Monthly Archives: May 2022

The World Should be Forever Grateful to Shireen Abu Aqleh

I will be honest about something. Since the cold-blooded execution of Palestinian, veteran journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh by an Israeli sniper I have felt rather nonplussed. A rarity for me. But it does happen.

It happens when I feel overwhelmed with joy. It happens when I feel like I am overcome with despair. And when that despair is mixed with rage, I sometimes feel like I can’t even breath.

The shock and anger over the killing of Shireen, a beloved reporter for Al Jazeera whose face was well known throughout Palestine and the Middle East, would be almost overshadowed by the horrendous actions of the Israeli police at her funeral procession in occupied East Jerusalem.

Descending on the mourners carrying Shireen’s coffin like attack dogs, Israeli police clubbed unarmed Palestinians in a scene reminiscent of apartheid South Africa. White police frequently targeted the funerals of murdered activists and independent journalists who reported on the brutality of the apartheid regime. It is worth reminding that Israel has recently been designated an apartheid state by the UN, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.

Israel quickly defended its actions stating that “stones were being thrown at police.” Not one major media outlet thought to ask them why the Israeli police were at her funeral in the first place. Perhaps it is because if they did, it would reveal the nature of the arrangement of power. This was occupied East Jerusalem. The same state responsible for Shireen’s death was now disgracing her funeral. As is par for the course in commenting on anything related to the defense of Palestinian human rights, when one does it they can expect an avalanche of hate mail and vile accusations of antisemitism. And it should be said that Jews who stand in solidarity with their Palestinian sisters and brothers are not spared this treatment either. On the contrary, they are often the first to be smeared or silenced.

Antisemitism is a vile social hatred and is responsible for the untold suffering of millions of people over the course of centuries. It should always be condemned whenever it surfaces. But the accusation has also been used as a suffocating blanket against any person who dares defend Palestinian human rights or criticizes Israel or the political ideology of Zionism. It has been an effective bludgeon to silence dissent, debate, or even reasoned discussion.

But times have changed and the old methods are wearing thin. Perhaps it is thanks to social media. Perhaps it is due to decades of Israeli occupation, or a powerful military that carpet bombs entire neighbourhood blocks, or evicts families and villages as bulldozers demolish their homes. Perhaps it is due to scores of discriminatory laws against Palestinian citizens of Israel, or the fact that Palestinians in the occupied territories or in Gaza have absolutely no real agency over their lives, or the hundreds of thousands of illegal settlers in the occupied West Bank, many of them violent, moving into Palestinian homes. Perhaps it is due to the complicity of powerful state actors like the US, EU, UK and Canada who obfuscate and run interference for every single questionable or criminal act committed by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) while chiding the Palestinians for nearly every action they take, including nonviolent movements like Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) called for by Palestinian civil society. Perhaps it is a new generation of young people, many of them Jews outside of Israel, for whom universal human rights are not merely a campaign slogan and for whom the threats, smears and lies no longer work.

Whatever combination of the change in international public opinion, it is doubtful that Shireen will get any justice for her murder. Israel still has too much political and economic power, as well as the backing and funding of the most powerful empire on earth, to ever have to really answer for it. But with each injustice its veneer of being a democracy becomes worn and ludicrous.

Like the oppressive, hyper-capitalist, theocratic Emirates and Saudi Arabia which have warmed to it in recent years thanks to the political chicanery of US president Trump, Israel can no longer count itself as a democracy without people questioning the validity of such a claim or thinking critically about what they have witnessed with their own eyes. Like the beating and hosing down of Black civil rights workers in the Jim Crow South or the brutal massacres of Black and Brown people in apartheid South Africa, these visual testimonies and crime scenes cannot be unseen. No spin team, no matter how moneyed or well oiled, can undo it.

Like all states with brutal or abysmal human rights records, the taint remains until something substantial is done to address the wound. But for that to occur, it would have to reconcile with who it is. And nation states never do this on their own.

Till her dying breath, Shireen lived up to something she said in an interview with her employer Al Jazeera a few years ago: “I chose journalism to be close to the people. It might not be easy to change the reality, but at least I was able to bring their voice to the world.” And for that, the world should be forever grateful.

Kenn Orphan, May 2022

Remembering Shireen Abu Akleh

Palestinian-American veteran journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, was murdered this week by an IDF sniper in a refugee camp in the Occupied West Bank. She was wearing a PRESS vest and was reporting on Israeli military violence against refugees at the time. Today, she was laid to rest.

Shireen was beloved for her grace, professional integrity and honesty by Palestinians, journalists around the world, and those of us who stand in solidarity.

May she rest in power. She will not be forgotten. And may Palestine be free.

Kenn Orphan, May 2022

Concerning those on the Left who Still Defend Putin

This is bound to be an unpopular opinion among a certain set of the online (particularly older, American) left, but I keep seeing the same problematic things being repeated. That a photo of Ukrainians fleeing, wounded or dead are either “fake news” or they are “crisis actors.” The most odious ones say that these are all Azov Nazis. I guess that would include the Jewish community. I guess it would also include people who simply did not want to leave their homes. Or the disabled, the sick, children, the elderly, and all of those who stayed to protect them and their homes. Others are wringing their hands about Putin’s conundrum of having “NATO in its backyard.” How anyone can become that jaded is beyond me. But I’ve seen it before.

I won’t address the claim of wounded or mass graves being made up of “crisis actors” or “fake news” as this comes from a kind of degeneracy of Trumpism which should be soundly rejected by anyone with even a modicum of decency. But we should address the claim that Russia is fighting Nazis. Putin has used this label to further his military aims. He understands that the use of that word in Russia is powerful propaganda. It stirs up powerful emotions and memories, especially among older Russians who suffered greatly from Germany’s attacks and invasions of the USSR in WW2. And it is a common slur against any opposition because it works at demonizing and shutting down the conversation.

Without a doubt, there is a problem with the far right in Ukraine as there is in many countries, including the US and Russia. And there are some neo-Nazis’ elements in its military and militia forces. But it is worth mentioning that Russia actually trained some of these neo-Nazi groups, as revealed in a report from Deutsche Welle in 2020. It is also important to understand these elements are deeply unpopular. They garnered less than a pitiful 3% of support in elections. Now that Ukraine is being attacked and invaded by a foreign power, many of them are fighting along side other Ukrainians.

Before anyone can shake a finger at that, I dare them to say they would not fight or flee alongside people they loathe in their own societies if their nation was being invaded by an outside aggressor. One might even see Proud Boys fighting alongside BLM activists if the US were suddenly invaded. War is about the urgency of the moment. The urgency of protecting one’s life and the lives of those they care for. It is about protecting one’s home and community. In such circumstances, you don’t get to choose who your allies are at that moment. You do what makes the most sense to survive. Anyone who does not understand this does not understand war.

As for NATO, let me be clear, I am no fan and I want it to be dismantled. Its hands are covered in blood, from Libya and beyond. And its posturing does nothing but increase conflict, edging us closer to an unthinkable nuclear nightmare. But this kind of apologism for Putin, as if he had no other choice, is honestly sickening. It is the same argument used by the US when it “pre-emptively” attacked Iraq because of a perceived threat. Weapons of mass destruction that did not exist.

Israel uses this excuse when it has carpet bombed the captive population of Gaza. “What is Israel supposed to do? Not respond to rockets being fired on its citizens?” The argument is, of course, hollow when one considers that Gaza is the largest open-air prison on the planet, where half of the population are children, and where Israel controls everything that gets into and out of the strip. It falls under scrutiny of Israel’s wanton destruction of water and sewage treatment facilities and bombing of hospitals, schools, apartment buildings, press offices and shelters.

The argument that Ukraine is Russia’s backyard is drenched in colonial arrogance. It is a defense of “multipolar” tyranny. And it is the same argument used by the US when it attacked Cuba. The Cuban people were not even considered. After decades of crushing sanctions, they still aren’t. On the contrary, they are given no agency to choose their own fate.

We know this is how powerful state entities think. What I cannot get around is how people who aren’t on their payroll so easily parrot those talking points with such ease and dismissal. No country is in anyone’s “backyard.” And to repeat such a ludicrous claim isn’t “realistic,” it only serves the powerful. If you are an average citizen of this world, your call is to stand in solidarity with people, not the powerful, not governments, and certainly not their stooges.

I know this entire line of reasoning will be lost on a certain segment who, while appropriately despising NATO and Pentagon talking points, seem to have no problem echoing the Kremlin in practically every breath. Those same ones who demonized anyone resisting the brutal dictatorship of Assad as “head chopping Jihadis.” It isn’t written for them. It is written for anyone who sees beyond such cynical manipulation.

Solidarity should never be with a leader or a state entity. It should not be with NATO, the Pentagon, or the Kremlin. It should always be with people like ourselves. Ordinary people who are always the ones to be bombed or tortured or forced to flee for their lives. Start by exiting the echo chamber of the powerful and listening to the people on the ground who are closest to the misery and chaos that has been created by those powerful. Start listening to their solutions.

And I suggest seeing the grifters among you for what they are. They are the ones who think solidarity is naïve or unrealistic. Who drone on endlessly that we must accept a “multipolar world” as a solution to US imperialism. A 21st century, global fiefdom where agency is suppressed. Those whose sole schtick is to suck the air out of human empathy and employ snark derisively, not toward the powerful, but toward the powerless. Their grift depends upon your jadedness. Those who mock the oppressed, the brutalized, the economically disenfranchised, and people in war zones; and who seem to have warmer feelings for authoritarian despots and stale ideologies than they do for flesh and blood human beings. Be warned: they peddle a poison that will first lull you into complacency, and then rob you of whatever humanity you may have left.

Kenn Orphan, May 2022

*Title Photo: Debris is seen next to a partially collapsed building is seen, after a school building was hit as a result of shelling, in the village of Bilohorivka, Luhansk, Ukraine [Reuters]

Fascism is Intentional

There was a part of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, that is perhaps the most unsettling to me. The protagonist, Offred, is walking past the notorious Wall in the Republic of Gilead. This Wall, once part of a prestigious university in Cambridge Massachusetts, is now being used as a place of public execution, where corpses are left hanging for days to send a message of compliance and terror to the citizens of this authoritarian, theocratic state. Defy “God’s law” and you will suffer the punishment for doing so.

When Atwood penned her famous book in 1985, she could not have imagined just how prescient it would be seen decades later. Then the Hulu series was produced. It differed in many significant ways from the book. The character of Offred, for instance, did not have the same agency or defiance as the one in the television series. She was a witness to the brutality of the Republic of Gilead, but she didn’t actively participate in resisting it as Elizabeth Moss’ portrayal did. Although the series was powerful, well written and well acted, the book presents us with a more universal experience of a person living under authoritarian cruelty.

But it came in the time of Trump. A time of unmasked misogyny. Resistance, or even the facsimile of it, became a popular rallying call. Now, we watch stupefied at the continuing resurgence of fascism, dressed up in the guise of Christianity, in the same nation that would eventually become Atwood’s fictional Gilead. The recent leak of a US Supreme Court draft opinion may be one of those prophecies foretold.

In many ways, however, the leak has merely indicated what many had long suspected. With the admission of some of the most far-right, religiously conservative justices, the writing was on the wall for the SCOTUS to eventually overturn the historic Roe v. Wade case. When it does, the national right to abortion for women will end and several states will automatically make abortion illegal, with many others following. It isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine an eventual national ban on all abortions coming down the pike, and the reversal of other landmark cases including marriage equality.

But to reduce this all to only one or two issues would be missing the broader picture. The war on women’s rights, primarily the right of a woman to control her own body, is a fundamental feature of fascism. Misogyny is a central tenet. Without a doubt, fascism has always been a current running just under the surface in American culture, religion and politics. As anywhere it surfaces, fascism has characteristics unique to the society it rises in. And American fascism has always cloaked itself in white supremacy and Calvinistic theology. It is an ideology grounded in racism, exclusion, rigid gender roles and fear.

When Offred saw the bodies on the notorious execution Wall she remembered something her brutal overseer Aunt Lydia once said: “Ordinary, is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary.” This speaks to the things we come to accept as just part of ones day in the society in which we live. The normalization of things we might once have thought inconceivable, or even horrifying.

The US isn’t at this point yet, and may never be. But it is worth taking into account Offred’s thoughts on how life was before this reign of terror began, and the feelings of complacency many of us share with her, even as the world around us rapidly morphs into something unimaginable:

“Is that how we lived, then? But we lived as usual. Everyone does, most of the time. Whatever is going on is as usual. Even this is as usual, now. We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it. Nothing changes instantly: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.”

Offred reflects on her complacency often. She thinks about not attending rallies or marches. And of her mother who did. But, like so many of us, she simply wanted to get her and her family through life hoping it would all work itself out. Our place in history, however, doesn’t function like that. We are participants in it whether we like it or not. And the biggest danger we face is our apathy in the face of authoritarian brutality and violent repression.

Fascism is intentional. It is intentional in its obsession with a fictional and romanticized past. A sentimental vision of a history that never happened. An addiction to the glorification of nationalistic militarism. It is intentional in its drive to silence voices that criticize its narrow understanding of history or the place and treatment of women or of minorities. It is intentional in its misogyny, its racism, its homophobia, its xenophobia, its violence. And given the right circumstances, like economic disparity, ecological crises or institutional rot, it can sweep through any society like a flood. And it can create a new normal in the blink of an eye, leaving us grieving for the life we once thought was simply ordinary.

Kenn Orphan, May 2022