Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Map Out

MALL1-facebook     One of the most harrowing challenges of modern American life is navigating through the massive desert of our mindless, materialistic consumerism. It is within this landscape that a soul can become lost and drenched in despair. From the endless stream of vacant eyed wraiths that glide down catwalks, to the pervasive advertising that never ceases to demean the values of empathy and compassion and hollow out any meaning associated with human connection, to the entertainment industry which revels in the depths of cruelty it can sink to, the onslaught on the psyche is both constant and merciless.

consumerism Picture Source Green is SexyThe American shopping mall is a reflection of this nightmare of ravenous cupidity and a message of stark disenfranchisement to the ever growing underclass. Its glossy finishes and plastic displays erect a wall of defense against anything remotely human or sacred. It entices the youngest of our society with the promise of fulfillment and social status through the acquisition of objects, the alteration of their faces and bodies, and the tacit abandonment of any connection with the natural world and all the beings that inhabit it. Concrete and glass monoliths of corporatism drive home the deepest sense of alienation and desolation by design. It is a fantasy land of the cruelest fakery, replacing the lively, chaotic and thoroughly interactive market place with the impersonal, the absurd, and the surreal. Exported around the world to some of the most impoverished nations on the planet, it is a unique, exclusionary and effective form of imperialism.

The Big Box stores, in contrast, make no pretense to that kind of romanticism. They sit shamelessly on seas of pavement in wetlands, lush meadows or downed forests, scraped and drained clean of their original life and inhabitants. They are a reflection of what America has become; a stark and depersonalized vision of depravity within the setting of a dying ecosystem. Their plastic and glossy objects fill giant bins as they fill our oceans and river systems. Their clothing racks conceal the stain of sweat shop slavery. They exude the callousness of a factory farm, encouraging and cheering on aggression, prodding livestock into its maw of spiraled decadence. This is the architecture of banal cruelty and indifference.
mindless consumerism Philosophers Stone

Understanding this landscape it should not come as a surprise that stories about vampires and zombies dominate contemporary, popular entertainment. These themes perfectly mimic the corporate capitalist economic model which glamorizes and celebrates the ghoulish and the macabre, while it rapaciously feeds upon the most vulnerable and powerless members of society for profit. The monsters in these tales are almost always fascinating, beautiful or so powerful as to be envied, while their victims are generally bereft of any identity at all. And this is exactly the way the wealthy elite want ordinary people to think of themselves. This ideology may contribute to the emergence of the mass shooter phenomenon, but it also underlies the mass acceptance of the police state model which relies on the violence of the state to reinforce the boundaries of class, and to bolster the mythology of the superiority of the powerful and wealthy.

The map out of this nightmare is often masked by the empty promises of having more stuff, altering ones outer appearance or conforming to socially acceptable shallowness. Advertising, social media and the political class, which sanctify the zombification of modern society, demand we attune and respond to their dictates and Siren song, lest we be banished from the corporate kingdom. Of course exclusion is terrifying to the elite and serf alike. We have been trained to avert our eyes from the homeless, the working poor and the far flung slaves to our insatiable consuming. If we dare look we might see our collective future. We might see exactly how our separateness is a grand deceit, a scam. And in doing so we might indeed shun otherness for the embrace of actual human beings. Free or revolutionary thought cannot be tolerated in a corporatocracy where denial, jingoism and conformity are embedded in the liturgy.

Black Friday Shoppers

But we are coming to the end of the illusion, for better and for worse, sooner rather than later. The planet’s ecosystems are wailing from the misery our way of life has inflicted upon them. They are dying. And the humanity that has been enslaved to continue this insanity are beginning to recognize their chains. Mass extinction is fast closing in on us.  All of us will be forced to face this reality whether we want to or not. An industrial, consumerist society, based upon an endless growth economic model on a planet with finite resources, is impossible to sustain. It will eventually collapse.

Shell oil pollution Niger Delta Agence France Presse

Camel dead from plastic consumption

Polar bear on dwindling Arctic ice sheet PA

If there is map out of the cemetery that we have long dug for countless species by our selfish indulgences and out of the wreckage of civilization, that irony of all ironies, it may very well lie in the chance, however remote, that some of us will emerge from the ruins long enough to tell a different story of who we are.  Perhaps we will have enough time to honor all that we had and mourn all that was lost.  And perhaps future generations, if there are any who survive, will not hate us too much for the brutality we tolerated and the ecocide we caused.

Perhaps.

Kenn Orphan  2014

Photo Credits:
-An abandoned shopping mall in Mid-west America and is credited to Seph Lawless, courtesy of TWC (The Weather Channel)

-Courtesy of the Philosopher’s Stone

-Black Friday shoppers and is stock footage (Techno Buffalo)

-Devastation in the Niger Delta from oil pollution. Agence France Presse.

-Camel dead from consuming plastic waste.  Plastic Pollution Coalition

-A polar bear on a ever dwindling Arctic ice sheet/PA

We are all Kelly Thomas

Kelly_Thomas_04Kelly Thomas was a 37 year old homeless man who suffered from schizophrenia.  On July 5, 2011, Thomas was brutally beaten to death by three police officers in Fullerton, California. Despite his repeated cries begging for mercy, calling out to God to save him and for his father, and apologizing to the officers over and over, they continued to beat him until he was completely unrecognizable and unconscious.  This can clearly be seen in video and audio surveillance as well as through numerous testimonies of eye witnesses. Thomas never regained consciousness and succumbed to his injuries five days later in the hospital.  Despite all of this, Thomas’s killers were acquitted.(1)

Kelly Thomas in the hospital Photo KTLA
(A photo showing the head injuries Kelly Thomas sustained from the police assault.  He was hospitalized, and died five days later having never regained consciousness.  Source:KTLA)

Were this an isolated case, outrage at such behavior would most likely be projected primarily at the officers and their blatant violation of the role they play in society. But this is not an isolated case. Incidents of gross overreach of police power, malfeasance and excessive force, and extreme violence emerge daily. This, coupled with the burgeoning prison and surveillance industrial complex, which is increasingly becoming privatized, and an immoral and untenable “War on Drugs” which really amounts to a war on the poor and people of color, creates a situation that in most nations would raise the specter of a police state.(2) In reality, the officers in this case did not violate the conduct expected of them or the rule of law in their role as police officers. On the contrary, they fulfilled them.

In a spate of State and Federal Supreme Court cases the courts have come down almost unequivocally on the side of the police. In most states the police do not have any obligation to protect a citizen from harm.(3) At the federal level, the SCOTUS has enshrined the right of police departments to conduct strip searches for any arrest.(4) Statistically, there has been a sharp increase in the use of SWAT teams to address what most would consider to be non-violent drug offenses. When we consider the concurrent trend of police departments acquiring military equipment, including armored tanks, this increased use of SWAT as the preferred method of dealing with the public, as vile as it is, makes logical sense.(5)

Perhaps what is most troubling about the rise of police and state brutality is the seeming complacency of the public. The invasive practices of the TSA at airports, the codification of the NDAA indefinite detention of American citizens without the requirement of due process, or the Constitutional infringements by the NSA aside, it was the effective lockdown of a major US city following the Boston Marathon bombing that was most indicative of this. Tanks rolled freely down leafy, suburban streets while residents were marched at gunpoint down sidewalks with hands placed firmly on their heads. Yet despite the fact that the police had little to do with the capture of an injured, bleeding 19 year old, the media, politicians and many ordinary citizens normalized and even applauded the draconian measures taken.(6)

Armored tanks in Boston Source Associated Press
(Armored vehicles roll down a street in Boston.  Source: Associated Press)

Cajoled by a lapdog, corporate media into accepting our situation as necessary, or even desirable, and marrying it to the government’s spurious, grossly inflated and unending, global “War on Terror,” the general public is chided as at best unpatriotic and, at worst, reckless anarchists or terrorist sympathizers should they object to the increasing incursions into civil rights and liberties. The attacks on 9/11 created an atmosphere which favors totalitarianism wherever the opaque concept of “security” is threatened. (7ab)

Cases like Kelly Thomas, or Keith Vidal, a teenager who also suffered from schizophrenia whom police fatally shot to death in front of his parents for carrying a screw driver(8), or the state troopers that fired several rounds into a minivan filled with children (9) beg us to look at this grave situation with unwavering urgency. The numerous men and women who have endured invasive body searches, including vaginal and anal probing, at routine traffic stops(10), or the countless dehumanizing “stop and frisk” incidents in cities across the country (11), or the scores of young people spirited away to prison from high school (12), or the violent, organized crackdowns on the Occupy movement (13) illustrate the rising tide of state animus against the public, and particularly any kind of behavior they view as anti-social, a threat to property or dissent.  Unchecked power, unprecedented since the Civil Rights Era and the Anti-war protests in the 1970s, has created a state that is growing more belligerent by the day.

Police Brutality at Occupy Wall Street Reuters
(NYPD officers assault protester at Occupy Wall Street demonstration.  Source: Reuters)

The tragic case of Kelly Thomas illustrates how poverty, homelessness, under-employment and mental illness have become criminal offenses.  Indeed, the gutting of social programs, including those services for the mentally ill, has seen a concurrent rise in state brutality toward the poor and the most vulnerable.  And as the economy is perpetually poised for the next bubble to burst, the gap between the super rich and devastatingly poor grows, and climate change ravages an environment already fragile from excessive exploitation, the prison industry will undoubtedly gain more ground and the militarization of the police will most certainly expand.

If there is no public outcry and substantive change, the United States will end up looking more like one of the foreign dictatorships that it has for so long upheld and supported through overt and nefarious means, indistinguishable from it in its ruthlessness.  Callous disregard and utter contempt for the very elements that make a society civil will be codified and enshrined. Because to a state with no restraint or respect for human life and no due process to speak of, we are all Kelly Thomas, and in the end we are bound to share his tragic fate.

Kelly Thomas
(Photo credit: Reuters)

Kenn Orphan  2014

(photo on top is of Kelly Thomas.  Source: CBSNEWS)

1. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/officers-acquitted-in-death-of-kelly-thomas/2014/01/14/3e660b24-7d24-11e3-95c6-0a7aa80874bc_story.html
2. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/12/american-society-police-state-criminalization-militarization
3. http://disinfo.com/2010/03/the-police-arent-legally-obligated-to-protect-you/
4. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/03/us/justices-approve-strip-searches-for-any-offense.html?pagewanted=all
5. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2013/08/swat-team-nation.html
6. http://www.governing.com/gov-institute/funkhouser/col-boston-marathon-bombing-police-appreciating-public-servants.html
7a. http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/08/01/americas-police-state-marches-on-media-in-tow/
b. http://fair.org/extra-online-articles/spotlight-on-police-violence-fails-to-illuminate/
8. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/janine-francolini/candles-are-lit_b_4563593.html.
9. http://www.krqe.com/news/crime/state-cop-shoots-at-minivan-full-of-kids
10. http://www.alternet.org/border-agents-touched-vagina-and-anally-probed-fruitless-search-narcotics
11. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/02/bill-bratton-sworn-in_n_4533202.html
12. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/the-school-to-prison-pipeline-a-nationwide-problem-for-equal-rights-20131107
13. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/dec/29/fbi-coordinated-crackdown-occupy

A Banal Crypt for Tyranny and Brutality

embassyFascist architecture has a long ugly history of leaving its mark on a society that has been pummeled and plundered. The US embassy in Baghdad is perhaps the best example of this. It stands as an architectural symbol of American imperialism. It is a monstrous, 750 million dollar fortress surrounded by high walls and checkpoints to protect its privileged inhabitants. It is larger than Vatican City and includes apartment complexes for embassy employees, a shopping mall, food court, an Olympic size swimming pool, a fitness center, a soccer field, and a huge basketball court. And as Iraqis struggle to survive in the chaos the US has created, this appendage of arrogant hegemony is protected.

Despite its facade mimicking democracy and freedom, it merely echoes dozens of other fascistic structures and monuments around the world. Its purpose is clear; to dominate the consciousness of the oppressed and the occupied. It stands as a cruel reminder to those under the thumb of imperialism, that “might makes right.”

But as all structures of its kind, it will ultimately be remembered for what it truly is; a banal crypt for tyranny and brutality.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(Photographer is Lucas Jackson, Reuters)

Genocide in Full View

Rohingya Refugees Source The Guardian“One of the world’s most persecuted minorities,” as the UN puts it, is being systematically murdered by a state that has been lauded for its acceptance of Western economic models, and for opening up to foreign investors. The country is Myanmar and the people being systematically murdered and ethnically cleansed are the Rohingya.
Genocide of Rohingya Myanmar Source Nafeez Ahmed
For many years the Rohingya Muslims of Southeast Asia have been brutalized, enslaved and denied citizenship in the nations they have been in for centuries.  Many have been forced to flee for their lives to Bangladesh, India or Thailand, only to be turned away and sent back to face persecution and oppression.  Today, their very existence is being threatened by powerful reactionary forces and the indifference of the world.

Extremist Buddhist factions backed and aided by the ruling military junta have launched violent attacks on villages, burning them to the ground, sometimes with the inhabitants still in them.  Rape and torture are frequently employed tactics by these armed death squads that terrorize the Rohingya in an effort to ethnically cleanse the land.  All the while the government of Myanmar, with the silent complicity of Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, has continued a steely silence in the face of their plight.

They all bear direct responsibility for these atrocities, as does the international elite who has been eyeing Myanmar for exploitation of its vast resources for some time.  The Rohingya are an inconvenience to them since they stand in the way of enormous profit.  Those who have survived the scorched earth policies of the junta often end up in squalid refugee camps scarred, broken and forgotten.  Others have been forced out to sea on shabby boats turned away by country after country.
Rohingya Refugees Face Health Crisis As Myanmar

This slow genocide has been happening for years, but the US media has barely taken notice. Perhaps it is because they happen to be Muslim or because Myanmar is fast becoming the latest client state of the global capitalist economic order.  The response of the international community might provide an answer to those questions.

The International Monetary Fund, an enduring bastion of colonial era thieves, has recently demanded reforms of the Myanmar government.  But not for these crime against humanity.  On the contrary.  The reforms demanded are for the country’s financial institutions and they are designed to extract even more profit for the global elite from this resource rich country.

A Rohingya man pleads with authorities as families try to shelter on a typical boat used by migrants to escape the Bangladesh Myanmar border area Source Bangkok Post

The genocide of the Rohingya people is one of the biggest catastrophes of our modern age.  Their plight is synonymous with every other struggle against oppression and brutality.  And the deafening silence of the world to their misery will not ever be forgotten.  When we see them we should very well see ourselves.  Because like the Rohingya we all stand in the way of the profit of the few and powerful.  Their struggle is in every way our own.

 

Kenn Orphan  2014

 

Where True Hope Lies

diego     One of the most persistent myths of the American empire has been, and continues to be, exceptionalism.  It is a belief rooted in white supremacy that allowed the European colonizers (mostly British) to ethnically cleanse much of the continent’s indigenous population; and to justify building its infrastructure and economies from the forced labor of African slaves, migrant workers from Asia and Irish indentured servants.  This eventually led beyond the borders of America to the occupation and forced annexation of the sovereign nation of Hawaii with the imprisonment of their Queen, and the colonial subjugation of the Philippines, and the domination of virtually all of  Central America and the Caribbean .  Almost all of the United States’ national history, roughly 210 out of 236 years, has been involved in some military conflict.  This history is more important today than ever before, because the empire never ceased expanding; and its rapacious consumption and aggressive militarism imperils virtually all life on the planet.

queen-liliuokalani-photograph-from-1891-the-palace-chair-she-is-sitting-on-is-now-located-in-the-drawing-room-of-iolani-palace

us imperialism

The reach of the American empire is now in over 148 countries around the planet, with over 600 military bases and covert, “black sites” and military support of some of the most brutal regimes humanity has ever known. From the wholesale bombing of Laos decades ago to the indiscriminate drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia and Syria, American imperialism has barely taken a breath between its expansionist exercises. Branded under ambiguously noble terms like “humanitarian intervention” or “the War on Terror” or “protecting US interests,” the persistent doctrine of imperialism for the maximization of capitalistic profit is marketed and sold to the American public.

RNC OUR MILITARY MUST BE STRONG TO DEFEND OUR SHORES 2014 6-12

It is unsurprising that most Americans are glaringly ignorant of this history.  That is by design.  And despite the revelations of the empire’s malfeasance by courageous whistle blowers like Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, many Americans still remain trapped in a mindset that begets a ruling elite and allows for their continual exploitation and plunder.  Now this wealthy power class, aided by the world’s biggest military,  is fatally drunk on their own hubris, collecting untold fortunes from the rape of the natural world, the theft of indigenous resources, and the global suppression of dissent.  Their crimes are whitewashed with the eager help of the corporate owned media; and they do this with impunity thanks to the institutions that they bought and paid for, openly and secretly, at lavish, well heeled fundraisers, exclusive, high end dinner events, and back room “trade deals.”

Wall Street elite dinner with Ben Bernanke REUTERS Lucas Jackson

Iraq Civilians  Getty ImagesThe ghosts of America’s global massacres still roam. They have no glorious tombs in which to repose. No wreath clad monuments grace their dusty graves. Their ends were met in the killing fields of Honduras, and Guatemala, and Palestine, and Iraq, and Yemen, and Laos, and Vietnam, and Indonesia from a brutality paid for in full by the US taxpayer. Their ghosts haunt any prospect of fairness and justice in imperialism’s latest manifestation of barbarity: neoliberal capitalism.  And their descendants, those who slave at sweatshops in Bangladesh for multinational clothing corporations, or who pick pesticide-laden vegetables in fields in Nicaragua for Big Agra, or are kept from leaping to their deaths in slave towers that furnish computer software giants their products, call out the hypocrisy of “free trade” for the malevolent lie that it is.

My_Lai_massacre_woman_and_children

With each passing year it becomes clearer that the strife wrought around the globe, decade upon decade, by the robber barons and plutocrats is returning to heart of the empire itself.   It is the natural outcome and saga of oligarchy that the tyranny we sow abroad will be the tyranny we shall reap at home.  And with climate change accelerating and species extinction exploding before our eyes, the end result will be nothing less than terrifying.

Kissinger War Criminal

But we are still fortunate to have access to the people’s record. Despite their chains or the dank prison cells they have been assigned to, people around the world are rising up. Their struggle to confront the demons of the past and the story of their enslavement is frightening beyond anything else to the oligarchy.  And that is why they are fighting back like never before, codifying their tyranny brick by brick into the bedrock of society with the help of a subservient mainstream media. In many cases they appear to be winning; but it isn’t over yet.

Philippines June 13 2014 Photo by Bullit Marquez AP

True hope lies in defiance of tyranny and brutality.  And it is measured in the depths of our capacity to speak out and to care. There is not always a happy outcome to this, but that is not what hope is really about anyway.  It could be said that the pages of human history are drenched in the blood of innocents and bound up with their bones, but understanding it as such pays no respect to the untold courage of those who stood up, often shaken and terrified, who refused to be a part of the killing and often ended in the shadows of a mass grave for doing so, those who nurtured the core that gives a human life meaning and worth. Their legacy is one which history will ultimately remember. Despite the tremendous drive to silence them, their story is in all of us; and there is nothing anyone can do to sponge that away.

Kenn Orphan  2014

Photo Credits:

-Photo on top is courtesy of Art Archive and is “Glorious Victory,” by Diego Rivera. It depicts the 1954 CIA coup against the democratically elected government of Guatemala.

-Photo of Queen Liliʻuokalani (September 2, 1838 – November 11, 1917) the last reigning monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii.  She was deposed from the throne January 17, 1893 following a coup d’état orchestrated by US military forces (Marines) at the behest of powerful US and European business interests.  The wealthy white class of Hawaii had long awaited the opportunity to seize control of the government and with the help of an all white militia, the Honolulu Rifles, they were able to establish a provisional government which eventually led to the annexation of the Kingdom into the United States of America.  It is widely seen as one of the most blatant acts of American imperialist aggression of the 19th century with repercussions lasting till this day.  On November 23, 1993 President Clinton signed the Apology Resolution which “acknowledges that the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii occurred with the active participation of agents and citizens of the United States and further acknowledges that the Native Hawaiian people never directly relinquished to the United States their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people over their national lands, either through the Kingdom of Hawaii or through a plebiscite or referendum” (U.S. Public Law 103-150 (107 Stat. 1510), but does little more than provide a weak nod to an outright overthrow.

-Political Cartoon circa 1914: “What the United States Has Fought For”
Text on cartoon: “Before the United States intervened in behalf of these oppressed peoples. Philippines-Spanish oppression. Hawaii-Industrial slavery. Porto Rico, Cuba-Spanish yoke. Isthmus of Panama-Quinine. After the United States had rescued them from their oppression. Philippines-Philippine Assembly, Education, Busine[ss] Prosperity. Hawaii-Prosperity. Porto Rico-Prosperity. Cuba-Self gov’t, prosperity. Panama Canal Zone-Health.”

-RNC Tweet

-Wall Street elite dinner with Ben Bernanke.  Reuters/Lucas Jackson

– An Iraqi family grieves the loss of family following US airstrike.  Photo, Getty Images.

-A heart wrenching photo of Vietnamese women and children in abject terror at Mỹ Lai just before being mercilessly killed by US troops, 16 March, 1968.  Photo: Ronald L. Haeberle.

-Henry Kissinger confronted by CODEPINK.  Associated Press

-Mass protest against austerity, neoliberalism and US imperialism in the Philippines.  Photo by Bullit Marquez/AP

Haunting Echoes from the Past

-This week France was shocked by the brutal beating of a Roma boy by a gang in a poor suburb of Paris. Sixteen year old Darius was dragged from a Roma camp where he lived with his family, and taken to a basement where he was savagely beaten unconscious and left in a shopping cart to die. He is currently in a coma in critical condition.

Since the Middle Ages the Roma have been persecuted throughout Europe. Labeled with the disparaging term “gypsy,” they have suffered through centuries of violence, ethnic cleansing and slavery, culminating with the genocide of hundreds of thousands of them in Nazi concentration camps. More recently various EU nations have enacted draconian policies of forced displacement, and prominent politicians have openly used racist and inflammatory language to demonize the Roma.

And the troubling trend of violence and hate speech is not limited to the Roma. In Greece, the far right political party Golden Dawn has been behind violent attacks on gay people, racial minorities and immigrants which have become almost daily. In Ukraine, for the first time since WWII, fascists now hold key government positions. In Spain and Poland, antisemitic vandalism of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries appear to be on the rise. In France and in the UK, attacks on Muslims by skinheads have sharply increased. In one attack, a young Muslim woman miscarried after a brutal assault by a gang outside of Paris. And few can ever forget the horrific massacre carried out by far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik in Sweden which left scores of children dead.

In this climate it is little wonder that these incidents are increasing. In Europe, the far right has used the current bleak economic outlook to resurrect the demons of old prejudices and racism. And the neoliberal economic policies of austerity have only fed the rise of extremism. An extremism which almost always finds its home in latent bigotries and scapegoats of convenience.

It is a fallacy to say that history repeats itself. Nothing is exactly as it was, nor will it be in the future. But often there are haunting echoes from the past that, when ignored, have a tendency to grow louder and stronger. We can only hope that this time more people are listening to the warnings and heeding their urgent lessons.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(Photo is of a Roma family in a camp in Eforie Sud , Romania, and is courtesy of Agence France-Presse (AFP)

Ecology of Hopelessness and Despair

Israeli-soldiers-guard-Pa-007There has been a lot of coverage in the US media regarding the kidnapping of three Israeli teenage settlers who were abducted last week while hitchhiking outside of the occupied city of al-Khalīl (Hebron) in the West Bank. Of course this incident is nothing less than abhorrent and every person of conscience hopes that these boys will be returned safely to their families. But once again the egregious bias that the US media displays in covering incidents like this in Gaza and the West Bank is rearing its ugly head.

In contrast to the kidnap story, little to nothing was reported about the shooting deaths of two Palestinian teens last month, who were protesting on Nakba Day (the day Palestinians remember the “catastrophe” when they were driven from their homes by Zionist militias in 1948). In fact what little attention it did receive was orchestrated by officials in the Israeli government. Former ambassador Michael Oren was given a prime spot on CNN to throw out repugnant claims including one that suggested the killings were “staged” and that these boys may not even be dead. In fact, the boys were killed and another wounded. And, according to CCTV footage and eyewitness accounts, they appeared to pose no visible danger to anyone. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) immediately claimed that no live fire was used, only rubber bullets. But an autopsy done on one of the boys revealed that this claim was patently false.

Children have become the saddest casualty of the occupation on both sides of the Green Line. Both Israeli and Palestinian children have been maimed or killed by indiscriminate violence. But Palestinian children have suffered far more by the numbers and by the extent of the violence they are subjected to on a daily basis by IDF forces and illegal settlers. According to a recent UN report, Israel has incarcerated thousands of children in the past decade, some as young as 12 years of age, and placed them in a military tribunal system which subjects them to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.” Children have been ripped from their homes in late night raids by the IDF and taken to detention centers far from their families, usually for the offense of throwing stones at army tanks. The report also pointed out that “in no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights.”

All people who care about justice and universal human rights hope for these kidnapped children to be returned safely to their families. But to report about this incident without context is both unjust and reckless. By many accounts Hebron is ground zero for the occupation. Settlers, with protection of the IDF, have been successful at making ordinary Palestinians’ lives a living hell. Scores of people along Shahuda Street, a once thriving thoroughfare in the city, have been literally sealed in their homes, their front doors having been welded shut by the IDF, with the only escape route being their rooftops. Intimidation and attacks from settlers have become the norm and this harassment is committed with impunity. Segregated roadways are enforced by military personnel, with settler roads being the more well maintained and widest. Palestinian children are routinely terrorized on their way to school, often having stones lobbed at them.

It is within this ecology of hopelessness and despair that this tragedy has emerged. It is the product of systemic bigotry, dehumanization and discrimination. It is the offspring of apartheid. And until the entire story is told, justice for all sides will continue to be submerged in a sea of oppressive jingoism and meaningless rhetoric.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(Photograph is of Palestinian children being detained by Israel Defense Forces in Hebron: Abed Al Hashlamoun/EPA)

Shattered Lives and Gravestones

mothersOne can only guess what is going through the minds of these two mothers from the city of Mosul in Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of residents have had to flee the city as the al-Qaeda group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, has taken hold of it. This comes after over a decade of misery and destruction predicated on a blatant lie.

As in every other military intervention around the world, from Libya to Afghanistan, the US is washing its hands of it all and the mainstream media is playing it’s usual amnesia card in the hopes that the American public will somehow magically forget what got us here in the first place: the invasion and occupation of a country that had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks and had no weapons of mass destruction to speak of. In the process of this farce, the infrastructure of Iraq was decimated, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, scores tortured and maimed, many more forced to leave their homes due to the violence, and thousands of US soldiers killed or mutilated from the reality that is war.

Today there have been calls for airstrikes and even more “boots on the ground.” Some in the media have actually had the gall to condemn the people of Iraq for their inability to implement the “democracy” that the US brought them. Of course most of the world understands what US democracy looks like, and apart from the meaningless, jingoistic catch phrases that include words like “freedom” and “liberty”, it almost always is accompanied by brutality and plunder.

As thousands flee their homes today we should be reminded of the true costs of US imperialism. It is not tallied in dollars and cents, it is measured in shattered lives and gravestones.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(photo courtesy of Reuters)

Images Can Be Powerful

pope3Images can be powerful. Arguably, this one of Pope Francis making an unscheduled visit to the Separation Wall in Bethlehem is just such an image. While the Israeli government claims it is for security, the facts tell a different story. The Wall has been widely criticized due to its carving up of Palestinian ancestral lands and has made life a living hell for the tens of thousands of people who must traverse its dehumanizing checkpoints to get to school, or the hospital, or to their own olive groves.

It is fatally easy to be cynical in this day and age. It is easy to be suspicious of every act taken, however symbolic, of a powerful religious or political figure. But one has to question whether such cynicism is warranted in every instance.

The Pope represents worldwide Catholicism, and there is much to be criticized about the institution of the Catholic Church from its horrendous record of child abuse and subsequent cover-ups, or its egregious stance on women’s and LGBTQ rights, or its bloody and cruel history. But there are millions of devout Catholics around the world who struggle for peace and justice. And there are nuns, priests and brothers who are persecuted and even killed for the stands they take to protect indigenous peoples from exploitation and ethnic cleansing. I have been fortunate to have known some of them.

This action taken by Pope Francis can be taken as an empty gesture; but I will choose to check my cynicism at the door this time. If this image can shed even a small amount of attention to the plight of the Palestinians, if it can open up the hearts and minds of people, regardless of their religion or lack there of, to the universality of human rights, if it can show that this ancient land is home to all who live there, be they Jewish or Arab, or if it can lead, even slightly, to the demolition of this wall instead of houses, then it is a worthwhile, welcome and beneficial gesture to be lauded.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(image courtesy of the International Middle East Media Center)

Why Facts Matter

gay holocaust fOne of the most vile and surreptitious tactics being used by certain organizations and individuals on the far right of late has been to vilify the LGBTQ community by marrying the duel evils of Holocaust denial and blatant falsehoods. Conservative evangelical preacher Scott Lively, a pseudo-historian, and the notorious hate group the American Family Association have been at the forefront of such efforts. They have been advancing the lie that the Nazis and SS were in fact homosexuals bent on the destruction of civilization.

One must be in awe of such a feat of monumental duplicity especially when one considers that these same people profess an unshakeable belief in the literal interpretation of the Bible. But deceit is not too high a price to pay when you are advancing an agenda of hatred, demonization and cruelty.

No one knows the exact number of gay men who were interred in concentration camps, but it is estimated at being between 10 and 15’000. The death rate was among the highest of any other group after Jews. By many accounts, gays suffered more abuse than any other victims in the camps at the hands of the SS guards, and often by other concentration camp prisoners. They were beaten, forced to work to death in a program called “Extermination through Work”, and suffered through cruel scientific experiments that often resulted in their deaths. Following the liberation of the camps many of these men suffered the further indignity in being imprisoned by the Allied governments that prevailed in the war. And it took decades before there was any official recognition of gay Holocaust victims and survivors.

All of this is historical fact, so it is a curious thing to see a group that identifies itself as morally righteous spread vicious lies about a marginalized and oppressed group of people. But facts are of no use to those with an agenda of repression. Facts are dangerous and ultimately fatal to the ideology of bigotry. So people of conscience must make every effort to expose the lies when they surface, lest they be allowed to fester. Today, these same individuals and groups are spreading their cancerous deception to places like Russia, Uganda and Nigeria, and it is having a disastrous effect.

This is why facts matter. They matter because justice and humanity matter.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(photo is of a group of gay prisoners at Buchenwald and is courtesy of the Jewish Virtual Library)