In the face of true atrocities

Blogs

  • George Floyd’s killing in USA has sparked violent protest including looting, and Trump says ‘When the looting starts, the shooting starts’. There have been a lot of cries that “violence is never the answer!” and “rioting is counter-productive.”

  • But if violent unrest isn’t the answer then what is? How exactly do you go about ending police brutality and systemic racism in America? Should protesters go home and write sternly worded letters to their representative? Should they emulate Madonna and post videos of their kids dancing in protest?

  • “A riot is the language of the unheard,” Martin Luther King Jr said in a 1967. “And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that … the promises of freedom and justice have not been met.”

By Nazarul Islam

In the face of affliction, perhaps there is no acceptable way to fight against your oppression. More than likely, one gets branded as unfaithful in Minneapolis/St. Paul—twin cities, for peacefully taking a knee to protest against police brutality.

You may get vilified for using boycotts as a non-violent tool of resistance. Perhaps you may referred as a ‘thug’ responsible for the murder of yet another unarmed black man by the police, you protest in the streets.

The sickening video of George Floyd being killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, which followed the murders of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, has sparked demonstrations across America. In Minneapolis some of the protests have turned violent: buildings (including a police precinct) have been set on fire and a Target store was looted. Donald Trump reacted by promising bloody reprisal, tweeting: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Others have reacted with hand-wringing. There have been a lot of cries that “violence is never the answer!” and “rioting is counter-productive!”

But if violent unrest isn’t the answer then what is? How exactly do you go about ending police brutality and systemic racism in America? Should protesters go home and write sternly worded letters to their representative? Should they emulate Madonna and post videos of their kids dancing in protest? Should they peacefully take a knee? Should Americans simply vote Trump out and vote Joe Biden in instead? You know the guy whose 1994 crime bill significantly contributed to mass incarceration in America?

Should people patiently wait for incremental change?

“A riot is the language of the unheard,” Martin Luther King Jr said in a 1967 speech that is currently reverberating through social media for obvious reasons. “And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that … the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality and humanity.”

That speech was 53 years ago and America still isn’t listening. The uncomfortable truth is that, sometimes, violence is the only answer left. We like to pretend otherwise, which is why civil rights movements are often conveniently sanitized. The women’s suffrage movement, for example, is often celebrated as “non-violent”.

It wasn’t: if went through a very militant phase. “If men use explosives and bombs for their own purpose they call it war,” the British suffragette Christabel Pankhurst wrote in 1913, “and the throwing of a bomb that destroys other people is then described as a glorious and heroic deed. Why should a woman not make use of the same weapons as men?”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not glorifying violence – that’s what the president of the United States is doing. And I’m certainly not calling for violence. I’m simply saying we must interrogate what we call “violence” and what we call “policy.” Many of the people yelling “violence is not the answer” about the riots in Minneapolis are the same people who wholeheartedly support America’s endless wars.

Many of the people condemning the looters in Minneapolis are the same people who venerate billionaires. Loot a TV and you’re a dangerous criminal; loot a country and you’re an enterprising capitalist.

America has no problem with riots or looting as long as it’s the “right” people doing it. And we’re all forced to pay for this worldview: American taxpayers have paid an average of $8,000 each and over $ 2.0 trillion in the Iraq war alone, according to a January report from the Brown University Costs of War project. Which raises the question: if violence is never the answer, then why does America spend so much money on it?

This story reads like a terrifying soap opera: three women and an entourage of 12 gunmen reportedly entered Khan’s house in Lahore, smashed her stuff, and assaulted her and her sister. Apparently they were angry Khan had had an affair with one of their husbands. Affairs, you know, are always the woman’s fault! The incident was filmed and went viral.

Two of the women involved in the attack on the famous actor are apparently the daughters of a powerful Pakistani property magnate, Malik Riaz (not the husband in question), which may be why much of the country’s media has been rather quiet about this.

And, experts in the West have warned that decades of progress on women’s workplace equality will be unraveled in mere months, thanks to the pandemic.

_______________________

The Bengal-born writer is a senior educationist and lives in USA. He writes regularly for Sindh Courier and the newspapers of Bangladesh, India and America.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *