Derek Nichols recently tweeted a poem written by his 14-year-old brother Jordan.
The brilliant poem can be read both from top to bottom and from bottom to top with both readings offering a completely different meaning – an extremely clever, playful and innovative use of literary techniques.
But above all, Jordan gives us that little bit of hope many of us so frantically look for every day, particularly after reading articles like Christina Paterson’s in The Guardian. Paterson explains that only last week Hollie Gazzard, a young hairdresser who had just finished her shift in the hair salon she worked in, was stabbed to death by a young man. Colleagues screamed as they watched her fall. Paramedics tried, but they couldn’t save her. Most people passing stared, as they always stare when tragedies unfold in front of their eyes. Others didn’t just stare – they whipped out their phones and videoed the drama as it unfolded.
Paterson refers to the work by American psychologist Sara Konrath who has collated evidence from 72 studies all of them indicating that empathy levels among American college students are 40% lower than they were 20 years ago with a particularly sharp drop in the last 10 years. Apparently there’s quite a lot of evidence to show that, as people spend more time watching flickering images online, they spend a lot less time reading books and stories about other people’s lives. A recent study by psychologists at the New York School of Social Research showed that reading literary fiction helped people understand others better. It does this because, in the words of the writer Elizabeth Strout in her novel The Burgess Boys , it’s the imagination that enables you to “fall feet first into the pocket of someone else’s world”.
If we loose empathy we loose the battle.
So thank you young Jordan, the world is just that little bit better thanks to young people like you.
Our generation will be known for nothing. Never will anybody say, We were the peak of mankind. That is wrong, the truth is Our generation was a failure. Thinking that We actually succeeded Is a waste. And we know Living only for money and power Is the way to go.
Being loving, respectful, and kind Is a dumb thing to do. Forgetting about that time, Will not be easy, but we will try. Changing our world for the better Is something we never did. Giving up Was how we handled our problems. Working hard Was a joke. We knew that People thought we couldn’t come back That might be true, Unless we turn things around
(Read from bottom to top now)
Reading from bottom to top, the poem reads: Unless we turn things around That might be true, People thought we couldn’t come back We knew that Was a joke. Working hard Was how we handled our problems. Giving up Is something we never did.
Changing our world for the better Will not be easy, but we will try. Forgetting about that time, Is a dumb thing to do. Being loving, respectful, and kind Is the way to go. Living only for money and power Is a waste. And we know We actually succeeded Thinking that Our generation was a failure. That is wrong, the truth is We were the peak of mankind. Never will anybody say, Our generation will be known for nothing.
When I was sixteen I liked dancing. I couldn’t help it. It was the days of Cool and the Gang, Madness, the ELO, Phil Collins,… my tiny youthful body just had to dance. If you were a teenager in the eighties, you probably know what I am talking about – you were somehow dragged into this state of euphoria by this happy little tunes.
But see, the only problem was that while I was out and about shacking it many of my also seventeen year old classmates and friends, were already fighting for a cause the significance of which I could not fully grasp. The same cause that saw nearly two million people take the streets of Catalonia this week- the claim for Independence.
Why independence now?
You, as many others, probably don’t understand why. Why would the people of Catalonia throw away 300 years of history under Spanish rule, and revert to a state so far back in history?. Those who question why catalans insist on going down this road now, neglect the fact that the Catalan language and culture date as far back as thousand years before 1714, the year when Barcelona and its territories were incorporated to the Crown of Castile as provinces, within a centralised Spanish administration under a new Bourbon dynasty. The annexation of Catalonia was merely a political construct, a move in the board of political chess that kings and nobles played that had absolutely nothing to do with the people and the language and culture they were nesting for centuries. Yes, like most moves in history, one could say – the big boys do and undo as they please. Yes, exactly like that. But that doesn’t mean i’t s acceptable and it should remain unquestioned and unchallenged for ever.
In fact, the majority don’t even know where or what Catalonia is, let alone why it should constitute a sovereign state of its own. Why would anyone want to challenge unity and provoke division and possibly violence? For instance, Olga Khazan, from the Washington Post started her report with this comment:
Oh dear Olga, you thought you were opening your article with such a clever statement. But see, firstly, you are comparing apples with pears. The events of September eleven in New York and the way the people of that city have worked towards healing and recovering from such atrocity have absolutely nothing to do with the way a group of people express (very peacefully indeed) their feelings about their future and the future of their language and culture. Secondly, I personally hate this type of empty, tautological vocabulary that gets repeated regardless of the history and particularities of the event. And if you have read my blog, you know that I am all for finding similarities among us and working towards understanding. But, as I explained in my home page, “Why“, I am also all for respecting and promoting cultural and linguistic uniqueness and not allowing something as precious as that, which has taken thousands of years to develop to disappear under the blanket of globalisation.
That’s why more than one and a half million people marched peacefully and euphorically in the streets of the catalan capital city, Barcelona, and many others in surrounding localities – not hundreds of thousands like the Spanish media reported, not a million like other right wing media outlet claimed, over a million and a half –
in the midst of their prime,
and those that have been waiting for this moment for many years now.
And I, now that I should be prevented from dancing , I have the obligation to finally get my act together and help my friends and family spread the word and let the world know about the seed that has been planted this week. It is up to us now to broadcast this peaceful movement and explain why it is not about divisions, hatred, secession, rupture – It’s about peacefully restoring what political games and maneuvers once, many centuries ago, stole from a group of hard-working, peace-loving people. Because, now, thanks to the power of technology and social media, we are able to show the other side of the coin.
It is obvious that Spanish media works its hardest at concealing the significance and magnitude of events like this one. For instance, the day after the demonstration took place, my husband and I sat to watch the Spanish TV1 news shown in SBS Australia every morning and waited patiently for news of the demonstration to be shown. We eventually had to pause and see if we had got the news for another date because it was not until minute 22 that the newsreader mentioned a demonstration of hundreds of thousands that took place in the streets of Barcelona. But before that we had to endure 22 minutes of glorification of Mariano Rajoy (President of the Spanish Government), an 3 or 4 minute long presentation of an interview he had with the Finish Prime Minister as well as many of his speeches and self-praise.
But this biased coverage has not gone unnoticed internationally. French newspapers implicitly mentioned the same lack of reporting by Spanish TV and have accused some of the more conservative newspapers like La Razón and Abc of hiding the massive numbers that marched in the streets and the impact of the demonstration, only to refer to it briefly and to accuse it in these kind of terms: ‘Catalan nationalism, hand in hand with socialism, have carried out a show of sovereign strength in Barcelona, a proof of the politics of division that the catalan government promotes ‘. In the same line, reading some of the newspapers in the traditionally anti-catalan region of Andalucia, one would not have even known this event had ever occurred.
This silence contrasts with the coverage by international media publications like al-Jazeera, the Financial Times and the BBC, which highlighted the significance and reach of these demonstrations.
The eyes are now on Catalonia regardless of the level of coverage it gets from the rest of Spain. But it is very important for the world to know and understand that this is not about creating borders, boundaries, promoting divisions and rifts, like many in the Spanish governing Popular Party would have you believe. The movement for Catalan independence is about restoring what was a group of people lost in 1714 to the whims of kings, queens and nobles and giving them the much deserved opportunity to drive their own future.
“International law is merely a tool for the powerful”.
Discuss with reference to the US approach to the law on the use of force or human rights.
This was one of the questions put to us in the final exam of a post-grad course on International Law over a couple of years ago. Can’t remember exactly how I came out of it, but I probably went on blathering about how International Law is used by the US and other major hegemons to advance their own self-interest. Nothing new, nothing surprising but a topic that hits us every day with more intensity.
Last week I felt particularly sadden and angered by a number of events that took place across the globe, which again brought the above question-statement to the fore:
1. The threat by British authorities to arrest Julian Assange from the Ecuadorean Embassy after the Latin American country granted him political assylum.
Beyond the manhunt against Wikileaks founder for obviously orchestrated allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden (see this article for a rundown on the sequence of events put together from a number of leaked police reports and other witnesses’ accounts), what’s angered me is the biased media coverage against Assange, the lack of support from his own government (Australia), and the blatant use of threats against cilvil liberties and international law from major governments.
2.The incarceration for two years of three members of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot, after a judge decided that the band’s actions were notivated y religious hatred when they staged an anti-Kremlin protest at the altar of Moscow’s Chris the Saviour Cathedral.
3. The Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine massacre in South Africa that left 34 dead and 78 wounded when police open fire at the crowd of striking miners as result of a week-long strike over demands for a wage rise (the average pay for one of these miners being US$500 a month).
Never stop questioning
All three cases highlight and remind us of both the fragility and the biased nature of International Law in the hands of powerful political and private interests – the protection of military and state secrets, the mocking of an autocratic ruler and his paraphernalia/machinery and the defense of private interests at any cost including the loss of the lives of underpaid and overworked workers. But I won’t go into any more details as I’m sure you’ve had enough of the media circus that surrounds all of them.
What I want to do is to stress once more the need to keep on questioning the institutions used to govern us, to judge us, to teach us, to lead us. Because, as Noam Chomsky reminds us we “need to be able to detect forms of authority and coercion and challenge those that are not legitimate”. If we forget that and accept what’s served to us by governments and by the media, we will help further the interests of those in control.
We need to remember that liberal values are shown to us to be at the core of the purpose and mission of the dominant western democracies in the world – they need to be seen to promote human dignity and spreading democracy (whether that is true or whether the merely advance corporate interests). But in reality, what happens is that once these ideas have been recognised, once they have normalised and accepted as valid by their own citizens and the countries in the periphery, the impression of dominance disappears entirely, we believe their legitimacy and stop questioning them.
So, today, I just want to remind us that International Law (as other institutions and norms that are presented to us as necessities for a civil society) in as much as it may have been founded on principles of fairness and protection of basic human dignity, it is pervasively albeit discretely used as a tool of the powerful to protect their hegemonic power and their legitimacy. How?
How does International Law get abused/neglected/reshaped?
The use and abuse of International Law (and by default in many cases, the abuse of civil liberties) by the powerful comes in many shapes and sizes.
Sometimes, we see a withdrawal of the powerful from the very institutions of International Law (as in the case of the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto Protocol) they formulated and helped shape. Take as a example the case of the United States versus the International Criminal Court. After campaigning for the formation of an international tribunal and being one of the main participants in the formation of the Ad Hoc Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (and later the ICTR to deal with crimes perpetrated in Rwanda) and their important role in a preparatory committee in 1996 to conclude a draft earlier presented by the International Law Commission for the formation of an International Court of Justice, the United States refused to ratify the Rome Statute. The Bush Administration embarked on a campaign against the establishment of the ICC as in theory according to the statute, the ICC would have jurisdiction to detain US citizens (and those from other non-signatory nations) without the consent of the US directly or through its agreement with a Security Council decision. The emergence of an international institution capable of detaining US officials hence capacitated to restrict their power to employ military forces at will beyond US borders, did not sit well with the US administration.
In other cases, we see a forceful change in International Law. For instance, in the last 15 years, the US have advanced claims for new rights to use force in the following areas:a right to unilaterally enforce Security Council authorisations in the interventions in the former Yugoslavia and Iraq; a broadened right to exercise self-defence against terrorist attacks in the missile attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan and later the war in Afghanistan; and a bold right to pre-emptive self-defence, so far only cautiously invoked in the war in Iraq.
And in other cases, we see a blatant attempt at disregarding the power of International Law and human liberties. For instance, WikiLeaks has revealed since its inception the seemingly indiscriminate killing of Baghdad civilians by a United States Apache attack helicopter; details about the true face of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; the Obama administration’s pressure on other nations not to prosecute Bush-era officials for torture; and many other thorny secrets. These reports have angered certain factions in the US and in fact, the US Justice Department has recently confirmed that there was a continuous investigation against WikiLeaks, and just-disclosed Australian government documents from this past February state that “the U.S. investigation into possible criminal conduct by Mr. Assange has been ongoing for more than a year.” WikiLeaks itself has published e-mails from Stratfor, a private intelligence corporation, which state that a grand jury has already returned a sealed indictment of Mr. Assange.
If Britain denies safe passage for Julian Assange to Ecuador and he is eventually extradited to the United States, the consequences will reverberate for years around the world. As filmakers Michael Moore and Oliver Stone explain, given the fact that Assange is not an American citizen, and none of his actions have taken place on American soil, charging him with espionage or terrorism against the US could open an international can of worms because, by the same logic, other countries like Russia or China could demand that foreign reporters anywhere on earth be extradited for violating their laws.
So, for those that question Julian Assange’s innocence or for those that believe the Pussy Riots should not have gone that far, or for those who think unrest in a mine results in a loss of profit for many and it needs to be suppressed at any cost, remember:
I am not talking about conspiracies, I am talking about instruments used to establish and consolidate hegemony and legitimacy of the powerful. Using the tools already available to them, creating tools that suit their purpose, working with propaganda, the powerful distort the important information and create illusions that make the population believe what they are told and away from the truths behind the political process.
In Noam Chomsky’s words: “At this stage of history, one of two things is possible: Either the general population will take control of its own destiny and will concern itself with community interests guided by values of solidarity and sympathy and concern for others, or alternatively there will be no destiny to control.”
We heard a somewhat mystifying comment from U.S. Secretary of StateHillary Rodham Clinton last week warning of a “new colonialism” in Africa from foreign investors and governments interested only in extracting natural resources to enrich themselves.
No culprits mentioned in that statement, but a day earlier Clinton urged scrutiny of China’s large investments and business interests in Africa to prevent…