Friday, December 29, 2023

United Front Against Genocide

There is already a resistance to this genocide.  The only relevant question, it seems to me, is how to join it.

Since the Palestinian Holocaust began to unfold in October, I've mostly been trying to bear witness to the horrors through songwriting, because it seems to have the most impact that way.  This bit of prose won't stray far from that theme, since it's largely about songs as well.

To set the scene, for those who may be ignoring global news or reading this sometime in the future:  a big headline is Ukraine has suffered their biggest day of drone attacks for the past year, resulting in 17 people killed.  In Gaza, another estimated 200 people, mostly women and children, have once again been killed in Israel's relentless bombardment of this densely-populated, walled ghetto.  Almost every day for months there has been a similar death toll.

UNICEF reports that 40% of the people of Gaza are now starving.  The WHO says that people seeking care in Gaza's demolished hospitals are just "waiting to die."  Perhaps most shocking of all is the statistic being circulated by the UN that surgeons in Gaza have been forced by their IDF-besieged circumstances to perform over 1,000 amputations of the limbs of children without anesthesia.

The nation of South Africa has today invoked the Genocide Convention.  As I understand it, this now requires South Africa and other nations abiding by the convention to immediately try to put a stop to the genocide that they claim -- and that obviously is -- taking place.

Developments are fast-moving, who knows what may change by tomorrow.  But unless this effort by South Africa at resurrecting international law from its otherwise paralyzed state with regards to stopping this genocide is successful, the only real, three-dimensional opposition to Israel's relentless slaughter of Palestinian children taking place in the real world is coming from actors in Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen, represented by popular movement organizations known by names like Hamas, Hezbollah, and Ansar Allah.

Like most of my typical readers, I suspect, I am from the atheistic western left orientation.  Saying this is itself a vast generalization -- what we might call "the atheistic western left orientation" could include under the same umbrella social democrats, Marxist-Leninists, and anarchists, among others.

In this left tradition of which I speak, many people are members of political parties with platforms that include talk of the potential need for violently overthrowing capitalism, though after centuries of the existence of some of these parties, the occasion has never arisen locally.

Many political parties in the west, particularly in Europe, still have a connection to Christian religious roots of one kind or another, and keep names such as "Christian Democrats" still today.  Their connection to Christianity in terms of how they govern or run for office might be hard to discern today, but they are at least tenuously connected with Christian churches whose roots often involved a belief that anyone who didn't practice their version of Christianity was a heathen who deserved to die.  Despite the presence of many Catholics in New England, there wasn't a Catholic church in Rhode Island for 200 years, because the Puritans in charge killed Catholics, along with Quakers and Indians.

I'm just talking smack here, not trying to concoct any academic theses or make direct comparisons between colonial New England and the modern-day Middle East, though I'd maintain the relevance of my historical observations here anyway, on some level.

Such as the way popular organizations evolve over time, just as religious movements have done so many times throughout the history of Protestantism.  

I reflect on this history because I'm reminded of it every time I hear the experts interviewed on any of the more serious news platforms, with regards to developments in the Middle East.  Unlike American, Israeli, and some European government officials or military generals, you will never find a serious expert in the field agree with the generals and the politicians when they make statements like "Hamas is the same as ISIS."

Whatever the similarities, the differences are as stark as, I don't know, pick your allegory.  Cyanide and orange juice are both acidic liquids, but they're different.

What the actual experts will always tell us, which often seems not to be what their questioners are hoping to hear, is that the groups in question are all very popular movement organizations that have evolved more and more in that direction over time, further and further away from religious or political sectarianism, and they have all over time been embraced by an ever broader cross-section of the local populations.  This has been true of Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthi movement over decades.  It's well-documented.  

I won't repeat the stories we can hear any day from the experts on Al-Jazeera or BBC World Service about that well-known trajectory, but if you want a lot of relevant background, I highly recommend Robert Fisk's history of the twentieth century, The Great War for Civilization.

In another book, my friend Tommy Sands' memoir, The Songman, Tommy recounts the time when in the wake of the Bloody Sunday massacre in Derry, he thought he wanted to join the Irish Republican Army.  He went to meet with a recruiter for the IRA, who ultimately dissuaded him from joining, arguing that Tommy could serve the republican cause better through his music and his advocacy for reconciliation.  But in the process of the meeting Tommy would learn that these much-vaunted militants he had heard so much about in the news were none other than his neighbors.  People he had known for years, sometimes since childhood, most of whom are now dead.

My personal experiences with "meeting the militants" in my own travels in Ireland, Lebanon, and the Occupied West Bank have been completely evocative of Tommy's story from 1970.  In the context of all of these places, the militants in question are your neighbors down the street.  They're likely also your college professor as well as your plumber.

In Ireland, a very few of the militants smoke cannabis, but not publicly.  In Lebanon, some of them drink a beer now and then, but not outside of Beirut.  Views about religion, economics, and social mores are all over the map within all of these movements, but there is a strong tendency to unite around the common goal of ending the occupation, and a widespread desire not to have conflicts around unrelated issues.

For many, the religiosity of the movement is about as relevant as Christianity was to the average American socialist a century ago.  That is, it was very relevant, in the sense that the two concepts were considered to be completely, naturally intertwined, given that Jesus Christ was obviously a socialist.  By my observation, the membership of groups with names like the Party of God or the Army of God in the Middle East today includes a lot of Muslims like that, along with a lot of folks much more committed to religious practice.

Fundamentally, we're talking about groups whose purpose is to resist an unjust and brutal US-backed occupation of various lands in various countries, most especially the historic land of Palestine.  Today, despite the invoking of the Genocide Convention and many words of outrage and solidarity from regular people, political leaders, and others around the world, it is the social movements/political organizations/militias of Hamas, Hezbollah, and those popularly known as the Houthis, primarily, that are actually resisting the campaign of genocide Israel is carrying out in Gaza right now.

In the most obvious united front that ever could exist, a united front against genocide, whoever is fighting against it should presumably be supported, if the concept has ever had any relevance whatsoever.

This is obvious, and so it's equally obvious to supporters of Israel and its genocide that those who are opposing it must be vilified as "the same as ISIS" or "the same as the Nazis."  It is vital to uncritically spread disinformation derived from Israeli military propaganda about what happened on October 7th as fact, while calling out for more censorship of voices critical of Israel.  Vital to paint reality in black and white, good and evil, in order to provide yourself with a fig leaf for genocide.

Vital to demonize those so dedicated to the cause of the liberation of an occupied people, to spread the notion, as a genocide is underway, that it is in fact these "terrorists" who are the ones who want to commit genocide.  The "evidence" for this being intentional misunderstandings of political slogans, or the least charitable interpretation of the wording of an outdated version of a group's charter.

I've been to Lebanon and Palestine and had lots of direct and warm interactions with these apparently scary types of people, as I mentioned.  I've never been to Yemen.  But last week, after seeing the footage of Yemeni helicopters painted with Palestinian flags boarding ships bound for Israel and playing such a profound role in disrupting business as usual on the high seas in protest of the bombardment of Gaza, I wrote a "Song for the Houthi Army" -- to thank them for their tremendous efforts, and to do so publicly, for the benefit of anyone who might be listening, in case it might help encourage others to stand with them in many different possible ways as well.

I was happy to find that so many of "the usual suspects," like those who subscribe to me on Substack, were thinking the same things about what Ansar Allah has been doing off the coast of Yemen.  Thank goodness someone is doing something, other than more words. 

A minority of my subscribers on Substack reacted with horror that anyone could say nice things about a group that, according to Wikipedia, doesn't like Jews.

I was reminded in these reactions of the Israelis and Israel-supporters who tried to scare me out of visiting the Occupied West Bank when I was first going to do a concert tour there, almost two decades ago.  Cities like Nablus or Jenin were not safe places for an American of Jewish background like you, they told me.  Also they don't like musicians, I was told, preposterously.  My experiences in reality were that every new town I visited in the West Bank was more welcoming than the last one, and if the young Palestinian men with heavy, long guns slung over their shoulders patrolling the streets in some cities knew one word of English, it was "welcome."  The one time a young man whistled at my English girlfriend, he was immediately told by an elder to knock it off, and he did.  Music, and musicians, and people who loved music and art of all kinds, were everywhere.

Music continues to be everywhere in society and within social movements around the world, and this very much includes Yemen today.  The journey I've taken, largely through clicking "translate" on Arabic-language posts and comments on X over the past few days, since the first prominent person in Yemen shared my "Song for the Houthi Army," has been both humbling and educational.

The song has been shared many thousands of times, by people at every level of Yemeni society -- soldiers, students, scholars, government officials, TV producers, and so on.  The praise for the song and the songwriter has been effusive and eloquent, often with religious overtones -- "sometimes Moses grows up in the house of the Pharoahs" being my favorite comment.

Among the hundreds of comments I've translated, a few have been from trolls who are just taking the opportunity to criticize the person making the post, having nothing to do with the actual content of the post.  Otherwise, aside from a few that Google could not successfully translate for me in any way that made sense, it's all been nothing but praise, thanking me for the song.

This deluge of praise was very reminiscent of my experience after writing "Children of Jerusalem" in September of 2000.  A week or so after it had begun to circulate on the internet, it caught hold among the Palestinian diaspora, and the hundreds of emails began to pour into my inbox (before that sort of thing was largely replaced by social media posts and comments).

In both cases what was abundantly clear is these are the words of people who have a very righteous cause and would like other people to recognize that.  They want to be understood, and they know that they are often not understood at all, and often deliberately misrepresented, particularly by pundits and politicians in the west, and by extension, by western society in general.

As a citizen of the country that provides the bombs that have allowed the Saudi air force to lay waste to Yemen in recent years, a citizen of the country that provides the military aid and diplomatic cover to Israel as it commits genocide against another Arab nation -- and a US citizen of Jewish lineage at that -- one might expect among all of these posts and comments someone to say something at least vaguely anti-Jewish.  But no -- not one, even from the trolls.  Only effusive praise and expressions of appreciation, along with some good-natured challenges to Yemeni musicians to write more music for the cause, instead of just love songs.  

Through other comments I learned about a well-known Yemeni singer named Issa Al-Laith, who writes uplifting, militant songs and is frequently censored from platforms.  A name that can be added to a spectacular list of others writing songs to rally the cause -- and the troops, quite literally -- across the Arab world and far beyond it as well, now and throughout history.

I'm humbled to have had the chance to let a few people in Yemen know that there are those in the west who appreciate the giant efforts of Ansar Allah in the struggle against the Gaza genocide in recent weeks.  And I'm glad to see that my usual circles online appear to be on the same page I'm on with concern to that appreciation for the Houthis.

But it's all the others, those who express outrage at the idea of being in alliance with people some would just dismiss out of hand as antisemites of some kind, who I would most like to reach.  You don't get to choose who steps up to the plate during an existential crisis, first of all, and secondly, you shouldn't believe the propaganda about Arabs and Muslims that is the default setting for the western media and other western perspectives we in the west have all grown up surrounded by.

People fighting for human dignity and against the slaughter of civilians come in all shapes and colors, from all religions, all nations, and a wide variety of political stripes.  This is a time for alliances, and solutions, not for bickering about what's in some party's charter from the 1980's or what so-and-so said at a political rally during the last savage Israeli bombing campaign.  And it's always the time to show gratitude to those who are taking action, when just such action is what is so desperately needed, in abundance.  And to figure out how to join them in doing much more.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

"Save The Pigs"

When the rules of engagement are "shoot anything that moves." 

It gets harder by the day to cope with the gaping chasm between the stories we're all being told, depending on the source of information, at least among those of us who haven't completely shut off to any kind of news consumption. Listening to NPR yesterday I don't think Gaza was mentioned, except in the context of briefly discussing partisan arguments over whether strings should be attached to the new multi-billion dollar package of military aid to Israel and Ukraine. Otherwise the news of the day was about the upcoming Republican Party primaries in Iowa, some story about a hockey player from Pennsylvania, and one about the final season of a British TV series.

Meanwhile on Planet Earth, the United Nations Secretary-General is warning the world in press conferences ignored completely by NPR that 50% of the population of the Gaza Strip is now starving.  Al-Jazeera is reporting the Jabaliya refugee camp has been bombed once again, this time with 90 people dead.  In the past few days there's been news of unarmed women and children executed point blank by soldiers, dozens of people being buried alive by armored bulldozers, and more people with white flags being unceremoniously gunned down, but this time it made the news a bit in the west because they were Israelis getting killed with the white flags in their hands.

Hearing about the Israeli hostages with white flags up, their hands in the air, no shirts on (showing they weren't wearing suicide vests or hiding weapons), identifying themselves in fluent Hebrew, and getting killed, was reminiscent of the untold numbers of Israelis who died from such "friendly fire" as the Israeli military retook the parts of southern Israel that, last October, were temporarily occupied by Palestinians from Gaza, and did so through their standard method of overwhelming force.

Hearing all this talk from Netanyahu about how the soldiers were violating their normal rules of engagement also reminded me of an encounter I had 24 years ago this month, during my first visit to Israel/Palestine.  

I was in the Israeli village known as Sde Boker.  I don't know how many of the people living there were soldiers, but there were always soldiers around the town center. 

One of the ones I met was a young man with a keen wit and an interest in one of the buttons my girlfriend was wearing.  The soldier thought it was a picture of Bob Marley.  It was actually a picture of Mumia Abu Jamal, and she was trying to explain who he was to the soldier as she gave him the button.

The soldier had a t-shirt on with a picture of a pig, and some writing in Hebrew, which is Greek to me.  I asked him what it said.

"Save the pigs!" he exclaimed.

We were political types, obviously, and immediately interested in whatever this was about.  Why are we saving the pigs?  Which pigs?  Are they endangered?

The soldier explained that in southern Lebanon, which at that time was under Israeli military occupation, the soldiers considered anything that moved to be a potential threat.  If, through their long-distance sniper sights or infrared sensors they saw something around the size of a human on the move somewhere, they would shoot it.  Much of the time, it ended up being wild boar.

"Save the pigs" was a form of dark humor, attempting to make light of the fact that the policy of the Israeli occupation soldiers in that southern strip of Lebanon was to shoot anything that moves.  Those were the rules of engagement.

When the rules of engagement are shoot anything that moves, the white flags are irrelevant.  When your enemy is the people, and you make no differentiation between fighters and civilians, of whatever age or gender, what's a white flag but a bit of cloth.  They'll protect the people of Gaza as well as they protected the Southern Cheyenne people at Sand Creek, who died surrounding their leader, Black Kettle, and his display of a white flag beside an American flag.

The martial law that ruled the lives of the surviving Indians of the area we now call the western United States today dictated that they had to remain on their reservations or be shot on sight.  Without enough food to eat if they didn't hunt, staying on the reservations was impossible without starving, thus guaranteeing the rebellions of the starving Indians, and the genocidal massacres of them.

Perhaps the Colorado Rangers back then might have had t-shirts that said "save the buffalo."  Given that killing off the buffalo was a policy of extermination meant to relieve the people of their main food source, and thus starve them into submission, there might be an extra layer of darkness to the humor in that case.

I long ago lost track of the number of times I've argued with patriotic Israelis who have defended their country's policies on the basis of "we're just doing the same thing you did" -- committing massacres of the indigenous population, driving them onto tiny reservations and then making life impossible for them there, forcing them into an unspeakably horrendous cycle of starving, fighting, and dying, just in the effort to continue to exist.

Give us a break, we're just doing the same thing you did, committing genocide.  It's a bankrupt argument, but at least it's honest.  Nothing like the lying nonsense coming out of the mouths of fascists like Netanyahu about "rules of engagement."

Friday, December 15, 2023

From Battersea to Burnside Bridge

The carnage continues, and so do the protests -- from the half a million who just marched in London, to the 300 that shut down Portland's Burnside Bridge the same day.

I wake up every morning in a state of dread, along with most of the people I know around the world, for the same reason.  The feeling is reminiscent of being stuck in a locked room, desperate to escape.  Except this isn't a game, there's no secret way out.  Hoping there might be, against all odds, you just keep frenetically going over every possible thing you might do in order to get out.

For me, and I'm sure for others, it's only when I'm in the act of trying to do something when I feel comparatively calm.  The calm, even contentment, that comes at least temporarily with the focus required to carry out a task that I've at least momentarily convinced myself might have purpose.

My efforts generally revolve around trying to help people understand what's going on and why they need to do whatever they can to make it stop.  I spasmodically go from trying one thing to another thing.  I wrote a dozen essays, then I wrote a dozen songs.

It's obvious how many other people are feeling the same way, just looking at how random people out there who I've never met or had contact with before are sharing my songs, using them to make videos of the carnage, making subtitled versions of them in Farsi and Arabic.  

If people aren't creating content that might influence people in some way, they're trying to amplify other content that's out there in various ways.  The number of people throughout the Arab world who have just recently gotten X/Twitter accounts seems very high indeed, and a whole lot of them are mainly posting in the English language, because that is the language spoken by most of the people living in the countries that are actually in a position to put a stop to the slaughter.

People are also taking to the streets globally in absolutely stunningly massive numbers.  "Unprecedented" is a word that gets thrown around way too much by truly ignorant people, often falsely.  But in this case, the word would seem to be appropriate -- as it should be, if humanity has humanity.

The numbers pouring into the streets day after day in London have been breath-taking.  I remember the Palestine solidarity rallies I've sung at over the years in that gigantic city, and I yearn to be there, where I might feel more useful.  As the latest half-million-person march in London was wrapping up on Thursday, I was part of a crowd of 300 or so that had taken over one of the main five bridges that crosses the Willamette River here in Portland, Oregon, linking the west side of town with the east, the Burnside Bridge.

I'll tell you about the occupation of the bridge, because I was there, and only a few hundred other people were.  For what little it's worth, before I go on I'd like to say how deeply I appreciate anything anyone is doing to try to bring society's attention to the ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people by the US protectorate of Israel.  There are many reasons why London gets a half million people in the streets and Portland doesn't, and if my exploration of some of the reasons for this seem unfriendly to the organizers of the bridge protest, I truly do not want to criticize anyone, but just to explore how we might build on actions like this.  

To comment on London first, because I'm familiar with the scene there:  of course it's an unfair comparison, London is not just the capital of the UK, but one of the capital cities of the world.  

It also has a huge population of people with the sorts of colonial backgrounds that viscerally tend to identify with people being besieged by settler-colonial regimes backed by the UK, the country that ran the empire that one way or another is the reason so many of them ended up living where they now live.

Along with this population, it has a multigenerational left, with organizations such as Stop the War, the Socialist Workers Party, and left labor institutions as well.  As with other countries outside of the US, longstanding left institutions like these, along with mosques and active community groups of all kinds, are able to mobilize large crowds quickly.  There are known radicals in the parliament and known artists who are sympathizers or associated with various movements or causes, and they can all be instantly mobilized as well.

By contrast, here in the USA, especially outside of the biggest poles of historic leftwing activity such as the San Francisco bay area or New York City, I feel like I spend much of my life helplessly watching people reinvent the wheel.  Sometimes they do a darn good job of it, too!  But it's such a shame how necessary the exercise seems to be, and how cumbersome it is.

One thing that's always so striking to me, as a participant-observer of social movements in many different countries, is how everyone works with the resources they have, and the ideas and tactics they're familiar with.  Why did the rioters in Dublin, Ireland last month make their points by burning buses?  They may or may not have much politically in common with the IRA, but that's where they learned that if you want to make a serious point, you burn a bus or two.

In Portland we burn dumpsters, or at least that's what was happening most every day for much of 2020, among lots of other things.  But this event was billed as one free of such activities, and so it remained, which was nice, both for PR purposes as well as air quality.

We wear masks, too, apparently -- masks are, as far as I can tell, how leftwingers demonstrate solidarity with the immune-compromised among us, even at outdoor gatherings.  It's very notable to me, though maybe not to some other folks around here, that no one else anywhere around the world outside of the US at these marches are wearing masks.  Instead, they're showing their beautiful, pro-Palestinian faces to the world, along with their tears.  

Not in Portland.  If these folks on the bridge are smiling or crying, no one knows, they're all masked, faceless.  Is this how we reach out to the broader population and build a movement?  No, I'm sure not, no one else is doing it.  But here at least, no one will get sick in the process of occupying the bridge.  They may get brutally arrested or shot by a rightwinger for looking like a scary bunch of masked protesters, which just happened in this city a couple years ago.  But they won't get sick.

After I had been on the bridge for about a minute, a masked young man approached me and asked me to wear a mask.  I knew masks were required and I did bring one, but I wasn't wearing it.  I'm just a rebel, I guess.  But when he nicely asked me to put on a mask he didn't say anything about protecting sick people.  He said we should wear masks "for security" and "to protect ourselves from doxxing."  So we want to take over a bridge, make a big scene, have a public demonstration, disrupt traffic, but do it all anonymously, and somehow in his brain that's all consistent.  Perhaps to others as well.  To me, it's a massive hotbed of ridiculous contradictions.

I'm skipping ahead though.  The bridge occupation was one of eight that were taking place in different cities across the US, organized locally and maybe in all the other cities primarily under the auspices of Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that has been doing so much important organizing in cities across the US in recent months. 

I heard about the protest on the bridge because I personally knew one of the few older-generation organizers involved.  She asked a friend who then asked me if I had a sound system to use for a protest, which my regular readers will be aware I recently purchased for just such occasions.  

If not for this personal query about a sound system, I never would have heard about this action.  This gets to my reinvention of the wheel comment before.  As many people have complained on many occasions, our means of communication with each other keep changing over the years, decades, and generations, and they're not necessarily changing for the better.  There have been many ups and downs as technologies have changed along with social movements, and there are lots of advantages to the internet, generally, and even to some social media platforms, in particular.  But overall, the age of hegemony of Big Tech over our communications, and the government censors embedded into most of their operations, has been nothing short of catastrophic.

The most recent social movement that they were calling the biggest social movement this country had ever seen was three years ago, in 2020.  I was in Portland throughout it, and engaged in various ways with what was going on.  There were many successes in terms of new ways to organize movements that were worth remembering, here in the country that my late friend, the great historian and poet, John Ross, called the United States of Amnesia.

There were some high-tech folks involved with things in 2020 who understood the limitations of relying on the media and on social media algorithms to get the word out about the next action folks were planning.  They also saw that there were problems inherent in discussion groups where anyone can say anything, and no one can keep track of the important stuff.  So people organized well-moderated announcement lists on platforms like Signal and Telegram.

The problem with that was that it required someone taking the time to be the moderator of these lists, and having people with time on their hands to do that requires some kind of ongoing movement infrastructure that we don't seem to have.  With those announcements lists I knew what was happening in town every day, but those lists are all gone, and if anything has come along to replace them, no one has told me about it.  With the Portland chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, the key is to remember to look at their Instagram account daily for announcements that may be there.  (Probably there's a way to make their posts come up first in your feed, but I'm chronically behind on these things, like most other people my age and older.)

One of the coolest things about 2020 were the folks who became so expert at traffic management.  Despite the occasional hostile driver who was sometimes not particularly sympathetic to Black lives mattering or to the masked white youth marching over the bridges and burning dumpsters in that cause, at least up until the rightwinger fired into the crowd and killed one of them, it was always impressive to see the blockade of motorcyles and pickup trucks and the folks riding and driving them, who had early on found their place in the movement, as the folks who would block the streets and prevent anyone from driving into the crowd of protesters, as happened on so many occasions in so many cities across the US that year.

Here now the infamous Corkers were back in action, coordinating a smooth, simultaneous blocking off of both ends of the four-lane, 1,300-foot-long bridge, rendering it safe for the initial crowd of around 150 people wearing matching black "JEWS SAY CEASEFIRE NOW" t-shirts over their jackets, including me, carrying that spiffy new sound gear.

Also reminiscent of various earlier social movements such as 2020 and the global justice movement before it, there were various blocs with various responsibilities.  Along with the bridge-corkers, there was the group responsible for setting up the very cool giant menorah that folks had built together in preparation for the occasion, which they set up in the middle of the bridge.  I set up the sound system just in front of it, as instructed.  With the Bose S1 elevated on a stand above everyone's heads, it was one of the minority of rallies I've been to in Portland over the past 16 years of living here that had a sound system loud enough to be heard by the assembled crowd.  And definitely the only one with a giant menorah at it!

Press releases were sent out about the bridge occupation once we were on the bridge, for the benefit of people and media who might not have seen the post on Instagram two days earlier that something was going to happen downtown on December 14th.  In any case, within an hour of the bridge being shut down, local TV stations showed up to document the event and talk to organizers.  

Notably, almost immediately after the press started getting the word out that this was happening, the crowd doubled in size.  The people who joined us were not wearing black, and they were not wearing masks.  They had not heard about the protest because they followed JVP's Portland branch on Instagram.  They heard about it from the media, and they dropped whatever they were doing on a workday afternoon and got themselves over to the middle of Burnside Bridge.  In case anyone needed one, this is a clear indication that the cause is a popular one.  If people know something like this is happening, they'll come.

I'm of Jewish lineage, but I've been to Temple twice in my life that I can recall.  Once for my grandfather's funeral, and once for my grandmother's.  That is to say, I'm of Jewish lineage, rather than Jewish in any religious sense.  My great grandmother spoke Yiddish and a little English.  My grandmother spoke fluent Yiddish as well as English.  My father never learned Yiddish, but he grew up going to Hebrew School every Saturday, where he was raised, in Brooklyn, New York.  I never learned Yiddish or Hebrew and never read the Torah either.  Like most people of Jewish lineage in this country, I suspect.

So it was a surprise for me to learn that Thursday was the last day of Hannukah, or that Hannukah was actually pronounced "Hannukiah" in Hebrew.  The youth-led presentation was very heavy on speeches, and liturgical music with updated, antiwar, pro-Palestinian lyrics.  There were no performers doing music with instruments.

One of the speakers was talking about the importance of music in bringing people together, and in sustaining community.  I so agree with that sentiment, and talk about it often, so I was feeling especially dejected that the organizers of the event didn't want to have music other than the a cappella churchy bits.

But here again, we inherit the environment we inherit.  We're in a country that for years has lost any connection with the tradition of having live music as a central, community-sustaining feature of any protest.  This is how it is at protests around the world, from Germany to Brazil to Jordan.  But by the totally nonmusical standards of protests across the US characteristic of recent years, having a protest that is 90% speeches and 10% a cappella chants is actually a big step forward.  Which is incredibly depressing.

I seriously don't mean to diss liturgical chanting.  I actually love liturgical chanting of many different musical traditions, east, west, south and north -- really.  And I was reminded of the liturgical chanting that went on for most of every Sunday at the weekend-long, annual protests outside the gates of Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia that used to happen every November.  Very fond memories indeed.  But those rallies also featured lots of people singing and playing instruments, along with liturgical a cappella stuff that could also be so powerful -- as the speeches could be as well, as long as most of the program consisted of music.

The police, or the mayor, or whoever, seemed to have decided to cede the bridge to the protesters, as they have often done in the past.  Well-coordinated preparations for jail support turned out to be unnecessary.  I packed up my sound gear, slung it over my shoulders, and walked off the bridge like everyone else was doing, scattering in different directions, as there are many ways you can get off that bridge, once you're at its mouth.

I dropped my gear off in my car, walked around the corner to look for a bite to eat and mostly a toilet -- past the people laying unconscious on the sidewalk, or forced to subsist in some form in stinking tents -- and came across a scene with cops running across the street, guns and flashlights drawn, shouting at someone to get on their knees and put their hands in the air immediately.  I couldn't see who they were shouting at, but apparently they complied, as no shots were fired.

The sense that I was doing anything useful faded, and the usual dread returned.  Feeling as dejected as I had felt when I got up in the morning, I drove home, listening to a report about the latest Al-Jazeera cameraman to be murdered by Israeli forces with American missiles, in the tiny corner of the Gaza Strip where they're left able to do any live reporting at all, where those who fled the north to Khan Younis, and from Khan Younis to Rafah, are now being bombed in the flooded streets where they're trying to survive another night without food, potable water, or shelter.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Winning Arguments In The Matrix

The 1999 film, the Matrix (the first one in what became a series, specifically) remains one of the best movies ever made, particularly if you're interested in understanding reality as it is today.  Several years ago I wrote a song called "Here In The Matrix," on that theme, and the essays I've written broadly on the subject of what I've been calling social engineering also speak to this theme.  I found Naomi Klein's latest book, Doppelganger, to be a very incisive analysis of the nature of the matrix of control we find ourselves living within today.  I would add that if this is a subject of interest to you, it doesn't matter whether you agree with Ms. Klein about whatever issue she has a position on.  The book is about the much bigger picture, it is a meta book.

When Kamala and I weren't listening to the audiobook version of Doppelganger during our tour of Scandinavia last month, we were listening to Al-Jazeera, and the bomb-by-bomb accounting of the ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people.  When Al-Jazeera began to repeat itself, we'd switch to BBC, NPR, and other western networks.  The contrast between the stories being told in the west and those being told by the rest of the world were such a perfect illustration of the patterns Naomi Klein described so well in Doppelganger.  It's also a phenomenon that can easily be observed in the course of the years that I've been having the same kinds of experiences.  Once you're tuned into it, you can see it happening everywhere, to just about anyone that might have influence over a few thousand people in the world, and lots of others as well.

Jumping ahead to my conclusion, there is somewhere between little and no point to engaging in or winning arguments in the Matrix.  Whatever arguments you make, no matter how concisely or how eloquently, can and will be warped by some or another elements of what NK calls the Mirror World.  Those arguments, that either present the opposite case to the one you're making, for example turning the victim into the aggressor, or that make a skewed mockery of the position you're presenting, for example turning calls for a multi-ethnic democracy into a call for genocide, will inevitably be made against you and yours, as soon as you make your arguments, in the Matrix.

At the end of her book, Naomi tries to make some statements about how things could get better, but her general air of bleakness about the whole situation is not well hidden.  I don't think there's any good reason for me to pretend I don't share it.  But now I will proceed to try to win an argument in the Matrix, about why it's pointless to win arguments in the Matrix.  And what I specifically mean by "the Matrix." 

I'll start with what just happened when I took a walk around the neighborhood this morning.  I came back to the apartment complex and there was the apartment manager.  Somehow or other we got to talking about how kids spend too much time playing video games these days, and then he started telling me about the horrible antisemitic things people are saying in marches on college campuses lately.  He seemed completely oblivious to the fact that there's a genocide of Palestinians being perpetrated by people killing them in the name of the state that calls itself "the Jewish State" and is run by Jews, so maybe some people reaching some antisemitic conclusions based on that is par for the course.  And of course these allegedly antisemitic slogans aren't even antisemitic, unless you interpret them all wrong.

Even if this guy were interested in understanding the reality of the situation that he's got his Mirror World version of in his head, and I could interfere with this particular individual's brainwashing, the workings of the Matrix will guarantee millions more people like our apartment manager will continue to be omnipresent across the western world and beyond.  It's not like he came to these warped understandings by himself -- he got his perspective from TV.  Whether it's Fox or MSNBC, it doesn't matter -- they're all on the side of militarism and genocide when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians.

Of course, the impact of corporate or "public" media on the minds of the masses is well-known and has been for a long time, this is nothing new.  It continues to be a huge problem and continues to be a huge part of the matrix of control, so I mention it.  

One thing that especially interests and alarms me these days is the response by many people to this corporate media propaganda, which largely involves having arguments on the Matrix about the Matrix.  Another is the way sensible arguments, theories, narratives, or explanations are almost inevitably and immediately warped and mocked in what has become an automated process of deception and confusion that is applied to any relevant perspective you can find being presented within the hegemonic world of social media corporations and their communications platforms.

In the movie (spoiler alert), there are aliens from another planet that have taken over ours, and they're sucking the energy out of all the humans, keeping us in pods.  They have us living in an imaginary world that they've designed in our minds to look like the one we used to live in.  In this imaginary world, we work boring jobs, we go out to eat, have conversations with our friends, engage in political arguments, go out to the movies, etc.  Everything we're doing in the Matrix is just for the purpose of feeding the aliens who are sucking up our brain energy, but we don't know that.

If it wasn't clear before February, 2022, then it should have become clear in the wake of October 7th, 2023, that there are some serious efforts going on here to control the narrative around these wars wherever the western media or western-controlled social media platforms are dominant  What's also more and more clear by the month is these efforts are not limited to the usual sources of propaganda you can find on traditional media like news articles, TV, etc.  Various aspects of the way the dominant social media platforms function make them easy to be useful for anyone promoting a black-and-white analysis of any issue.  No matter how many times you may win an argument, the ridiculously simplistic, zombie version of your argument will be the one you can most easily find being put forward on social media, by design -- if any argument on the subject can be found on a given platform at all.

Once the caricature of a perspective becomes the dominant one through this process, reality has been turned on its head, left has become right, support for peace is support for terrorism, communication is endorsement, ignorance is strength, censorship is freedom, etc., then comes the question of how this "knowledge" is to be applied.  At which point the dominant tactics that have been so actively promoted by the liberal press since 2020 kick in -- namely, "deplatforming," or the use of harassment and violence to make sure your enemies can't safely gather in a public setting.

Several incidents in Portland, Oregon that have taken place over the past couple of months illustrate the whole phenomenon with particularly graphic eloquence.  They all involve the same milieu of self-identified "antifascists," for whatever complex of reasons overwhelmingly trans women (who were raised as boys, to be clear), loosely affiliated, according to social media accounts clearly associated with the "antifascists," with Rose City Antifa.  The association of these folks with Rose City Antifa makes sense, because the ideological leadership of this organization actively promotes the "deplatforming" idea that is central to the activities of this group of "antifascists."  (Want some evidence of this?  Read Shane Burley's latest book, or just listen to the last time he was interviewed for an hour on Oregon Public Radio.)

In one incident, at a rally against the bombing of Gaza I attempted to speak at in October, an extremely aggressive individual began screaming in my face and calling me things like a "Nazi consortionist" through her mask.  More alarmingly than this outrageous behavior was how no one around me who had attended the protest acted like this was in any way unusual behavior, or something they needed to address in any way aside from studiously ignoring that it was happening, or in one case operating under the assumption that my assailant and I were having a "conflict" that needed to be resolved.

To be clear, the accusation that I am a "Nazi consortionist" is that I unapologetically interviewed a person who some people think is a white nationalist, in order to get their perspective on reality, and why they ever became white nationalists.  This effort at communication with people who might be inclined to join such groups -- an important effort that needs to be much more common -- has gotten me condemned as a "Nazi consortionist," or just as a Nazi.

Once you have decided someone is a Nazi, if you're part of a group whose ideology says you have to attack the Nazis, deplatform them, make sure they can't safely show their faces in public, speak, perform, etc., physically assaulting them is fine, anything goes.  This is the explicitly-stated orientation of this form of "antifascism," and again, it has been actively condoned by the liberal media in so many ways, as they highlight one after another progressive politician declaring that "I am Antifa," and enthusiastically joining Antifa in their denunciations of any group that supports Trump as being fascists -- an orientation that is incredibly convenient for the Democrats, if they do continue to believe that calling Republicans fascists and fueling one side in a culture war is a good way to get votes.

What happened to me was nothing compared to what happened a few weeks later, when a feminist group tried to have a meeting in a library function room.  Because this is a group that is concerned with male violence against women, and about how terms like "male" and "female" are defined in this context and other contexts, they are then seen as opposed to the rights of trans women.  Being thus defined as opposed to the rights of trans women, they are then defined as transphobic and desiring the elimination of trans people.  Wanting to eliminate trans people, or any other group of people, thus makes them Nazis.

Every step of the way, this process of the collapse of any real sensible analysis through something that looks kind of like logic is supported by the ideological leaders of Rose City Antifa, who again are taken very seriously by the liberal media in this and other countries and publish articles in corporate liberal outlets regularly.  But more importantly, the process of the breakdown of sense here is assisted tremendously by both social media algorithms that promote conflict and division, and by the impossibly-concise and truncated nature of most any effort to have serious discourse on such platforms.

Therefore, feminists become transphobes and transphobes become Nazis "who want to kill us" and therefore must be physically assaulted when they try to have a meeting in a library.  Punches and fireworks were thrown along with many words shouted, women were injured, and injuries could have been much worse.  Efforts at dialogue were rebuffed with more screaming, which is also what I have encountered when attempting dialogue with this crowd.

Most recently, a group of anarchists having a gathering that was explicitly billed as a gathering of anarchists were attacked by these "antifascists" on the grounds that because these anarchists didn't require attendees to wear masks, they were no better than the US Army giving the Indians blankets infected with smallpox, as they wrote on their blog celebrating their assault on this gathering.

I know there are people reading this who are trying to be patient with me and my free speech obsession but who are thinking, "but those feminists really are TERFs" or "but interviewing that Nazi was a bad thing to do" or "but it really is incredibly inconsiderate to vulnerable members of our society not to encourage mask-wearing when there's a rise in Covid cases going on."

The thing is, the tactic of screaming at and/or physically assaulting anyone trying to have a public gathering is a terrible tactic!  It's been proven over and over again for a century now around the world that this tactic, known for a long time among antifascists as "deplatforming," known to other more contemporary circles by terms such as "cancellation campaigning" or "cancel culture," backfires terribly wherever it's been tried, and tends to lead to or at least contribute to really terrible outcomes, the Third Reich being the most extreme example of them.

And even if you believe, based on whatever bizarre reading of history, that physically assaulting the far right, whoever is defining that term, wherever they're gathering, is the duty of every antifascist, as has been said on many occasions, it should still hopefully be easy enough to see how this tactical orientation can go terribly wrong, once you've also adopted a completely reductionist view of humanity, so that everyone you have philosophical or political disagreements with becomes a Nazi who should be treated with open hostility and violence.

If you can find people from within the bowels of this cultish mindset who are willing to and capable of communicating with you, and then if you manage to extract their brains from the vise of this kind of thinking, they may learn how to fly like Neo, so to speak, but there will be so many others to take their places -- as systematically as the algorithms which will reinforce their narrative, in so many ways, along with the liberal media establishment, since deplatforming attacks fit so comfortably in the glove of the censorship-happy fear-mongering in the liberal media about disinformation, by which they mean any narrative that they don't approve of.

You can win so many arguments with so many who have been sucked into the Mirror World, the Matrix-like reality that isn't, but the Matrix will produce more minions, by virtue of its design.  I don't know the way forward any more than Naomi Klein seems to.  But when you're in a hole, it's best to stop digging.  In that vein, I think I can confidently say that whatever we do that does not involve wasting our time having arguments in the Matrix is probably better than the alternative.  We won't get out of this hole, this Matrix, by winning arguments while trapped inside it.  We need to get out.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Message From Jenin

In some parts of the world the neighborhoods I've come to know have transformed because of development, with the buildings getting bigger and fancier.  That happens a lot, in a lot of places.  When it comes to the places I've visited before in Lebanon and Palestine, they change in another way.  They are destroyed.

One of the places I visited in Lebanon in 2005 was the old prison the Israelis used to run called Khiam Prison, located in south Lebanon, right on the border with Israel.  An ex-prisoner showed us around.  The most memorably horrifying feature of it was the cage he showed us, in which the caged cannot sit or stand.  In the 2006 war between the Israeli military and Hezbollah, the old prison was bombed to pieces.

In the news yesterday repeatedly, something about three presidents of elite universities going somewhere to talk about antisemitism.  I kept waiting for the news readers to mention the three Palestinians from three different elite American universities who were just shot while walking down the sidewalk in Burlington, Vermont, one of whom is now paralyzed.  But no, no mention, different script.

Those three young men all went to secondary school at the Friends School in Ramallah.  It has the reputation of the Friends School in Washington, DC, where the Obama kids went, it's a fancy place.  It's also the place where I had my biggest audience when I was doing concerts around the Occupied West Bank in 2005.

I first heard about the Jenin Creative Cultural Center around the time of the Second Intifada, the wave of resistance among Palestinians within the Occupied Territories and beyond that gave rise to quite a bit of global solidarity, represented in the US by such acronyms as ISM -- the International Solidarity Movement.  The cultural center in Jenin was and is a local center of activity, where activists from overseas would naturally get involved with things.  

I suppose I had a particular interest in seeing Jenin up close because the city, which translates roughly to paradise, was the subject of a song I had written after hearing about the terribly deadly and destructive Israeli military attack on the refugee camp there in 2002, which destroyed hundreds of homes and took scores of lives.

Seeing the little cultural center up close was happening because it was one of the nine or ten other locations where I was playing music on that visit.  I met the director then, and we've been sporadically in touch ever since.  Today I received an email from him, which I thought I'd share. 


Salam dear brother David,

Sending you lots of love and respect for your kindness and your support and solidarity with Palestine.

From Jenin, which you visited a long time ago, this city that welcomed you and listened to your music.

From Jenin, that has been targeted every day by the IOF [Israeli Occupation Forces], which has killed hundreds during the last two years.

Jenin, that carried the name of Paradise, has become under this occupation, Hell.

In the last three weeks we lost some members of our cultural center, who were part of our activities.  One of them, Dr. Shamikh Abu Al Rub, 25 years old, was killed in very cold blood, while he was trying to treat his brother, who had been shot by the IOF.

He got two bullets in the chest to kill his dreams.  His father is the Jenin deputy governor.

Jenin city and Jenin refugee camp have become like a city of ghosts.  Most of the streets have been bulldozed, and it's impossible to move around.  The health care system been destroyed by using force -- by targeting the hospitals and ambulances and their staff.

Genocide in Gaza -- no words can describe what's happening there.

I hope you and all your friends around the world will stand to support our hospitals and our cultural center activities, as we are trying to help children to overcome all of this suffering.

Sending you lots of love from Jenin,

Yousef

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