The first is an elision between Western values and liberal values that ignores the fact that liberal values are not fully entrenched in the West and that other regions of the world also have liberal traditions.

And this:

The second is a desire to understand Western “values” in abstraction from Western practice.

And now, to multiculturalism:

Unable to come up with a single, coherent new term that both encapsulates the atmosphere of fear, threat, panic, disorientation, confusion, contradiction and paradoxes and unites both far right and liberals, the opponents of this diverse, hybrid reality resurrected an old foe—“multiculturalism.

The beauty of multiculturalism, for its opponents, is that it can mean whatever you want it to mean so long as you don’t like it.

Finally,

The nation-state is in crisis; neoliberal is in crisis; multiculturalism is simply in situ.

I would add that Europe is also in crisis.

Egypt

It seems like the world was extremely boring last year, and made a new year’s resolution to be more exciting and unpredictable. 2011 has been absolutely chaotic! From the Egyptian perspective, the year started off on a bad note, with a church bombing on the 1st of January. Gov’t blamed it on al-Qaeda (we later found out that it was probably the government responsible – #fail), and the event created even more sectarian tension.

The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia managed to oust Ben Ali, as well as inspire Egyptians to take to the streets. The revolution began on the 25th of January, and lasted 18 days. On the 11th of Feb, Mubarak stepped down.

As amazing, inspirational and just straight up fabulous the revolution was, there is still lots and lots of work to be done. 30+ years (60, really) of corruption, dictatorship, economic issues (due to global neo-liberal restructuring) and just a decline in everything, it is going to take a while to rebuild the country.

There was a referendum this past Saturday to vote on the constitutional amendments.

The proposed changes shorten the presidential term and create a two-term limit, significantly expand the pool of eligible presidential candidates, restore judicial supervision of elections, pave the way for a new constitution after elections, and restrict the ability to declare and renew a state of emergency.

As expected, the majority of voters (77%) votes yes. The turnout was about 41%. At first I was disappointed – estimates from Saturday were between 60-70% but I realize now that 41% is still good. After all, it was a referendum and Egyptians haven’t been voting for a while. Following the results, a brilliant post was written by Sandmonkey (find entire post here). Here are some important points:

  • 65 million who never joined the protests from the beginning, and who probably miss the stability and security of the old regime.
  • Cairo is not Egypt. There was no real TV campaign, no real grassroots campaign and no actual debate.
  • Remember all the millions that went down for the minimum wage and you completely swept this under the rug to engage in a battle with State Security and the military?
  • This is the part where we stop playing revolution, and start playing politics for the sake of the country.
  • You have to focus on the people & their issues, and push yours aside for now: Yes, you will have to address the economy. Yes, you will have to offer constructive solutions to the Police problem that isn;t simply “clean them up”. Yes, you will have to lay off the military criticism and, as horrible and hard as this might be, to put the issue of those who are detained, jailed, tortured or beaten by the military on the back-burner for now.
  • START SELLING THE MINIMUM WAGE.
  • Start organizing at the grassroots.
  • Start the propaganda campaign.
  • Well, moral clarity time: The NDP and the Islamists are two faces to the same coin, and neither can be allowed to control this country ever again. It’s time to quit being distracted, and start organizing and engaging people NOW. War has been declared on all of us, and we will be damned if we lose now. Just like the NDP, we will fight them until we can’t.And in case you are wondering: We will win!

The whole post is pure brilliance so I would recommend everyone read the entire thing as well.

There are lots of questions I have about the whole situation right now.

  1. Why do so many Egyptians trust the army? The army is a major power in Egypt (if not THE major power), and there is no proof that it is doing what is “best” for the Egyptians. Stories of torture by the army in the past 2 weeks are coming up, they’ve recently banned protests (uhm, what?) and it doesn’t really look like they’re sticking to their original timeline re. parliamentary and presidential elections. This is not to say that they’re with the old regime (although lots of incest between the 2 I’m sure) but they’re probably not with the people either. Better to be critical than to just blindly follow/trust/praise.
  2. How popular was this revolution? How many Egyptians really supported it? During the revolution it seemed like the ENTIRE country was behind it, but now I’m starting to wonder how many people really wanted things to change like this.
  3. How powerful is people power? I think we are trained to believe that people have no power and that we should be skeptical of change. I find myself now questioning whether anything has really changed and whether the old regime is really gone. It’s almost like state institutions have too much power to be really changed by the people (moreover by people who aren’t that organized).
  4. My final question is: is it up to Egyptians to be a democracy or not? Or are other players going to make the decision? The west (especially Israel) have a lot to lose, and so do other Arab dictatorships. I remember during the revolution itself there was a phase where all people were talking about was how this revolution would affect Israel – because the rights of Israelis come before Egyptians. I wonder whether that has really changed. The army is basically funded by America, who is Israel’s abused mistress, so are we really expecting things to change? Most Egyptians are pro-Palestinian so if there is democracy in Egypt, what would happen to politicians who support Israel?

On the one hand I’m really excited, proud and still in shock about what happened in Egypt. On the other hand, I’m so used to thinking that the state is all-powerful and invincible that I’m starting to doubt whether the foundations were really shook during this revolution, or whether it only touched the surface.