I am not Charlie, I am not Ahmed: Responding to the response (in progress)

‘I am Gaza’ – 2009

‘I am Bradley Manning’ – 2013

‘I am Trayvon Martin’ – 2013

‘I am Mike Brown’ – 2014

‘I am Charlie’ – 2015

‘I am Ahmed’ – 2015

“This kind of low-cost, risk-free, E-Z solidarity is only possible in a social-media age, where you can strike a pose and somebody sees it on their timeline for 15 seconds and then they move on and it’s forgotten except for the feeling of accomplishment it gave you”.

Let’s be honest from the outset, you are none of the above.  However much you sympathise – with Palestinians in Gaza, whistle blowers in the Armed Forces, urban black people in the USA, French satirists or Muslim law enforcers – their struggles are intimate and vastly different.  Each occupies a unique position culturally, geographically and, significantly, in relation to power.  Even if you have been marginalised since conception you might find it hard to relate to any of the people above, and conflating our differences as if we are all the same only feeds into the status quo.  In a sense these individuals are murdered more than once, first physically and then by a neoliberal (social) media that wants to put their memory into the frontline of a diatribe seeking to extent ‘security’ measures at home and promote imperial wars abroad.

Take the most recent incarnations ‘I am Charlie’ and its immediate response ‘I am Ahmed’.  I find it hard to believe that either person wanted to be dichotomized as some sort of ideal for white-imperialist-cartoonists or liberal-Muslim-law enforcers.  Such ‘I ams’ fulfil two significant strategies, the first is to sanitise and purify murdered individuals so that they can be idolised as pillars of who we should be as individuals and as societies – they are forced to become ‘heroes of free speech’ and western values.  The second follows on, by embodying these sanitised individuals we can righteously claim that we are the Goodies and anyone opposing us must be the Baddies.  If ‘I am Good’ there is only one possibility for the attackers, to be dehumanised as Evil.  Thus we fool ourselves into thinking that we are the Goodies in a battle between Good and Evil.  Collectively we apprehend their memory and turn it to our own means, something immediately recognised about the status of Dammartin-en-Goele – while the suspects were under siege, a resident acknowledged that the small town will now be remembered as the last stand for the suspects of the Charlie Hebdo killings.

To those that whine along the lines ‘solidarity, solidarity, solidarity’, a non-thinking solidarity is the type worth throwing out with the trash.  Regardless, neoliberal media outlets are clearly taking time to think, applying shock doctrine tactics to promote aggressive policies.  Fox News used the attack to promote the militarisation of the police in the USA, CNN similarly conflates the attacks with ISIS and Muslims everywhere, while the Guardian summarised the attack with, “the real clash is between free speech and a tiny number of jihadist murderers”, seemingly forgetting far more insidious governmental attacks on free speech!  In an exchange between Art Spiegelman and Tariq Ramadan on Democracy Now the history and context of Charlie Hebdo is explored, but surely this is beyond satire.  Solidarity can occur in diverse ways and tackle such events creatively to promote fresh lines of dialogue.  This is the expanding gulf to fill in the presence of a increasingly coopted academia and media.

We do not need to whitewash the histories of communities, individuals and organisations in order to say that they did not deserve to die in such a manner.  This is all the more poignant with the Charlie Hebdo attack, an organisation with a historical mission is to be “inane and nasty” and a legacy of homophobic, racist and sexist paraphernalia to prove it. In such a context ‘free speech’ becomes a sanitised catchphrase to validate the unquestioning promotion of any literature, but if you are homophobic, racist or sexist you deserve to be challenged.  At the same time, the attackers can be utilised to raise questions about a system that has normalised racism, war and xenophobia.  A few questions that the attack has sparked in my mind are ‘how does popular culture cultivate and promote desires for war?’ ‘How do we find and promote alternative opinions effectively?’ ‘What are the links between Western extremism and Islamic extremists?’ Surely this would make for a more meaningful dialogue rather than falling into the well-laid trap of ‘Muslim terrorists versus not all Muslims are terrorists’.

For those that need clarity, and building on the excellent piece by Jacob Canfield, ‘I am not Charlie, I am not Ahmed.  They did not deserve to die like that.  Fuck those cartoons, fuck police racism, and fuck the corporate media’s response – glorifying xenophobia and war.’  Lest we forget that this attack is of such media importance because of Paris’ centrality to white imperialism.  More horrific attacks of greater and lesser scale have occurred in the past few days, for example in the Yemen and on NAACP offices in the USA while murdering journalists is simply not worth mentioning in other parts of the globe; the Centre to Protect Journalists has not yet listed the first journalist killed of 2015.  If extremist western governments are permitted to arbitrarily kill people around the globe, and this is endorsed by popular culture, should we see such events as ‘blowback’ or ‘feedback’?

PS.  Freedom of expression in France, oh yeah, those raising awareness about the situation in Palestine can face a year in prison!


It’s only a cartoon.


The Shape of the Beast Come September

“Nationalism of one kind or another was the cause of most of the genocide of the twentieth century. Flags are bits of coloured clothe that governments use first to shrink-wrap people’s brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead”

Arundhati Roy, Come September

Arundhati Roy has consistently engaged with people and in issues to unhesitatingly question power. And she does not start from the position of acceptable western middle class standards. This has become more apparent as she seeks to question fundamental principles around subjects such as democracy, justice, the accumulation of capital, and non-violence.

Roy is at ease engaging political realms while simultaneously addressing complacency in her craft as well as in personal areas. And she does so with more acumen than established corporate media commentators. All of this was obvious from her Come September speech ten years ago and in her most recent publication she states explicitly, “my language, my style, is not something superficial, like a coat that I wear when I go out. My style is me – even when I’m at home. It’s the way I think. My style is my politics”.

To me she demonstrates most clearly that you can and should take a stand for something: assume a polemic but avoid being polemical in thought and action. And she gives those willing to listen a boost to do likewise, “I’m not here to tell stories that people want to hear. I’m not entering some popularity contest. I just say what I have to say, and the consequences are sometimes wonderful and sometimes not”.

The interviews of her latest book have all been published before, but this does not stop them reasserting something that is fresh in a world where mainstream politics stinks of decaying flags waved impotently by empire, in nostalgia as much as hope. Collectively the interviews shed light on what a critical persona can aspire to be while escaping the muck of corporate media in a necessarily penetrating yet poetic manner.

“To expose things is quite different from being able to effectively resist things. I am more interested now in whether there are new strategies of resistance. The debate between strategies of violence and non-violence.” Such points sound like self-criticism as much as accusation or provocation to impotent and incidental groups opposing empire. “I think that no one form of resistance is going to succeed. Like you cannot have a monoculture forest, you need a diversity of resistance… because non-violent resistance is a form of ‘theatre’, sometimes an effective form of theatre, but it needs an audience and a sympathetic audience”.

I am grateful for this collection of interviews but wait to see how many commentators remember her excellent writing presented 29th September 2002, Come September. Or indeed if Arundhati Roy will provide a ‘ten years on’… but unfortunately I know not enough has changed. A repeat listening exposes Empire and we do indeed require new ways to act.

It is all too true that none of us need anniversaries to remember the unforgettable, so I choose not to drench myself in the horrific but to celebrate the alternative.


Come September was presented on 29th September 2002.

The Shape of the Beast is available out now.

Now Joseph Kony has killed Simba!

Wow, this week we witnessed Africa return centre-stage as Uganda and Joseph Kony became the embodiment of what we are supposed to think of the continent; black people in need, black people in conflict, black people are primitive, and black people sure are poor – morally and financially.  If that isn’t clear enough for you just say “damn those niggers be at it again”.  But where there is black there needs to be white, right?  Because white is the colour of our saviour, white is powerful, white is justice, and white tastes like sugar.  If that isn’t as clear as a black shit on fresh white snow just think of some Pope holding out his hand to some snotty-faced rag-tag, diseased-riddled nameless black child from that dark continent.  But the professionalism with which this racist myth continues to permeate is not the polarisation I want to address here. To concentrate on this is to allow the debate to stagnate from fifty years ago and not to bring it to where it needs to be in the contemporary world.

The crudeness that I have just used is therefore meant to reflect that utilised not just by the Kony2012 campaign but also that of the many who saw through that viral video enough to actively criticise it.  Many came across as knee-jerk reactions that while valid in terms of immediacy perhaps might also have lacked consistency and concentration at the same time.  These reactions often didn’t seek to engage Invisible Children on their terms, and where the video was weakest, what are Ugandans and those affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army saying.  Take Marcel Cartier for example, to those who are new to the issue and rarely tread here he might come off as a rambling fool; providing valid but all-encompassing international commentary which is not restricted to the specific topic, with few suggestions, if anything, on what should be done about the case at hand.  Likewise, David Leon’s excellent piece is somewhat overcooked and therefore feeds into the dichotomy of ‘help us get Kony or fuck you’.  If the Kony2012 campaign is creating wristbands of arrogance we must steer away from demonstrating the same trait with our responses.  Elizabeth Flock’s interview with the photographer who captured Invisible Children holding guns was a thoroughly more grounded affair; it stood out because it knew what it wanted to accomplish and had the means to do so.  An equally grounded piece comes from establishment favourite John Pilger but was published last year, way before this debacle of popularism and polarisation.

As some have highlighted the Kony2012 campaign has displayed profoundly the power the Internet has in connecting people and ideas but this has been at the expense of relating accurate and relative information.  The campaign also displays the weaknesses of well-placed counter perspectives from within Western countries; overwhelmingly they react to the mainstream and have no dreams of doing anything else.  Getting too worked up about the system and clearly valuing their own opinion on the world at the expense of those concerned.  The Guardian’s datablog is a poignant condemnation of Invisible Children’s finances, and should definitely throw doubts into support that particular charity, but that’s not my primary focus.  Of course I won’t bother too much with conspiracy theorists that provide a jumble of information in much the same way as the viral video; yes the USA has growing interest throughout Africa, yes the CIA, FBI and government have expanded their influence on university campuses but correlation is not causation.  Although at least some of some of the grand theorising remained grounded with a sense of humour.  Still nobody stated the obvious; that the Advertising Standards Agency would, in all likeliness, never have accepted the promotional stunt on numerous grounds.

Luckily enough we do have the Internet and are not restricted to dominant views of left or right persuasions.  The best pieces that responded to Invisible Children’s campaign came out of Uganda, and came from people on that continent.  Their focused voices took a variety of positions on a range of issues, from inaccuracies in the campaign to how it might affect tourism in Uganda.  They included younger and older people as well as those in diasporic communities and at least one from a man who was formerly a child soldier in the Lord’s Resistance Army.  Let’s not forgot the man’s own voice.  There are plenty more out there that deserve more attention than they are currently getting.  One Ugandan pointed out that such a weak campaign, followed by ambivalent discussion, would never have occurred in regards to the Middle East but because this is Africa we can all speak down to it.  But as Kambale Musavuli demonstrates real dialogue must be made possible and highlighted – is this about imperialism?  It is as if a single, Lion King-like, narrative informs every void of our mind.  As Adam Branch points out this campaign and reaction to it isn’t about Uganda, this is about the USA and Americans.

So let us return to Simba, it is not Joseph Kony who killed him, though displace him as the popular vision of Africa perhaps.  It is not even Invisible Children with their evangelical advert who can take credit for this.  Nor is it the rhetorical reactions of those opposing the campaign.  Those of us with access to the Internet but rely too heavily upon being told how to use it, and therefore click too quickly on that share button all have a hand to play.  Because these children are not invisible and many have surely grown up, and some can relay there own opinions on Uganda, Africa and what peace means.  All we have to do is search, listen, and share… As has been proven.

The story was jump-started with the violence of Tony Kony, with ‘invisible’ children.  Wouldn’t the conclusions be so very different if we had bothered to start the story with the powerful Betty Bigombe, with visible children, with artists not the campaigners of politricks?


I’m Surprised they didn’t call it ‘J.K.2012’

“There is a balance in the community that cannot be found in the briefcase of the white man… The real issue for the International Criminal Court is that the USA is out of its yoke.  It should deal with that and leave us alone… We are forced to kneel. Where is the justice in that?”
– A Ugandan based in Gulu for Human Rights Watch, 2005

Until very recently most people had never heard of Joseph Kony, the International Criminal Court, or Invisible Children.  To highlight what an impressive accomplishment it is to have so many people pressing a button that demands Joseph Kony be brought to ‘justice’ I can remember trying to talk with a group of humanitarian workers during 2008 – they were experienced experts in areas of conflict yet they didn’t have a clue who Joseph Kony was or the significance of the issue facing the International Criminal Court.  Unbelievable!  Of course it’s a good thing that you know about the Lord’s Resistance Army but a YouTube video is much like a ten o’clock news item; it is designed to stimulate certain emotive impulses with the aim of agreement.  As such they can only ever serve as introductions to issues.  Even this brief sketch can take us a little deeper and perhaps suggest reasons we should question why numerous issues were neglected by Invisible Children.  

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was set up to prosecute the most severe human rights abuses and war crimes – to go after those ‘most responsible’.  It’s very new and consequently could be a great success or another international failure.  UNICEF first suggested that the ICC should prosecute the Lord’s Resistance Army during 1998; four years before the Rome Statute, which created the ICC, was signed.  International agencies like Amnesty were pleased at the prospect.  But as investigations began to draw closer, around 2005, those on the ground questioned the prospect of investigating and arresting the leaders.  Some from Save the Children Uganda suggested it would increase the danger to children under captivity as well as those already escaped.  These are not empty fears, the Lord’s Resistance Army has indeed attacked, hacked to death in fact, those that have escaped their grasp and increased an already fierce discipline amongst their own ranks.  Similarly seeking arrests without a peace agreement in place would increase the violence to the wider population, this view is echoed by many Ugandans who suspected their President of seeking to harness international credibility.  For instance the Vice-President of Acholi Religious Leader’s Peace Initiative told a UN reporter “this kind of approach is going to destroy all efforts for peace.  People want the war to stop.  If we follow the ICC in branding the Lord’s Resistance Army criminals it won’t stop”.  Even the spokesperson for Uganda’s Amnesty Commission, which is able to grant amnesty for rebel groups except leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), suggested the ICC was making it hard for the violence to cease; what’s the incentive if they get arrested?

In short the ICC was accused of trying to make a name for itself based upon the suffering of a people who were engaged in an ongoing peace process – both sides have broken negotiations in the past and President Museveni has a number of reasons for allowing the violence to continue.  Senior officers in the Ugandan People’s Defence Force were involved in cattle rustling, removing the livelihoods of the very people Invisible Children want to help.  As Amnesty and many Ugandans in displacement camps acknowledge the ICC is demonstrating huge bias by investigating only members of the LRA – members of the Ugandan government stand accused of kidnapping people to use as soldiers and of arbitrary killings.  Is a popular hunt and trial needed or something more akin to a Truth and Reconciliation hearing?  If the hunt for Joseph Kony intensifies the situation further is it worth it?  For whose benefit? 

A Ugandan Human Rights Watch group also had reservations and such antipathy from those the ICC expected to work with on the ground placed it in a difficult position; justice for who? for YouTube viewers? for Invisible Children? for Ugandans? for the Acholi? for the LRA?  Even the Rome Statute states that the ICC should not only work in the interests of justice but also in the interests of victims.  What’s best for the victims? to stop the violence?  To hunt Kony down and place him in prison?

I don’t know but a judge-mental YouTube video that seeks to popularize and polarize the crimes of one man as if he is so ordained to take all the problems of criminality and suffering away doesn’t seem to fit.  It doesn’t acknowledge what came before Joseph Kony, who he learned from, the networks around him, or what the situation is now on the ground – and just what is the current situation, is Joseph Kony still active (though this is no reason not to seek justice in itself)?

Since the Patriot Act the USA has steadily been increasing its interest in Northern Uganda. But the USA is not a signatory to the Rome Statute and have ardently opposed ICC involvement elsewhere in the world, so what are their interests in the conflict; simple people power doesn’t seem to add up given the huge resources they are only willing to utilize when there is oil involved?  The arrests warrants were ‘under seal’, secret, in order to help protect communities that might be attacked. This was until the Ugandan government, apparently in error, made them public. Have Invisible Children thought about the consequences of such a public campaign?  Forget their financial issues it seems incredibly naïve of Invisible Children to be photographed holding guns with the ground troops – if the ICC is to be called biased surely Invisible Children are in danger of demonstrating extreme bias.

Under Article 53 of the Rome Statute the prosecutor can decide that to proceed with a prosecution is “not in the interests of justice taking into the account all the circumstances”. In April 2005 the Chief Prosecutor agreed with this point but highlighted that if that was to happen “I would stop but I will not close. Timing is possible but immunity is not”.  I’m not saying don’t go after Joseph Kony but shouldn’t those affected by the LRA lead the way, no matter how slow or different their methods?  Surely a distant international group who do not have to face the ramifications should not lead the way?  So what are the current opinions of Ugandans and those in LRA-affected areas, especially direct victims?  We cannot assess this from the Invisible Children video which is more of an evangelical advert than a news item; it’s certainly not a documentary.  I am not providing any routes forward but in light of that viral video I thought it useful to have some idea of the previous debates.  It is quite complicated and as one senior person from Amnesty International said to me, “publicly I would support the ICC but privately I would support the local resolution methods”. 

I started with a quote and it is well worth ending with some more to acknowledge the victims and that these crimes are horrors worthy of the often too easily used title, Evil, too often used to describe some distant Other and of course never our own Western leaders.

“They also forced me to kill… So many times I cannot remember… If you refused to do the killing [with a club or panga] they would cut off the head and make you carry it… None of us wanted to carry the head, so we all had to kill…”
– a seventeen year old boy in Atiak displacement camp

“We had only moved a short distance away and I was asked to kill my mother. I first refused but I was told my mother would be asked to kill me. They kept insisting. They tried to force my mother to kill me, but she refused. They said they would kill both of us, but my mother told me I must kill her to survive”
– twenty year old woman in Gulu town

Removing the Bite from Brother Malcolm

I wrote this as a response to a recent piece I read in the Guardian.

“Things get blurry” – Spike Lee on working on Malcolm X

Spike Lee set out to adapt the autobiography of Malcolm X to the big screen which might explain why it misses out so much of his later life.  But given this, it is not hard to see why the film has been called ‘the second assassination of Malcolm X’ and why it is one of Spike Lee’s most conventional films.  Either way a movie can only serve as an introduction to a subject and if this is yours there is going to be a great over-emphasis on the ‘Big Red’ phase.  Thus posing the danger that you might not appreciate Malcolm’s international thrust and could easily fall prey to the insinuation that his killing was just a bunch of black folks falling out.  The film contained some powerful scenes, like the dictionary scene, but the film wasn’t powerful.  And this despite not having to totally rely on Warner Brothers because Afro-American celebrities put up much money; the racism of Hollywood is as real now as it was in the early 1990s.

If you look into the history you will find that numerous scripts for a film version of Malcolm’s life have been written and turned down by Hollywood, including one by James Baldwin, so why was 1992 the right moment?  There can be little denying that the movie aimed to commercialise Malcolm X with tee-shirts, hats, and memorabilia all pre-ordained.  Spike Lee set out to please Hollywood with the film, to make an epic and gain some degree of acceptance, but in terms of awards and nominations he didn’t succeed.  Despite Warner Brother’s expectations for swells of an angry black audience dollar, upping the security on opening night in New York, the film faded quite quickly from memory because it wasn’t controversial or epic enough.  Some very sharp questions were left out on numerous dynamics, including on the Nation of Islam and Minister Farrakhan, possibly due to Spike Lee’s personal connection to them.  We know that Spike bowed to pressure over sex scenes in the film; so what of other, more potent, alterations? 

When reviewing the film we need to bring up issues it left out and why they were left out.  It’s not simply about time constraints in a 202 minute film or money.  With the life and legacy Malcolm X left behind it wasn’t good enough to simply do a run-of-the-mill Hollywood blockbuster; attempting to institutionalise a ‘dangerous figure’ (to middle class whites and non-whites alike).  The narrative is contemporary and alive.  Malcolm X was one of the first to radically criticise the media in addition to the political system to such a significant audience and this needed to come across.  I wasn’t looking for answers to the assassination but I didn’t want to see Spike Lee turn Malcolm X into an institutionalised poster boy like the watered down version of Martin Luther King Jr we are fed.

The flaws of Spike Lee in this film come through most poignantly when a white girl asks Malcolm, ‘what can I do?’ and he replies, ‘nothing’.  Spike Lee opens up this dialogue without closing it.  Whereas in his autobiography Malcolm follows through saying he wishes he knew where she was so he could go apologise.  As a result it is clear that Spike Lee is on a racial thrill ride for Hollywood.  It strikes me that those who knew Malcolm X knew he wasn’t perfect but it was the manner in which he tackled the situations he found himself in and questioned his own understandings.  Similarly, Malcolm X wasn’t simply travelling to African countries as some tourist might but meeting with the revolutionary leaders in those countries and talking with them at length; discussing various issues including Israel/Palestine.  These details are missing in abundance.  Because art is propaganda Spike Lee maintains the propaganda of middle-America.

The film was politically and economically mandated by Hollywood and the bottom line is that the film has nothing to do with reality but everything to do with what middle-America want to say about Malcolm X.  Malcolm X was a revolutionary and as a result his ideas were not easy to assimilate, certainly not for a Hollywood production.  I would’ve liked to see a film that concentrated on the periods of transition in Malcolm’s life not a neat highlight reel of compartments; ‘Big Red’, finding Islam, and political assassination.  In a time when globalisation is popularly criticised it would’ve been good to hear Malcolm’s ideas of internationalism as much as his ideas on racism.  But an Afro-American cannot be so complex surely, certainly not on screen. 

So the question for me is, if a film adaptation of Malcolm X’s life was made today would it still miss so many interesting and powerful parts of his narrative and his lasting impact?



Rebellious? Media Conference

The organisers and the performers deserve to be congratulated for putting on this long overdue event because the line up commanded attention depsite nobody taking a fee.  Orginally it was to be named ‘Radical Media Conference’ but due to technicalities the event was renamed ‘rebellious’.  Either way there were few moments of radicalism or rebelliousness, although there were indications and moments towards such adjectives; and this is not me simply wishing for more.  As has proven true in other cases the smaller workshops were always going to be a lot better than the massive plenaries when the opportunity for fringe events was missed to make way for the ‘Almighty Chomsky & Albert Show’.  In the opening plenary there was much mutual masturbation by the duo and little on the media.  Bad organisation also contributed to this becoming comical as the duo couldn’t hear the audience but attempted to an answer along a theme they half imagined.  I was happy to get out of the hall and get into the workshops.

I attended the ‘Mind the Gap’ workshop which was about how to fill the gap left by the corporate media. The workshop made it clear to me that the paramount concern of the conference was to network with like-minded media people. In hindsight this workshop was perhaps a bad choice on my side; I found little room for ideas that I wanted to contribute and a general belief that the way forward was to centralise alternative media and seemingly to mirror the existing mainstream. These are not the ways forward I seek to engage because if the internet has taught me anything it’s that accessing original, different and diverse sources is an irresistible benefit. Despite this the session did reveal a few publications that I want to look into further including the Manchester Mule and the Salford Star. For the final seminar of the day I attended the feminism forum organised by The F-Word. The all-female panel seemed quite a good mix of educated and middle class perspectives from southern England.  I also appreciated the brief discussion on the role of males in feminist thought and action; I felt Laurie Penny almost hit a nail on the head when she said all-female spaces really are a red-herring.  Indeed if all-women spaces can be valuable than so too can all-male spaces, highlighting that it is not such spaces in themselves that are useful but their purpose and meaning.  During this session I had a phone-call from a female friend in Indonesia who once said to me, “I ain’t no fucking feminist, all they do is write and discuss theory.  I am taking action.”  This fits nicely with Laurie Penny’s acknowledgement that those who write about feminism often represent the ‘hive vagina’.  I would’ve liked to have heard some recognition of the return to biological determinism within the corporate media but again there were a number of links worth following up.

On Sunday I went to the forum on alternative voices from ‘the riots’ this was a focused and well organised session; probably worthy of the trip in itself.  A number of young people talked about their experiences of the riots, their interpretations of mainstream media as well as their analysis of the causes.  They expressed themselves in a variety of ways, including using video and poetry.  This was the ‘rebellious media’ I was looking for, not mirroring the current inadequacies but finding common ground with others and allowing their own expression to be the media.  Concerns of those close to events were raised, not mediated through some elite journalist with a decontextualised catchphrase.  This is what a radical media conference should look like as voices from the heart of relevant issues command centre stage while networking and organising follow.  I didn’t need to hear the repeated words of Chomsky and the fantastical theories of Michael Albert, they did say some better things in the final plenary but it wasn’t essential for me.

Some more mutual masturbation occurred in the final plenary, this time with some crowd participation, as people hailed a ‘successful’ and ‘nice’ conference.  When venues for events like this consistently take place in universities and Friends Meeting Houses friendly middle class voices will continue to dominate, whether they come from men or women, white or non-white.  I would love to see these events take place in community centres and to stop panels of academics and professionals dominating affairs.  Mix it up from the status quo and place academics and professionals alongside the youths of the riots and black feminists.  Neither do we need American dominance taking main stage; the UK has a wealth of expertise with greater analytical depth that is directly relevant (as Chomsky acknowledged).  Regardless of my opinion, most obviously there were two things missing from this ‘Rebellious Media Conference’; representatives from Wikileaks and Anonymous. I never even heard these two groups mentioned in passing and wondered if I was missing some aspect of alternative media politricks that served to exclude them.  Anonymous and Wikileaks have had a massive impact in the relatively short time that they have been around, and certainly fill the ‘rebellious’ quality.

Of course if my name was Noam Chomsky or Michael Albert I’m sure my criticism would be consumed much more easily or even swallowed whole.  Thankfully I do not wish this; I prefer the idea of ‘critecon’ (promoting a far more diverse critical economy).


A few groups worth checking;

Partnering Ayo Indonesia in Ruteng

Twisting from Bajawa to Ruteng, along, around and over the mountain range, in some places the road in so good its as if when the landscape was formed it came complete with tarmac. In other places nature is belittling human effort to control the land by tossing boulders as if they are pebbles; around one hairpin we have to dodge a fresh rock that is bigger than the 4×4 we are in. We will spend the next four days partnering Ayo Indonesia who has a packed schedule in store. Since they begun their work they have listened to communities and together negotiated strategies forward; from agriculture and roads to advocacy and education.

At the Ayo Indnesia office they have recalled field staff and invited people from local organisations, including Indonesia’s national family planning organisation; there are over twentyfive community activists. One of the women immediately asks Inna why she does this work focusing on abortion. Sometimes this could be a principled ‘why’ as in ‘how dare you’, at other times it is a ‘why’ of passing curiosity. It is always a question that deserves a succinct answer because since 2009 women having abortions and those avocating on abortion face a fifteen year jail sentence. Conversation then goes from sex and gender to contraception rights and informed choices. Inna is explaining that women not only have a right to contraception but a right to know the related side effects and an option to refuse. In the past Indonesia’s national family planning organisation has provided contraception without telling people of the side effects, not only breaking some medical principles but endangering women’s bodies and relationships. The representative today reacts to by talking about the culture of Flores and Manggari, how if women were informed many would refuse to use contraception. Inna responds by suggesting that its not simply about chucking information at people but how they are informed and also explaining coping strategies. I had a conversation with one women whose mother suffered from heavy bleeding for over twentyfive years, nobody knew that she had a intrauterine device and not even she believed that it was the cause of the heavy bleeding until last year when it was ‘discovered’ and removed. At the end, as always, people are asking for more information and copies of presentations.

Over one hundred nuns look after a sparkling building, six nuns look after almost two hundred orphans, the logic isn’t in the distance…

Later that day we are taken to an orphanage where some one hundred and fifty children, many with visual, hearing and speaking disabilities, are awaiting us. There isn’t time to work in smaller groups and we must sieze the opportunity. ‘Salamat sore’ [good afternoon] I say, ‘salamat sore’ they roar back. The concert has begun. So that those with physical disabilities are included from the beginning I suggested doing a few brief Shakti exercises and when it comes to describing the the female reproductive system I had the idea for everyone to touch their own eyes (ovaries), follow the eyebrows (fallopian tubes), down the nose (cervix) to the nostrils (vagina). Perhaps I am not the first to have this idea but I am happy to see so many children doing the actions; the idea for the male reproductive system was certainly less original! We do workshops with four or five big groups of children at schools, orphanages and nunneries. The children are invariably split into groups, asked to think of changes during puberty, and then to feedback in front of everyone. At times these moments are like concerts with someone coyly saying ‘menstruation’ followed by houls of laughter and Inna cheekily asking ‘what did they say’ getting more and more to shout ‘menstruation’; it is and excellent to watch as permission is granted to say taboo words and discuss subjects, for some, for the first time. At other times these moments are like politcal rallies with everybody listening with great intensity and taking notes as Inna writes a keyword.

Ayo Indonesia also take us to do a workshop with one of the villages that they have worked with. Over twenty villagers greet us; the older they are the darker they are, from all those years under the sun in the fields I guess. We are treated to an organic lunch fresh from their labour. There are also eight students from a nearby college doing a two month field study in the village. Its hot under the tin roof and I go out for a break. Quickly the students have followed me and I feel guilty because I assume they want to practice English. They introduce themselves and we chat and then I ask them why they left the workshop, was it not interesting. They embarrasingly reply that ‘too many taboo words are being used’. I ask what words but none want to say. Having met so many children over the past few days that have really embraced the opportunity to discuss these topics it is suprising to hear this from people in thier early twenties. I say lets go back in and they gradually follow as Inna is explaining about cervix exminations and breast examinations. I can tell they are uncomfortable throughout. At the end of the four days in Ruteng Inna tells me we have met over fourhundred people!

Conservative nuns, good nuns, nice nuns, polite nuns. Don’t think none, don’t talk none, don’t see none…

I, like Inna and Ayo Indonesia, appreciate the satellite workshops as an opportunity not just to present information to others but to learn from communities about sexuality and reproduction. We know that we cannot rely on governments to meet our daily needs or to save us in times of crisis. Only by listening to each other and being willing to take on projects together, with or without government assistance, can we find solutions to the problems we face. These people are too busy for protesting; they are living their lives, not demanding to be told how to live.


On Their Black History Month

I write from a specific personal history and a precise place. Of course I do, everyone does. I’m from a single-parent family, just my mum and five children, growing up on council estates in a small city. Despite living in the ‘black area’ I went to a different school from everybody else and found myself to be the only ‘non-white’ sitting in the classroom. Both, the all so English white children at school and the all so English ‘non-white’ children after school would often take me to task over whether I considered myself ‘white’ or ‘black’. Perhaps I thought this was a result of where I lived and where I went to school rather than my parentage, but either way I learned from an early age that such questions contained a great deal of bullshit and were irrelevant to me. Still every time there was a nameless African, Asian or some Other in a textbook at school, childish voices would call out, ‘Martin, is that a relation?’ The teachers did nothing, it was so normal that years later at university when people told me that there was no racism at their schools it was hard to see them as anything but stupid. Racism was normal back then, and yet our memories know it wasn’t acceptable. Today inequality and racism have increased rather than decreased; a strange twist sees only our memories acknowledge an inappropriate acceptability of racism that grows evermore unchecked.

Today, when reports reveal that the police stop to harass non-whites as much as twenty-six times more often than the 85% of the population with a lighter skin tone (and Hampshire is one of the worst areas), nobody cares. Senior (black) police officers and (black) equality officers come forth suggesting that their own stats are wrong, yet they maintain increased policing in ‘black areas’. When they go onto suggest that such statistics are just the outcome of too much paperwork (a ridiculous proposition not because I love paperwork) I know that their colour means nothing to me and that their position does even less to protect me. When I say to them that we have witnessed the return of Swamp 81 stop and search tactics, that caused so much harassment and tensions to rise into riots before, they seem to hold back laughter. Their position matters little to me, their concerns are not mine, and they are not interested in protection. Partly this is their own self-indulgence and partly this is the success of a system that has largely succeeded in segregating us along religious, ethnic and gender lines. During the eighties workshops explained what such different starting points had in common in terms of colonialism, art and oppression; links were forged. Today Muslims have a problem with ‘Islamophobia’, Afro-Caribbean people have a problem with prison, and we all have a problem with the Polish; the issues are divided and not even theory is allowed to unite them.

While first generation migrants of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s are stereotyped as keeping their heads down and trying to fit into the system later generations forced their way into the system, but for what? So they could stifle the voices opposing institutional and everyday racism? So they could commercialise the concerns of people struggling to live in the face of adversity? It has been said before that that the greatest problem with the anti-racist movement today is that we have lost so many excellent and respected voices to institutionalisation; the voices that could precisely make the links between the Toxteth and Brixton of 1981/1985 and London thirty years later, in 2011 and beyond. The voices we need to hear speak about unreliable and divisive journalism of riots thirty years ago and those today. While we all share in this loss there are some weird statistics to go alongside; there are less non-white councillors than there were thirty years ago; perhaps suggesting that that old guard are consolidating and holding onto their positions (it doesn’t really suggest this but it’s what I think). So when reports are revealing that there are more black people in prison in the UK, proportionately, than in America (who have more black people under lock and key than during slavery), I say to the old guard speak up or make way.

Black History Month, like Notting Hill carnival, was an achievement that came from struggle. The impetus came from the supplementary schools movement when parents wanted to stop feeding their children Eurocentric versions of history; classes were formed to combat racism, teach relevant history and to positively discuss non-European accomplishments. It was their achievement that they are right to reminisce but time has come to stop listening to their pacifying voices and start building towards such an achievement of our own. The month is sometimes criticised for being the one time to bring in the ‘black’ pound, highlighting the point that it a light-hearted moment devoid of the meaningful struggle. I think we are witnessing this most vividly this October in Southampton’s Black History Month when there is nothing on the Black Panthers despite the month coinciding with the 45th year since they were formed, and we see nothing discussing riots. But the thing that becomes clear from such reminiscing as well as from our everyday lives is that, despite statistics, colour is of little importance. Yes, colour makes for an easy target for the those in power to harass but if we bypass the politician’s and the corporate media’s system of classification we can see that there is more that ties us together than divides us. We are neither ‘white chavs’, ‘black thugs’, or ‘the aspiring middle class’ so often portrayed. We are all being fucked. Ever since I can remember I have loved the words of one civil rights activist in particular:

“If you’re not careful, the newspaper will have you hating the
people who are being oppressed and loving the people doing the
oppressing” – Malcolm X