Tag Archives: uprising

Against intervention in Syria by a friend in Lebanon

by Zayd Sifri

Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek

Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek

I visited Lebanon for the first time more than ten years ago. The wounds of the civil war were much more visible to a visitor than they are today. In Beirut, bullet holes of varying sizes and shapes arranged randomly on the exterior of countless buildings told the story of a city that was half-pummeled into the earth during vicious battles. Now Lebanon’s neighbor Syria has fallen to a similar fate. Looking at the situation from Beirut, the hope is that new strikes do not cause Syria to fall even harder and pull Lebanon to its knees in the process.

Most of those bullet-holes in the central parts of Beirut have been cosmetically removed for the sake of promoting tourism but, if you look carefully, you can still see buildings that are covered by them. Decades of instability have been chiseled into the concrete by various factions and militias, each one backed by an external power. Lebanon is the land of proxy war. Its internal politics and conditions are heavily influenced by regional and global trends. The current war in its biggest neighbor, Syria, has not been an exception to the rule. If there is an American military strike, it will not only exacerbate violence in Syria but will also have negative consequences on the health and safety of Lebanon.

While speculation has circled around whether or not a strike will result in a wider regional conflict, there is near certainty that a strike will be harmful in Lebanon. The Syrian humanitarian and refugee crisis will undoubtedly worsen after a military strike. The fallout in Lebanon has been tremendous thus far with tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Syrians seeking refuge across the border. Lebanon’s infrastructure is ill-equipped for dealing with this human catastrophe. The Palestinian refugee camps and pre-existing informal settlements (shanty towns), which are already the most delicate and impoverished parts of the country, are now housing much of the population that has come across the border from Syria. In the past week, thousands more have already began fleeing Damascus in fear of a new military strike. Unlike in Jordan and Turkey, there are no refugee camps for Syrians in Lebanon because of decisions taken by political factions. Civil society, NGOs, and others have been doing their best to respond to the crisis, but frequently those who do not have the private means for dealing with the conditions suffer the most.

Before any news of a chemical weapons attack in Syria, August was a precarious month for Lebanon that saw an escalation in violence and tension between the main rival factions. In Beirut, a neighborhood controlled by Shia party Hezbollah was hit by a car bomb. The next week, in the northern capital Tripoli, a car bomb ripped through two Sunni mosques on a Friday. The Sunni-Shia rivalry has been defining the political landscape in Lebanon for some time. Tensions are increasing even further as both groups have allies that are fighting on opposite sides in Syria. Most Lebanese Sunni groups back some form of the opposition to the Assad regime and Shia Hezbollah supports its ally the Syrian state and Bashar Assad. In the case of a military strike, people in Lebanon will brace themselves for the possibility of fighting between Shia and Sunni groups that could evolve into an all-out war engulfing the country.

It is certain that Lebanon’s political situation will further destabilize as a result of strikes on Syria. The only question is how much it will destabilize. Will car bombings periodically occur or will all-out war flood the streets again, as it did during the brutal Lebanese civil war?

Speaking recently on the possibility of striking Syria, Susan Rice has said that the current administration does not “assess that limited military strikes will unleash a spiral of unintended escalatory reactions in the region.” In a region that’s been plagued by war for decades, this “assessment” is at best a crap-shot, but no one on this side of the Mediterranean is surprised to see politicians gambling with the lives of millions of people. Decades of unending foreign interference and the consequences of violence have hardened people’s hearts when it comes to understanding day-to-day harshness. In spite of these circumstances, optimists continue to exist and opt for the long-term perspective. Bullet-riddled buildings are made of concrete and with time they crumble. Eventually they become ruins–like the Roman temples in Baalbek today–and will mark a period among many in a long history.

American voices against war in Syria are being heard in the mainstream and people in Lebanon and elsewhere have not given up hope that there will not be military action. The recent Russian proposal to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons has been met with some acceptance in both Washington and Damascus. This diplomatic maneuver should viewed with critical eyes, but at the moment this surprise move augurs well for those who want to generate momentum against military intervention in Syria.

Zayd Sifri is a WRL supporter based in Beirut, Lebanon. In New York City, he has been involved in the Occupy Wall Street Global Justice Working Group, Turath: Arab Students Organization at Columbia University and Students for Justice in Palestine.

The End of Passive Revolution in Brazil

brazil-protests-june2013

Source: ibtimes.com

[originally published on June 22nd, 2013 in La Jornada.]

by Massimo Modonesi and translated from Spanish by Linda Quiquivix

The Brazilian experience over the last 10 years under its progressive governments (of first Lula and now Dilma) has been characterized by what Gramsci called “passive revolution:” a modernization process driven from the top, which only partially incorporates the demands of those from below, and is thus able to ensure their passivity and their silence. But not their complicity.

From this apparently contradictory formula we can understand how Brazil built an edifice that was precariously balanced but surprisingly effective and, moreover, durable. Always following the insights of Gramsci, it relied on a progressive “Caesarism” (the presence of a charismatic figure who catalyzed and channeled the tensions and embodied welfare paternalism) and “transformismo” (the displacement of popular movement leaders by incorporating them into conservative positions within state institutions).

Thus, what is striking about the country’s recent history is not today’s sudden eruption of protest, but of its absence in previous years. In fact, Brazil’s leaders have received impressive praise for the country’s high economic growth, its inclusive social policies, and the emergence of an impressive middle class consumership. Brazil has been envied and widely admired for a governance model of social and political control based on welfare programs and the mediation of a party – the Workers Party (PT) – and union – Unified Workers’ Central (CUT) – with massive hold, guaranteeing minimal costs in terms of repression and the criminalization of protest. Those resisting this Lulista hegemony existed and exist as fronts both from the right and from the left, but were contained and were relatively marginalized. This included the Landless Peoples’ Movement (MST), which maintained a cautious attitude of retreat with the exception of some major, but isolated conflicts (such as university strikes and indigenous struggles in defense of territory).

The protests of recent days, then, are inevitably something that was to emerge in the fissures or in the very exhaustion of this passive revolution process. Fissures are mismatches that generate inequalities that continue marking Brazilian society: those gaps that separate social classes in a context of capitalist modernization which, while the size of the pie increases and the slices that are distributed grow, they are ones that accumulate wealth and generate political and social powers that take over productive circuits in public institutions and ideological apparatuses. The governments of the Workers’ Party (PT) held a paradox: they generated oligarchization processes instead of democratizing wealth and opening up spaces for participation – spaces that in the past had themselves served to make this party arise and win elections. The exhaustion of this process is related to physiological wear after 10 years, but above all, it is related to the loss of progressive impulses and the increasingly conservative characteristics of Lula’s social and political coalition, which similarly sustain Dilma’s government today.

It is also not surprising that the protests take diffused forms and are led principally by youth labeled as middle class. The current shape of Brazil’s popular classes includes this youth sector, which has emerged amid the relative social mobility in the past decade – from poverty to higher levels of consumption and education – but were not removed from their placement in the field of working-class (whether blue- or white-collar) which they were born into and on which Brazil’s growth patterns inevitably depend. The protests’ diffuse forms correspond just as much to the rejection of the parties and unions as to a budding construction of new political cultures, in particular those of the so-called indignados (the indignants). These political cultures bring together a number of identities, claims, and diverse forms of struggle that have yet to fully define themselves, but continue to manifest themselves worldwide through a dispersed but recurrent and forceful manner.

With these protests, we are witnessing the end of Brazil’s passive revolution. They have lifted the veil and have shown the contradictory reality and misery hidden behind the myth of the Brazilian miracle, which had functioned decades ago and reappeared in recent years. Moreover, the passivity on which the Lulista hegemony stood now unravels in the streets. People might go back home, the streets might return their calm, and polls might show consensus on the PT model. But the visibility reached once the tear gas began to dissipate is extraordinarily revealing, and will remain etched in the memory of a generation.

The Québec Strike Continues and Defense Technology’s Repression

On the fourth of May 2012, in Victoriaville, Québec during the congress of the corrupted Liberal party of Jean Charest, several dozens of gas bombs were thrown on families, activists, old people, and students that were protesting against high tuition fees by 75%.” -Hauban from Facing Tear Gas.

Defense Technology tear gas canisters found in Victoriaville, Quebec on May 4th, 2012.

This week, the Québec movement sparked by students striking against tuition hikes, is ramping up the pressure again, as some schools start class today, while “Law 12″ is mandating that students attend and protest has been largely criminalized. The response of the movement though, has been “Back to Class Means Back to Strike!”

As people in the thousands have joined the strikes, protesters have faced huge amounts of police repression, supported in part by US-based corporations. Defense Technology, headquartered in Casper, Wyoming, produces tear gas used against the Québec movement. This manufacturer is a subsidiary of  Safariland, now owned by prominent war profiteer Warren B. Kanders, based in Southern Connecticut (though the sale was held up by the sentencing of a former Safariland exec for bribing government officials in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East in order to secure business). Safariland holds monthly trainings for cops, prison officers, private security personnel, and active-duty soldiers across the U.S. in how to use this Chemical Weapon.  Defense Technology tear gas has been used against Occupy Oakland, the ongoing Yemeni movement for change, Palestinians in East Jerusalem, as well as against protestors in Egypt, Bahrain and Tunisia. Between 3,000-5,000 canisters of Safariland tear gas were also used against protesters at the 2001 Summit of the Americas in Québec City. (For updates and action alerts on tear gas use in Québec and around the world, sign up on our e-mail list, and for more on WRL’s storytelling project and campaign against tear gas visit: http://www.warresisters.org/facingteargas.)

But how did the movement in Québec begin?

In March, Québec’s Premier, Jean Charest, announced a 75% tuition hike for all public university students.

Many current university students in Québec are first generation college students. Most of them are working their way through college—a dramatic tuition hike means taking on a second job or enormous amounts of debt.

Many students decided to go on strike—abstaining from attending their universities en masse to protest the hikes. Students pinned red squares to their lapels—or wore them as earrings or face paint—taking to the streets, demanding negotiations to end the tuition hikes.

Students—now protesters—would take to the streets each night—banging pots and pans (les casseroles)—chanting “Manif chaque soir, jusqu’a la victoire”- Protest every night, until victory.

When it became undeniable that the students were serious, the now notorious Montreal Police (SPVM) began implementing the Emergency “Law 78”—a law that actively criminalized unannounced gatherings of more than 50 people.

Law 78 transformed what was once a student strike into a popular movement. Solidarity actions erupted throughout the world. Though to others a $1625 tuition hike seemed cheap in comparison to other attacks on public education, police repression and criminalizing of the people’s voice was something that echoed throughout the world.

On the last nights in May, more than 400,000 marched through the streets of Montreal.

The police responded with violent force—using smoke bombs, stun grenades and teargas to intimidate the crowds and make mass arrests. Protesters were beaten, shot and in some cases hospitalized and permanently injured. Journalists trying to get into Montréal to report on the movement were detained at the border. Anyone wearing the carré rouge in public—even if they weren’t at a protest—was subject to police interrogation.

It became clear that the police were trying to crush, intimidate and silence the movement and would use any means available to them. It was also clear that the police were the soldiers of the state–a state which has a neoliberal agenda motivated by profit that has no interest in serving the people.

It became clear that—like so many police forces throughout the world—they were willing to beat, gas and silence them into submission.

Now, it is August. On August 13th—today—the first of the Québec public universities will resume classes. However, in the words of the student strikers, “la grève continue!”

What does this mean for us and our solidarity work with other movements against police brutality—both domestically and internationally? In Québec, three groups—La CLASSE, L’association des jurists progressites (Association of Progressive Lawyers) and La lingues des droits et libertés (League of Rights and Liberties) are organizing to gather testimonies of police violence—the beatings, gassings and arrests and the unwanted aggressive interrogations and refusals of access to public space because of their affiliation with the movement—and use them as a popular, public request to the police to hold them accountable for their behavior.

This is la palais de justice – a large courthouse in Montreal, Québec. The “lai” is covered , reading “pas de justice” which means: “NO JUSTICE.”