When the Watts riots broke out in 1965, the woman who was to become my mother-in-law 27 years later gathered together a group of Quaker women to stand vigil outside the barricades that the LAPD had erected around the neighborhood. For days they stood in a line peacefully outside the barricades, taking turns in shifts, witnessing what was occurring and trying, in the process, to minimize the violence. If they had not been there, surely even more blood would have been spilled.
Syria reminds me of this daily. We have all been witnessing the atrocities, but at a comfortable distance while the Syrian people have been routinely brutalized, gassed, and murdered. This is not a civil war, but a barbaric attack by a leader against his own people. As Yassin al-Haj Saleh writes in today’s New York Times, “Here in Syria, there is a regime that has been killing its subjects with impunity for the last 30 months.”
In his speech tonight the President said, “We seek to ensure that the worst weapons will not be used.” Well, I don’t see any real difference in dying by gunshot, fire, or poison gas. Killing is killing. That Obama is moved to do something only when the “red line” of the use of sarin has been amply demonstrated is terribly disappointing. Isn’t a red line crossed when an elementary school is bombed with napalm? When rape becomes a weapon of war? What’s the point of “reprimanding” a tyrant for using one kind of death machine rather than another? I’m all for the Russian plan to get Syria to divest itself of its chemical weapons, but what about all the other weapons? And what of the total illegitimacy of this regime?
I am ashamed that we in the rest of the world have stood by, paralyzed by cowardice or trepidation, for all this time while the government of Bashar al-Assad has brutalized and killed thousands every month. But I also understand and share the worry over going to yet another war.
So might there be a nonviolent alternative — something akin to the line of Quaker women standing watch? That might mean sending in UN “peacekeepers,” though that is still very militaristic and might not be the only viable option. What if we civilians, pouring in from the civil societies of the world, took up watch inside of Syria, just as so many journalists have tried to do? We need to stand closer.
What’s to keep a dictator from killing those standing watch? Very little. But is there any other decent alternative? Can we claim to be a really human race when we fail to be humane, when we stand by helplessly?
Five women philosophers examine what’s wrong with philosophy, that is, why the profession has been so hostile to women. Read their short pieces in the New York times opinionator blogs. The problems seem to be especially bad at the so-called “top” schools, at least tops in terms of the bleiter establishment as opposed to those at the top of the Pluralist Guide.
Here’s a welcome alternative to the bleieterreport. http://pluralistsguide.org
I am sharing this with the permission of the author, a colleague in and from Istanbul, who sent this to me this morning….
6 days ago, a few thousand people started a peaceful protest against an urban development project in Gezi Parki, Taksim, Istanbul. An illegal process to uproot 20-year old trees in the park gave rise to these people camping out in the park all night, reading books, singing together, and protesting the project, which proposed to build a new shopping mall/bazaar/pedestrian walkway, where there is currently a park. There were families and children, young and old people of various political ideologies camping out there. At 5am the next morning, the police attacked the tents with tear gas bombs and caused a fire there as the people were asleep. People put out the fire on their own, but refused to leave. Turkish media did not report on this, but social media helped with distributing the news; as a result, tens of thousands of people started marching to Taksim square in Istanbul in support of the protestors and to draw attention to police brutality. The next morning there were around fifty thousand people in the square, but this time police used hundreds of tear gas bombs (often fired directly at people and causing serious injuries), water cannons to knock people down, and plastic bullets. As the police continued to use excessive force, people from all around the country started marching to Taksim, if they could, or started demonstrations all over Istanbul and Turkey in their home towns. At one point, there were around two hundred thousand people in Taksim; right now, twenty thousand or so still remain. These demonstrations quickly became about protesting the police violence, and by extension, condemning those who ordered it, the government. It is correct to say that what is going on right now is no longer about the park, but it is a civil disobedience movement against the current authoritarian government, who is using chemical weapons against its own citizens who voice their dissent.
The prime minister of Turkey, Erdogan, said that this was a handful of marginals from the opposition party, being provoked by the enemies of Turkey within and without. In truth, there is no one party, organization, union, ideology behind these protests. Nationalists, secularists, leftists, rightists, soccer fan groups, LGBTQ groups, university students and faculty, old people, children, veterans, disabled people, … all participate in these. The prime minister is taunting the people, saying that he has 50% support and he has so far been keeping his voters on leash. He is acting as if he is only the prime minister of those who voted for him, and as if the people on the streets are doing something undemocratic by peacefully showing their concerns. One important fact to note is that people who did vote for him, often religious conservatives, are also on the streets protesting. One uniting slogan for the demonstrators has been a call to end police violence and a call to the prime minister to show responsibility. The response from the government has been increasing police violence and use of more tear gas grenades, plastic bullets, and arrests. The more the police is present and tries to supress the protests by force, the more the people react and take to the streets.
Let me repeat: the Turkish media has not reported on the events that have been going on for the past 6 days. At all. Not a single word. I personally witnessed the events in Taksim on Saturday, the police brutality, and none of the mainstream media sources reported on it. It is crazy-making. We had to livestream the protests from a Norwegian TV channel, but not a single story appeared in the Turkish news sources. It is clear that they are being censured. Two days ago as the police was withdrawing from the square, some news channels started reporting it, but they were spinning the story to support the discourse of the prime minister, and hiding its real reasons and real extent/seriousness. They are making it sound like it was about the park and it is now over. It is clear to those of us who have been paying attention is that it is no longer about the park but about opposing to the government and its dictatorial tendencies as well as condemning police brutality. The Turkish media is making it sound like it is smaller and less significant than it actually is, like the police was justified in using excessive force (by the way, they used incredible amounts of tear gas, plastic bullets, and there is talk of agent orange being in the mix. I don’t think it can be agent orange, but there are various kinds of red orange chemicals in the tear gas that has different effects on people.) For the past two days, it has been radio silence again on Turkish media (tv as well as newspapers, except for one low-budget cable channel, which was previously a shopping network). Facebook and Twitter have been the only outlets to get the word out to the foreign press and international institutions.
The protestors are asking the prime minister to do the following immediately: 1) Stop the police violence, everywhere in Turkey; 2) Start holding the police/the mayors/the governors accountable; 3) Stop taunting and provoking people by misinforming the public. The prime minister today went on a tour to Tunisia and Marrakech in the midst of the upheaval.
You can also help by calling attention to these events; at this point, the government will only respond to international pressure to stop the police brutality and it’s all the more important since the Turkish media is not at all reporting what is really happening. I am pasting some good sources below for your reference; it would be very helpful if you can also share them widely.
A brief collage video here:http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/06/01/a-stunning-90-second-video-of-turkeys-protests/
Proofs of police brutality (in Turkish): http://delilimvar.tumblr.com/
Besiktas (another important neighborhood in Istanbul) on the news http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22749750
Livestream from the only cable channel in Turkey (in Turkish, but you can see, especially at night time, the police brutality with your own eyes :http://www.canlitvizletv.com/2013/01/halk-tv-canl-izle.html
On Twitter – #direngezi parki, #occupygezi
I can hardly believe the year that has just passed. At the beginning of it I would never have imagined that people would stop and praise me for my mastery of Robert’s Rules of Order or for my leadership on campus. A year ago today I’d never read RRO and I was still very much a newcomer to my campus. But then this past September the dean of Emory’s College of Arts and Sciences announced a roster of cuts to undergraduate and graduate programs and everything for me changed.
One of the programs he cut was one that my husband was teaching in as a senior lecturer, so that was an immediate incentive. I suppose I could have then gone to the dean and tried to strike a deal, but I didn’t. It seemed better to stand up on principle for everyone so affected, not just those with my particular circumstances. I got deeply involved because I’m a democrat all the way down, and the long-standing principles of faculty governance call for faculty control of the curricula. Emory’s administration just swatted that principle away as if it were a gnat. I find this abominable.
So I got deeply involved in the newly reconstituted Emory chapter of the American Association of University Professors. And I spoke up often during faculty meetings and occasionally on the college faculty listserv. And I posted a bit on this blog about what was going on.
Colleges and universities across the country and the world are under financial pressure. But the stupidest thing they can do is cut programs. This is the time to expand the crucial role of higher education not the time to shrink it. The leaders of my U are definitely leaning stupid. Buck up, guys. Get it together. Don’t succumb to the marketization of the university.
I’m hopeful that our new provost, a gal, Claire Sterk, can help Emory chart a better direction. And maybe the board of trustees will wake from their deep slumber and realize that they have some fiduciary responsibility to make sure that the bylaws of the university, which guarantee its nonprofit status and its accreditation with SACS, are actually being followed–but which are not.
And here’s link to Emory’s board of trustees.
My good friend, the composer Carman Moore, whom I talk with much too rarely, wrote me a little poem many years ago. I keep a copy of it handy wherever I’m writing, and it serves me well. So I offer it to all of you who happen across this blog. It’s sage advice. And note the composer’s riffs:
Be extreme, extremely you,
Follow the good line all the way.
Then maybe it bears repeating.
Then maybe it bears variation.
Then maybe it bears offspring.
When it’s over, you’re changed.
You can never go back to where you were.
After all these long years I notice something I hadn’t considered deeply enough before: by being extremely oneself one changes . We can never go back to who we were. So who is this “self” that one was being so ardent to? Maybe a daimon?
The Stony Brook philosopher and executive director of the International Association for Philosophy and Literature, Hugh Silverman, died last Wednesday after a battle with prostate cancer. I didn’t know him well, but every time I saw him there was a smile and a hug. A good soul and now with his passing a real loss to philosophy. Read this moving tribute from Peter Gratton.