More of Iran’s Cultural Sites

Iran contains many sites that are sacred to Jews, Christians and other faiths, including the tomb of Esther and Mordechai where thousands of Jews make pilgrimage each year. There are also cathedrals, monasteries and shrines that remain active today. Iran has the second largest population of Jews in the Middle East outside of Israel and is home to a large population of Christians as well. The same cannot be said of one of the United State’s greatest allies, Saudi Arabia, where all places of worship other than a strict version of Sunni Muslim are banned.

Although the Pentagon has attempted to step back from Trump’s threats to destroy Iranian cultural sites, Trump himself has doubled down on them. These sites are considered a part of Iranian cultural heritage, would they be targeted too?

#NoWarOnIran

 

Kenn Orphan   January 2020

Isfahan, Another Cultural Site of Iran

In his 1930s travelogue, The Road to Oxiana, Robert Byron wrote of this Iranian city: “Isfahan has become indelible, has insinuated its image into that gallery of places that everybody privately treasures. I gave it no help in doing so. The monuments have kept me too busy. One could explore for months without coming to the end of them. From the 11th century, architects and craftsmen have recorded the fortunes of the town, its changes of taste, government and belief. The buildings reflect these local circumstances; it is their charm, like the charm of most old towns. But a few illustrate the heights of art independently, and rank Isfahan among those rarer places, like Athens or Rome, which are the common refreshment of humanity.”

Although the Pentagon has attempted to step back from Trump’s threats to destroy Iranian cultural sites, Trump himself has doubled down on them. These sites are considered a part of Iranian cultural heritage, would they be targeted too?

#NoWarOnIran

Kenn Orphan   January, 2020

Trump’s War on Iran is not Against its Government, it is Against the Iranian People Themselves

Earlier today President Trump threatened via tweet to destroy Iran’s cultural sites. Let that sink in for a minute. A sitting president of the US has threatened to erase the cultural heritage of an entire people. This was the tactic of ISIS who blew up centuries old shrines, mosques, churches and Roman era ruins and the Taliban which demolished ancient towering statues of the Buddha. It is also a war crime under international law.

Iranian society reaches back 5000 years. Its art, culture and architecture have influenced countless societies and remain a treasure for all humanity. That a president would make such a threat should be chilling for anyone with a conscience. Trump’s war on Iran is not against its government, it is against the Iranian people themselves.

Kenn Orphan   January 2020

Pictured is the beautiful Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran. There are more sites listed in the attached website below:

https://mymodernmet.com/historical-architecture-iran/

While the World Burns, the Powerful Go on Holiday

Like so many these past few days, I have been stunned by the devastation across Australia. The photographs and videos of the fires sweeping through the countryside and surrounding towns and even the city of Sydney show a nation literally on fire. Terrified people clung to the bottoms of boat docks, neck deep in water to escape the flames. Thousands crowded on to beaches while the skies above became a Mars like orange hue.  At the time of my writing this at least 18 people are confirmed to have died, over 14 million acres scorched, and a half billion wild animals have perished. These numbers will almost certainly rise. Indeed, it has made even the most stoic of climate scientists tremble. The fires are unprecedented in scale, bigger than the fires in California or even the Amazon in 2019. And they are particularly alarming as this is only the beginning of summer in the southern hemisphere.

Of course, deadly bushfire behemoths are not uncommon in Australia. In 1926, sixty people perished in south east Victoria. The Black Friday bushfires in 1939 claimed 71 lives. But the intensity of these incidents has increased as temperatures have steadily climbed over the 20th century. Then in 2009 the most devastating of fires took the lives of 173 people, scorched at least 450,000 hectares of land (1,100,000 acres), and killed hundreds of thousands of animals. Today’s fires have a new context that cannot be ignored. As climate change accelerates, so too does the pace and scale of its consequences.

While Australia has been reeling from devastating bushfires, just to the north thousands of Indonesians have been forced to flee for their lives too, but this time it is due to catastrophic flooding. In fact, the capital city itself is sinking into the ocean thanks to excessive extraction of ground water and rising seas. The government has made public its plan to relocate the capital to an inland area on the heavily forested island of Borneo, a grim prospect for the future of indigenous peoples and wildlife in that already beleaguered region. Indonesia is a world leader in the destruction of its own rainforests, much of it cleared or burned for global timber trade and to make way for profitable crops like palm oil. Its unbridled greed has decimated wildlife, including the endangered orangutan. And based on its corrupt history, the government will likely abandon the poorest of sinking Jakarta first.

 

In many ways the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century might also prove to be the beginning of an unraveling of sorts. And this does not only pertain to the biosphere. Last month’s UN sponsored COP 25 (Conference of Parties) in Madrid, which aimed at addressing our climate catastrophe, was a complete sham much like similar conferences preceding it. Thousands of delegates were joined by hundreds of fossil fuel and banking industry lobbyists and profiteers. They not only attended the conference, but also led several of the meetings. The sickening irony of this was not lost on protesters, who walked out of rooms en masse with hands clasped over their ears once the oil men began speaking.

But around the world the most wealthy and powerful governments remain firmly in denial, and that denial is rooted in the interests of capital. In other words, the shortsighted profits for the moneyed few. As fires ravaged his country Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, for instance, spent the beginning of this disaster holidaying in Hawaii. But this apathy should come as no surprise since he had the gall to stand in the House of Representatives in 2017 clasping a lump of coal and declaring: “This is coal. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be scared. It won’t hurt you.” Now, three years later, it appears that those insensitive and downright stupid words have clearly come to haunt his government.

 

Only a couple months ago the world’s attention was on the fires in the Amazon. Fires that should not have occurred in a wet rainforest. Fires that have devastated fragile ecosystems and the indigenous communities that depend on them. Fires that were, in large part, intentionally set by loggers, miners and cattle ranchers under the approving gaze of the Bolsonaro regime. Today, mainstream media attention has moved to a different continent, but the scenario isn’t much different. There are very rich and very powerful people burning the house we all live in down to ash to make a quick buck, so we shouldn’t be surprised that they will create distractions, even deadly ones like war, to divert our attention and resources. Or they will simply fiddle, like Nero, or go on holiday when the flames get too close to their gilded mansions.

 

Kenn Orphan   January, 2020

 

Title photo credit: Adam Stevenson, Reuters. A kookaburra perches on a burnt tree in the aftermath of a bushfire in Wallabi Point, Australia, on Nov. 12, 2019. 

 

An Attack on One is an Attack on All

After a series of cowardly and terrible acts against Jewish communities in New York, London and elsewhere over this past Hanukkah, I was reminded of this historic photograph. It was taken by Rachel Posner, the wife of Rabbi Akiva Posner, in 1932 at their home in Kiel, Germany. It was only a month before Hitler came to power.
As fascism sadly made significant gains around the world this past year, defiance to social hatred, brutality and dehumanization, whether organized or not, is something that we must not take for granted. From the Amazon to the streets of Beirut, ordinary people have taken courageous stands against repression, often placing their very bodies on the line. But solidarity is the most important of values we have today. So even though there are those who will use these attacks as a tactic of divide and conquer, or who will resort to xenophobia and vilification of the ‘other’ to gain political points, the truth is that an attack on one is an attack on all.
Regardless of our faith or the absence of one, each of us has a menorah to place in our front windows. It makes no difference if the flags of hate loom larger than our emblem of defiance to them. After all, it might be a flickering candle of desperate hope. A light for the way out, for people you might not even know or ever meet.
Kenn Orphan   December 2019

Remembering Ram Dass

“We are all just walking each other home.” – Ram Dass, Richard Alpert (April 6, 1931 – December 22, 2019)

When I think of the marvelous life of Ram Dass I can think of so many gems of simple, yet extraordinary insight, wisdom and compassion. He is being dismissively referred to as a “New Age guru,” and he would probably laugh about that. But his life work was far more than being a guru. He worked with the dying and instilled a needed dignity and compassion to this field. And his teachings helped to enliven my spiritual life at a time when I was walking in a parched desert. A time when I felt there was no one to walk me home. He is part of the reason I entered into hospice care work.

In truth, there are so many quotes that I thought of, like “In most of our human relationships, we spend much of our time reassuring one another that our costumes of identity are on straight.” What a great understanding of the ego and theatre that defines our societal transactions. Or “Treat everyone you meet like God in drag.” I love that one especially since it isn’t merely about God in disguise, but God in drag. How fabulous is that?

And when he said “religions are founded by what mystics say when they come back; but what the mystics say is not the same as what happened to them,” my disillusioned eyes were opened. Religion is humanity’s very imperfect explanation of the transcendent. Then there was this: “We’re here to awaken from the illusion of separateness.” That one perfectly describes our existential situation, especially in a time where dehumanization is rife and nature has been reduced to a commodity or rendered a barcode.

But the above quote sums things up the best to me, because it isn’t just about our own path. Our path intersects with everyone elses path. And our task is not one of leader or guide, but one of companion, in solidarity.

“When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You are too this, or I’m too this.’ That judgment mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.” – Ram Dass

Namaste

भगवान की गति.

Rest in peace, Baba.

The Awful Grace Of Nightmares In A Soulless Dayscape: Midnight Train To The End Of Empire

A conversation between Phil Rockstroh and Kenn Orphan.

KO: Phil, I know you and I have talked about the psyche, especially in relation to western thought and its apparent anathema to anything non-reductionist. And I was wondering about your thoughts regarding apparent sectarian divides in the struggling left. The psyche, or soul, is regarded as a two dimensional shadow puppet these days. The sham consumerist trope of “mindfulness” is bandied about often in bourgeois circles as a way of numbing the soul to the deathscape of late capitalism. And I have found myself wandering in a desert of empty memes on the subject. Can you elaborate on what you are referring to when talking about the psychic need/dearth in western culture?

PR: First, dreams emanate from a unique, living sphere of being. The phenomenon is defined by its animated quality (withal, animated from the root word anima i.e., Latin for soul). Dreams arrive plangent with undiluted emotion (not empty motion — but meaningful, engaged and connected to the breathing moment e-motion). Unlike our alienated era, dreams are freighted in Dionysian drama and, unlike the prefab, ad hoc, shoddily constructed, soul-defying, Big Box store/Tyvek-choked, architecture of so much of the capitalist nadascape, dreams arrive imbued with a life-vivifying, deepening aesthetic.

Dreams break the bonds of time, space, gravity, perspective, law, and taboos thus allow one to move beyond egocentric, ossified, even cherished — and what are misapprehended as defining concepts of oneself and of the waking world.

But it is crucial to approach the imagistic limning of the psyche by means of the psyche’s own lexicon:

“[Our] dayworld style of thinking—literal realities, natural comparisons, contrary opposites, processional steps—[…] must be set aside in order to pursue the dream into its home territory. There thinking moves in images, resemblances, correspondences. To go in this direction, we must sever the link with the dayworld, foregoing all ideas that originate there—translation, reclamation, compensation. We must go over the bridge and let it fall behind us, and if it will not fall, then let it burn.”  — James Hillman

Dreams can be viewed as practice sessions, as a form of rehearsal, thereby allowing one to move — in the manner dreams comport themselves — i.e., apprehending the world in an aesthetic sense — to wit, a mode of mind that evinces greater flexibility, is open to novelty, and is willing to engaged waking experience in a bolder, even rebellious fashion. All of which are crucial as we negotiate the life-negating, daylight criteria imposed by the capitalist epoch.

KO: Carl Jung believed dreams were the language of the subconscious, the part of our mind or psyche that guides our actions, feelings and ultimately our behaviour, but the reason they are so problematic to us is that they speak in a symbolic manner, a language we are unfamiliar with. I often think about that in relation to the culture of the West, a culture so driven by literal meanings and rational explanations that it eclipses the nuanced complexity of being.

Has this mania for concrete materialism caused our current alienation from nature? Is it where the West and indigenous cultures diverge?

I was wondering your thoughts on that, especially given our collective state in ecological and climate catastrophe, rampant militarism, the rise of fascism and a sort of new conformity of our times, or groupthink, especially in relation to social media.

PR: First a caveat: While Freud appropriated the term subconscious, Jung asserted the term unconscious served as a more apt description of the phenomenon. Jung averred that ego awareness, although the state of being subsumes the realm of the unconscious during daylight activities, the primary was not more powerful nor superior to the latter. In fact, the unconscious, in particular when denied a role in the life of both individuals and cultures, was prone to create havoc. Jung warned,  “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

In the view of James Hillman, ego consciousness is one of many constellations of fantasies within a psychical cosmos of fantasies.

Do you know this quote of Jung’s — perhaps his most famous? “The Gods have become diseases.” Full quote: “We think we can congratulate ourselves on having already reached such a pinnacle of clarity, imagining that we have left all these phantasmal gods far behind. But what we have left behind are only verbal specters, not the psychic facts that were responsible for the birth of the gods. We are still as much possessed today by autonomous psychic contents as if they were Olympians. Today they are called phobias, obsessions, and so forth; in a word, neurotic symptoms. The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus, and produces curious specimens for the doctor’s consulting room, or disorders the brains of politicians and journalists who unwittingly let loose psychic epidemics on the world.”

Dreams, the realm wherein the psyche displays herself in an unfiltered state thus is animated by the living lexicon of the soul, are image-rich, non-linear and polytheistic in nature. Therein, one is more likely to come upon Persephone in descent or Orpheus rising than the ossified logos of the true believers of Yahweh whose mythos places their unapproachable and fearsome sky-daddy as dwelling in the distant, unreachable blazing blue yonder.

“[W]hen the world is dead: ego psychology is inevitable, for the patient must find ways to connect the psyche of dream and feeling to the dead world so as to reanimate it.” –James Hillman, “The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World,” Spring Publications. Kindle Edition.

Hillman has averred, “the psyche upsets us” [by us he was referring to the US public]. Hence, he alluded to the reasons contemporary political movements are bereft of an effective means to resist the capitalist/consumer culture — a culture wherein the soul is avoided by means of manic flights from deepening engagement. In short, if the suffering of the exploited earth — plus how our lives are degraded in the same manner — was taken into account and into the suffering heart of individuals, an uprising would proceed in short order.

There is, for example, a toxic credulity at play within the mind’s of those who believe capitalists will solve the Climate Crisis — to wit, a crisis created by capitalism. Withal, capitalism exists and its modus operandi’s singular agenda is to sluice obscene amounts of capital into the already bloated coffers of planet eating ghouls (a sickness of Kronos/Saturn) who couldn’t give a rodent’s rectum about safeguarding your psyche and the earth’s biosphere from destruction from capitalism i.e., their craven selves.

The collective imagination of the US — or lack thereof — does not recognise the psyche, in fact, worse, are unaware of the existence of the phenomenon. The situation is disastrous for the psyche, because the psyche, with its uncanny, imagistic lexicon and its confounding multiplicity, is the means one views oneself and regards and reacts to the outer world. As a result, the US American mind lacks an understanding in regard to the ways their individual psyche is immersed in the currents of the collective unconscious of US empire and, as a result, are bereft of the agency to resist capitalist despotism and the ghoulish system’s gluttonous mania to feed off the body of the planet.

Capitalist operatives are adept at smothering anti-capitalist movements in their crib — when the movement’s denizens are toddling, swooning in magical thinking, through Candyland. A question: How deeply are activists willing to delve into the dark, wounded, unsavoury precincts of the soul? How else could one prepare oneself to wage an effective resistance?

KO: Phil, your quote from Jung, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate,” makes me think more deeply about the dreaming world we all too often compartmentalize into a sub-category of routine in the West. It has become another thing to control, dominate and suppress. Thus the arrival of more and more “sleep aids.” I think it is fascinating, for instance, that one of the most popular sleep aid today is Ambien, which is a sedative-hypnotic drug. So the impulse is both to be attracted to the unconscious and to suppress it.

So then it stands to reason that the deathscape of late capitalism we see stretching before us seems undaunted by our efforts to halt it. It is, as Jung stated, a thing we call fate. And this is, of course, supreme hubris because there is no fate involved here. It is all a sort of unconscious construction.

When I think of dreams I think about a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” And I think this encapsulates the hubris I mentioned. Philosophies and theologies of all stripes have made vainglorious attempts to explain our world without an ounce of awe, wonder or humility. And this is what capitalism is all about. To dominate and consume as if all that exists, exists for the strongest human to control and manipulate, and eliminate via neglect to deliberate destruction, that which has been deemed to hold no value. The reduction of that can be consumed or that can amass dollar value via a barcode designation.

And so when I think about dreams I cannot help but think about ghosts. Ghosts have always figured large in my world. I think this is because I feel that they are the shadows of our psyche. They, like other archetypal figures, represent our lost aspirations both as individuals and as a species.  In many indigenous societies it is the ghost who guides us toward emancipation and actualization, not the angel.  This is because every one of us can identify with a ghost. Few of us have the piety or inherent detachment necessary to make us an angel.  In mythology ghosts can never attain angelic or demonic status. They live outside the rhythm of life like dissonant chords, condemned to only remember loss. And it is in this very quality that we see ourselves reflected.

To those of us who live near to nature the idea of ghosts is far from fantasy. The concept is neither childish, nor macabre.  We commune with our ghosts and respect them. They are the embodiment of our lost dreams and elusive joy, and only haunt those who misinterpret their messages. They have no malice, only longing.

PR: Kenn, do you remember this quote from Secretary of State Colin Powell, from around 2003, to a Saudi interviewer in the London-based publication Asharq Al-Awsat in which Powell declared? “They’re a wonderful medication-not medication. How would you call it? They’re called Ambien, which is very good. … Everybody here [i.e., in Washington’s political elite circles] uses Ambien.”

Yet from Aeschylus:

“And even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

Dreams summon forth what has been buried for the sake of expedience and for the purpose of navigating the exigencies of the day without being engulfed by nighttime’s phantasms. True, Kenn, we, in the US, are in manic flight and down fistfuls of meds to avoid being confronted by realms of ghosts. Colin Powell, a key figure in covering up the My Lai massacre and whose prevaricating testimony was crucial insofar as constructing the web of lies that rationalised the invasion and occupation of Iraq, must be plagued by tormenting, Dickensian night spirits that make Scrooge’s chain-dragging shades seem like participants at a plush animal cosplay convention.

The American field of dreams is a mass grave of genocide-dispatched Indians, worked-to-death African slaves and labouring class Whites. The true national anthem is a dirge composed of imprecatory prayers of the starved and slaughtered. It should not be a mystery as to why US Americans are plagued by sleeplessness; why the citizenry refuses to ride the midnight train bound for all points into The Western Lands known as Death’s twin kingdom. After belief system buffeting encounters with the keening ghosts of the nation’s collective past, only a psychopath could continue justify cosigning the blood-built status quo. Withal, I suspect this is what underpins Trump’s late night Twitter-mania. Why, I suspect, his narcissism-brittle ego attempts to ward-off sleep and the perchance to dream.

 

KO: I was not aware of that quote by Colin Powell, but it is telling indeed. And it brings me back to the concept of ghosts in that regard. The ghosts of America’s global massacres still roam. They have no glorious tombs in which to repose, unlike the the craven cadavers who are endlessly lauded and celebrated in American media. No wreath clad monuments grace the dusty graves who were slaughtered and forgotten by these so called titans. The ones whose end was met in the killing fields of Honduras, and Guatemala, and Chile, and Panama, and Palestine, and Iraq, and Syria, and Yemen, and Somalia, and Laos, and Vietnam, and Indonesia, and beyond from a brutality paid for in full by the US taxpayer are rendered invisible. Yet their ghosts still haunt their killers. And a hypnotic trance-like sleep cannot save their souls from the justified rage of their victims.

And their descendants, those who slave at sweatshops in Bangladesh for multinational clothing corporations, or who pick pesticide-laden vegetables in fields in Central America for Big Agra, or are kept from leaping to their deaths in slave towers in China that furnish computer software giants their products, are living examples of the hypocrisy of the global economic and political arrangement that allowed for all of this carnage. How many other ghosts haunt this world besieged by capitalist barbarity? How many of a species not our own?

So Phil, my grief these days is for those forgotten. Those whose memory is deemed unimportant. But perhaps therein lies our path out. This is the narrative of the craven cadavers who use Ambien to numb their guilt besot souls in the darkness of night, and Aderall in the day to maintain a sort of manic madness. The ghosts have a story we should heed. We should be telling their story, singing it with unashamed fullness, as a rebuke and torch.

PR: Dreams teem with multiplicity; they limn the soul’s dark, absurd, tragic, unsavoury, transgressive aspects.

Dreams demand you acknowledge the living, mystery-resonant cosmology within you, in stark contrast to the Calvinist/Puritan insistence that what dwells within the individual is sinful and evil —while the shadow persona of Calvinist/Puritan imagination — a material reductionist worldview — reduces inner life to mechanistic functions and the world to dead, dreamless parts. The next step: The things of the world are deemed only fit for exploitation. And feral things — living things (even entire landscapes) that cannot be tamed or commodified are expendable or can be destroyed or killed outright.

Conversely, dreams — untamable phenomenon dispatched from ungovernable landscapes of the psyche — shake the foundations of waking life assumptions. Dreams do not respect the amiable tyrannies of the corporate era’s inviolable comfort zones. Even in the consulting room and, in particular, in the facile annals of pop psychology, a misguided approach reigns by which an attempt is made to tame the feral, ineffable imagery of dreams by over-interpretation.

One’s dreams are the Marx Brothers to the ego’s High Society’s swells, or Hitchcock’s birds to everyday, familial evils and accepted, societal corruption or David Cronenberg’s mind invading parasites. Or in a more contemporary tale in which movies arrive as collective, waking dreams: The character, Arthur Fleck, played by Joaquin Phoenix, who transforms into the Joker, could be viewed as a case of archetypal possession brought on by the dehumanizing elements of parental neglect and psychological and physical abuse, traumas mirrored in the dehumanizing, psychical violence inherent to capitalism. Envisage the name of “Fleck.” The name brings to mind a condition of insignificance, but also that Fleck’s human side is but a mere fleck buffeted by the raging winds of an unadulterated — thus untamable — archetype. And the phenomenon is mirrored by the clown mask donning mob possessed by what Carl Jung averred came to pass when the gods arrive as diseases thus as, “curious specimens for the doctor’s consulting room, or disorders the brains of politicians and journalists who unwittingly let loose psychic epidemics on the world.”

Thus we should regard dream images, in particular disturbing ones, as being freighted with the potential to expand and deepen one’s ability to interact with the baffling nature of the world, or better yet to gain the wherewithal to endure and to disrupt the status quo of a soul-defying, earth-decimating order.

Yet dreams insist, we ourselves are diminished by pat, comforting explanations for the confounding criteria of the psyche: While it is true dreams deliver one to Olympian summits and across the chthonic currents of underworld rivers, over-interpretation of dreams can circumscribe one to the first person singular despotism of explaining what is unexplainable i.e., oneself. This is why, in the madhouse of the psyche, do not pace the sunlit dayroom but seek out the locked ward wherein are hidden from view the hopeless cases. What better approach can be appropriated for navigating the madness of the world?

Kenn Orphan is a writer, artist, antiwar and anti-capitalist activist, hospice social worker and radical nature lover living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He may be reached at kennorphan.com

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living, now, in Munich, Germany. He may be contacted: philrockstroh.scribe@gmail.com and at https://www.facebook.com/groups/513128662505890/

*Title art piece is The Dream by Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, 1883

*First photograph is Everywhere and Nowhere, by Kenn Orphan

*Second piece is Saturn Devouring his Son, by Francisco Goya, 1819-1823

*Third piece is Ivan the Terrible and the Souls of his Victims, by Mikhail Clodt, 1870

*Fourth is a photograph of the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam by American troops.

 

A Guardian of the Forest: Remembering Paulo Paulino Guajajara

Paulo Paulino Guajajara, an Indigenous protector of the Amazon rainforest, was murdered by illegal loggers Friday of last week. He is one of at least 135 Indigenous people murdered in the Amazon over this last year alone. Five centuries ago there were an estimated ten million Indigenous people living in the Amazonian Rainforest. Now, there are less than 200,000 thanks to European colonization and corporate plunder. And they continue to face annihilation today.

Since Jair Bolsonaro took office as president of Brazil the violence against these communities, as well as a concerted effort to decimate one of the most unique and important ecosystems on the planet, has accelerated. Bolsonaro, who has openly celebrated the country’s fascist past where scores were tortured and disappeared, has vowed to open the rainforest up even further to agribusiness, logging and mining.

If Bolsonaro succeeds it will likely lead to a genocide of the indigenous communities that live there and signal a truly terrifying turn for the planet’s biosphere. But he is not alone in this crime. Several banks and corporations profit handsomely from the destruction of the rainforest, including JPMorgan Chase, HSBC, Cargill-Soy, Stop and Shop, WalMart, Costco, and Leclerc.

Paulo Paulino Guajajara, who was also known as Lobo or “wolf” in Spanish, was a member of Guardians of the Forest. They began in 2012 with a mission to protect their community and an even more vulnerable Indigenous group who lives in voluntary isolation in a constitutionally protected territory of forest known as the Araribóia. But it has been cut off from the rest of the Amazon rainforest due to massive deforestation and it is often targeted by illegal loggers. Time after time the Guajajara have requested protection from the Brazilian government. They have received none.

Lobo’s murder is being mourned deeply this week. Indeed, all who care deeply about justice and our imperiled biosphere are mourning. He is survived by one son. May he rest in peace.

Paulo Paulino Guajajara, ¡Presente!

The Language of Erasure

“Home” by Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles traveled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i don’t know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here”

 

Last month UK authorities came across a gruesome scene. Thirty-nine bodies were discovered in a freight truck in Essex. Most of these unfortunate souls originally came from Vietnam and were abandoned to die an agonizing, suffocating death alone; the alleged victims of human trafficking. It is not the first time that this has happened. In 2015 Austrian officials found seventy-one bodies in a truck lorry outside Vienna. And in 2000, the bodies of fifty-eight Chinese people were found in a container in Kent.

Many of the victims in the recent episode in Essex were from Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces of Vietnam, a region hit with disastrous policies of financial austerity and a monumental human caused environmental catastrophe in 2016, the worst in Vietnam’s history. Over 125 miles of coastline was sullied and marine life decimated in a toxic chemical spill from a steel plant. Those most severely impacted by the disaster have received little to no compensation for livelihoods that have been lost, and protest to this corporate and government malfeasance has been brutally crushed. Indeed, the tale of the burgeoning, global refugee crisis is one inextricably linked to deliberate policies of neoliberal-style economic disenfranchisement, corporate or military caused environmental devastation, militarized state surveillance and repression of dissent, and accelerating climate change related disasters.

Around the world millions of desperate people are facing near impossible challenges. Increasing drought and flood seasons have made it ever more difficult to grow food in many regions. Intense heat and fires have devastated ecosystems and the communities that depend upon them for survival. Others face violence from the state or from criminal gangs. More live under intolerable economic conditions. These people will do whatever they can for themselves and their families to survive. They will do what any human being would do when faced with catastrophe. They will flee.

In fact, according to a recent report by the UN, refugees have been increasing globally at a rate that outpaces world population growth. And last month a study from Nature Communications released its findings in this regard. It warned that rising seas will flood scores of coastal cities and communities, putting at least 300 million people at risk. Most of these people reside in what is referred to as the global south, and will have to eventually relocate for basic quality of life and even survival. But thanks to apathy, a dearth of planning and deliberate belligerence from world governments, they will face enormous obstacles and violent repression as they do. We know this because today hundreds of millions of people traverse near intolerable landscapes and tumultuous seas each year, attempting to escape famine, war, criminal violence, drought, and ecological disasters. Most have little choice but to entrust shady third parties to make their perilous sojourn. Many spend their life savings. Many traverse cold, wild oceans and fiercely hot deserts. Many die as a result. And almost all face uncertain futures if they reach their intended destination.

One sea, the Mediterranean, has become an ocean of despair in the first two decades of this century. Taking to the cold and raucous waters, many embark on a journey to a better life in shoddy boats or rafts. Thousands have perished. And the risk they take is not only in regard to environmental conditions. Several European nations have criminalized their desperate attempt for survival. And those who decide to assist these drowning people are subject to the most draconian of penalties. German ship captain Pia Klemp faces 20 years in prison for rescuing at least 14 thousand refugees from a horrifying death at sea. And it isn’t only in Europe. Scott Warren of No More Deaths, was charged with three felonies for leaving water, food and other provisions in the unforgiving Sonoran Desert for immigrants. Each year hundreds of people perish there too while attempting to make it to the north.

But the greatest irony of our times is that the global north has become the primary destination for refugees. The vast majority of the world who are suffering the consequences of Western military interventions, corporate economic exploitation and pollution, and climate change fueled catastrophe are fleeing to the main source of these maladies. So it comes as little surprise that there has been a subtle shift in the language around this issue.

You may have noticed at this point that I prefer to use the term refugee rather than migrant. This is because the word migrant infers that these human beings chose to embark on perilous journeys because it is their way of life. An integral part of who they are. It is not. The vast majority of refugees have been displaced from regions they have traditionally called home. Places they have a history in. Communities, ecosystems and economies which have been drastically altered or destroyed thanks to powers beyond their control. The powers of capital. Politicians, the military, the corporate media and even some NGOs and think tanks have chosen the word “migrant,” and this is not by accident.

When we hear the word migrant we often associate it with migratory birds or mammals. It is only recently that we have come to associate it with human beings. The insidious logic is simple: if you are a people without a permanent home or land, you are not a people who have a right to be someplace else. You are permanently transitory. And this has been the same argument made against many indigenous and nomadic peoples who have ancestral lands they traverse throughout the seasons of a year, but no city they reside in year round. It is also a term that is almost exclusively used to describe people of color. And it is a terminology with a purpose: erasure.

When people are deliberately dispossessed of their ancestral homelands they must be rendered permanently homeless. They must be cast in a light of obfuscation. That is, the causes of their dispossession must be obscured. There can be no discussion of belligerent foreign policy or corporate plunder from the global north. No talk of the decades of subversion of democracy movements or democratically elected governments by the West. No truth telling when it comes to who is the biggest contributor to climate change, who has the biggest carbon footprint, or who has polluted and raped the planet the most.

Even when refugees are talked about in relatively sympathetic language, there is obfuscation. “They are fleeing dictatorship, or crime and drug gangs in their own country,” it often goes. But it generally stops there. No discussion of the legacy of colonialism or imperialism. So in this light, the language around the term “migrant” becomes very important. Dehumanization, even when subtle, is still dehumanization. A migrant isn’t someone forcibly removed or displaced from their home. It is a personal choice. They are migrating, just like birds or caribou. It’s natural. They do not garnish lasting sympathy or even solidarity because, as the term suggests, they won’t be here or anywhere long enough for us to care too deeply. They will not form communal bonds with us. They will move on. In short, they are not us.

So then when a society tolerates children being forcibly removed from their parent’s arms and placed in squalid cages without even the kindness of human touch or embrace, or the prosecution of people who try to save fellow human beings from drowning in the sea or dying of thirst or exposure in the desert, we should take a long, hard look at the language being used. The term “migrant” is not as loathsome as Donald Trump’s association of immigrants and refugees with rapists or criminals. It is not as hideous as far right politicians and some media personalities calling them cockroaches, or a cancer, or “infiltrators.” But perhaps that is what makes the term even more dangerous. It has become an acceptable term even though it obscures the causes of why these people are moving in the first place. It denies the culpability of the global north in their plight and ignores their right as fellow human beings to seek a better life by subtly erasing their humanity. And when any dehumanization becomes acceptable, the path toward atrocity becomes ever wider.

Kenn Orphan   November 2019

The Myth of the Scandal Free Presidency

scan·dal

/ˈskandl/

noun

an action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage.

 

It was to be expected. The miserableness of Trump and his overt racism, nationalism, misogyny, cruelty and belligerence would come to eclipse the crimes of other (let’s say all) former US presidents. I saw it after Bill Clinton left office. His conservative policies and war crimes became footnotes. I saw it with the way establishment liberals loved on the portrait painting grandpa, George W. Bush. Never mind that he was the architect of the war against Iraq, an orchestrated bloodbath based solely on lies which killed, maimed and displaced millions of people and decimated an entire region. And I see it again regarding Barack Obama. He is being lauded now for having a “presidency without scandals.” Memes and smug laughter are making the rounds regarding his only supposed scandals: wearing a tan suit and a bicycle helmet. So perhaps what is at issue here is how Americans define scandal.

 

Under Obama, the American Empire expanded its war machine against seven nations. It supported a rightwing coup in Honduras which led to thousands of deaths, including that of indigenous environmental activist Berta Caceras. As president he persecuted scores of government whistleblowers and deported more people than any other US president. He dropped over 26,000 bombs in his last year alone and became adept at the use of drones, killing a US teenager abroad and a grandmother picking okra in her field while her grandchildren watched. He joined NATO in decimating Libya, turning it into a haven for a modern day slave trade and a flashpoint for the migration crisis. He pushed water sullying and climate change exacerbating natural gas (fracking) around the world and unleashed the biggest fossil fuel expansion in history. He even boasted that he made the US a leader in oil production, opening up at least ten million acres of public land to fossil fuel companies while expanding offshore drilling. He bailed out Wall Street criminals while pardoning Bush era torturers. He led a brutal crackdown on protestors in Occupy across the country and the Water Protectors at Standing Rock.

 

But these things don’t seem to matter to the American bourgeoisie. It is par for the course in governing the US and its foreign policy. It is considered pragmatic leadership and so these pesky details do not cause “general public outrage.” What really matters is optics. This is what the spectacle demands. It is a state that thrives on imagery for imagery’s sake. Therefore, only sexual dalliances or crooked business dealings count, the latter not counting nearly as much since puritanism still runs cold in the veins of the culture. But nothing Obama did was “impeachable.” In fact, he did what every other US president did before him and none of that was impeachable either. So one must ask questions which are generally forbidden in the mainstream. The ones which defy the ruling political class narrative.

 

That the ruling institutions and their guiding documents do not consider separating children from their parents and putting them in cages, or constructing concentration camps, or selling arms to countries engaged in genocide or apartheid or ethnic cleansing, or bombing nations to smithereens, acquiescing to the demands of the planet killing fossil fuel industry, or supporting rightwing coups against democratically elected governments, or gutting environmental regulations, or attacking labor unions, or cutting economic aid and demonizing the homeless impeachable should cause any person of conscience to at least pause. So we must ask why that is?

 

Arundhati Roy observed: “People spend so much time mocking Trump or waiting for him to be impeached. And the danger with that kind of obsession with a single person is that you don’t see the system that produced him.” So here we are again. Waiting for impeachment. That the loathsome creature that currently haunts the bloodstained walls of the Oval Office deserves to be dethroned is self-evident. And watching him lash out and call for civil war because of it should demonstrate how unhinged he actually is. But we shouldn’t delude ourselves that any of this will alter the machinations of the ruling establishment in the least. Outright corruption, unbridled militarism, ecocide, war crimes. All of this has become normalized to such an extent that they barely register an eyebrow raise in the corporate media or among pundits and talking heads.

 

So while it is obvious that Trump is a vicious criminal, it should be equally obvious that he emerged from a cesspit of vicious criminality. A system designed to produce oligarchs without conscience. The real scandal is that too many have become inured to it. And by doing so, they assure that the status quo, no matter how rotted it is, will be maintained for as long as possible. So when someone says a president never had a scandal, I must wonder how that person defines the term and how they understand history. Because in an age of normalized corruption, that word loses all meaning when it is uttered from the halls of power.

 

Kenn Orphan   2019