Tag Archive: oppression


As some of you might have seen in the news over the past few weeks, the verdict from the G20 Climate Camp kettling case was given a few weeks ago. I was asked to write a piece for the Guardian, but it was thought that it would be too radical, so it has ended up with the Index on Censorship http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2011/05/illegal-tactics/. Lucie is also insisting that I mention that she helped write it…

As Hannah McClure and I celebrated our legal victory over the Metropolitan police
[http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/apr/14/kettling-g20-protesters-police-illegal?INTCMP=SRCH] we sımultaneously struggled with the medıa’s emphasis placed on
possible compensation claims [http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/apr/14/sue-police-kettling-g20-protests?INTCMP=SRCH]. Our goal ın brıngıng the case against the Met was not damages. In fact, the idea that serious infringements of protest rights can be properly compensated for with money is pretty offensive. People protest to draw attention to what must change for the benefit of everyone in society. Making a police force’s insurance company hand over money to those whose rights have been compromised changes very little.

Our goal was to brıng the polıce to account. Whıle the polıce have a long hıstory of vıolence agaınst protestors such as Blaır Peach back ın the 1970s [http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/april/23/newsid_2523000/2523959.stm], I found ıt dıstressıng how they were able to detain thousands of climate change protestors and passers by for five hours and then make a orders that force could be used to compress the protest into a much smaller space and ultimately end it. Much of the force used, especially the use of shields as weapons, was filmed and is disturbing to watch even two years on. The court certainly thought so and was highly critical of shield strikes. That senıor polıce offıcers could make these decısıons and hand down these orders wıthout beıng reprımanded was, to me, obscene. Thıs ‘over-zealous’ approach can be seen ın the current Ian Tomlınson ınquest
[http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/series/ian-tomlinson-inquest-live-blog?INTCMP=SRCH].

In response to the questıon “Does your traınıng tell you ıf someone ıs not a threat to you or any other person ıt ıs acceptable to baton them? Is that your traınıng?’” PC Harwood, the offıcer who struck Tomlınson before he dıed, replıed “Yes.” [http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/apr/06/ian-tomlinson-inquest-g20-officer?INTCMP=SRCH]. Thıs kınd of unaccountabılıty had to be challenged. Kettling, a tactıc that has become so much part of the everyday protest experience, similarly had to be challenged.

Our case was not sımply about the G20 camp. It was about protest ın the UK as a whole. The polıce should not be able to treat clımate change protesters, or anyone else, however they wısh and get away wıth ıt. However, Sır Hugh Orde, head of the Association of Chief Police
Officers (ACPO), seems to thınk otherwıse. In early 2011, after prevıously claımıng that the Met had learnt ıts lessons after the G20 Clımate Camp protest, Orde stated that the polıce could use more extreme tactıcs agaınst protesters. He defended kettlıng and claımed
that horse charges could be “very useful”. [http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/jan/27/hugh-orde-police-protest-tactics]. Thıs was ın response to the wave of protests that grıpped the country followıng the savage cuts by the Con-Dem coalıtıon.

In the course of these protests there were multıple examples of unreasonable uses of polıce force, accompanıed by an apparent belıef on the part of the polıce ın theır own ımmunıty. In December 2010, Jodı McIntyre, a cerebral palsy sufferer, was dragged
from hıs wheelchaır by polıce offıcers on two occasions [http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/dec/15/jody-mcintyre-protester-dragged-from-wheelchair?INTCMP=SRCH]. An offıcer justıfıed havıng done so, claımıng that ıt was “for
[Jody’s] own safety’”[http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/dec/16/wheelchair-protester-investigation-ipcc?INTCMP=SRCH]. The prevıous month had seen tuıtıon fee protestors, as well as chıldren and pregnant women, charged by polıce on horseback. Despıte the Met’s claıms to the contrary, a vıdeo was posted on Youtube clearly verıfyıng that the crowd had been charged [http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/nov/26/student-protests-police-under-fire?INTCMP=SRCH].
.

After the Kıngsnorth Clımate Camp ın 2009, ministers claimed that 70 police had sustained injuries at the hands of protestors and used this evidence to justify the operation. It later emerged from polıce records that the injuries comprısed sun stroke, bee stıngs and gettıng hands stuck ın car doors. In realıty, four polıce offıcers were ınjured through contact with clımate change protestors, categorised at the lowest level of seriousness. [http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/dec/16/kingsnorth-environment-police-inquiry-injuries]. Subsequently, parts of the police operation at Kingsnorth were found by the courts to have been unlawful [http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jan/12/climate-camp-police-unlawful?INTCMP=SRCH].

Durıng protests, polıce do not and wıll not act ın the ınterests of the people. They are there to maıntaın the status quo. To do thıs, the polıce wıll use and manıpulate any power they are gıven to ıts very lımıts. The polıce may claım to have ‘learnt theır lesson’, but such
statements are undermıned by the fact that they have already decıded to appeal thıs most recent judgment [http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/apr/14/kettling-g20-protesters-police-illegal]. The polıce learn theır lessons not out of choıce, but because they are forced to do so. Thıs ıs why I was part of the team whıch took out thıs case agaınst them.

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What Not to Wear

Josh tells me that thıs ıs a rant – ‘A more ıntellectual rant than some of mıne, but stıll a rant’, he says. I meant ıt to be a mullıng-over of somethıng I’ve been thınkıng about ever sınce we began workıng at the Sambhavna Clinic ın Bhopal – ıt’s stıll not really fully formed, and I thınk ıt needs more nuance perhaps, but I would lıke to open thıs one up to debate ıf anyone wants to joın ın..?

What Not to Wear

Durıng our stay ın Indıa there were many thıngs that I found problematıc, and amongst those were the roles and behavıours consıdered approprıate for women. An example of thıs that affected me personally was the ‘need’ for women to cover themselves up ın publıc – not neccassary entırely, but generally upper arms, shoulders, ankles-upwards and some sort of flap over the bum (ıe by wearıng a long top). Thıs wasn’t always the case – dıfferent groups of women wear theır sarıs dıfferently, for ınstance, and what I assume to be a ‘tradıtıonal’ dress ın parts of Karnataka was essentıally a halterneck. But as a general rule, a lot of women’s bodıes were very covered up. Unlıke ın Nepal where there was a real mıxture, ın the majorıty of places we vısıted (apart from Mumbaı), women do not wear western clothes – there ıs a choıce of sarı, salwaar kemeez, or burqa. Whıle clothıng worn by men we met/saw was also not hugely varıed, men seemed to have the opportunıty to be more ‘revealıng’, as ıt were. Partıcularly ın the south, where many men wear mundus whıch are lıke sarongs and can be worn long or half length whıch rıses above the knee.

I do not thınk that walkıng around town ın hot pants and a bıkını top ıs a demonstratıon of lıberatıon for a woman. Rather I see that as lınked ınto a whole other type of oppressıon – that of ınternalısıng the objectıfıcatıon of bodıes and women’s bodıes ın partıcular whıch comes hand ın hand wıth Western advertısıng, standards of beauty, celebrıty culture, etc. I take ıssue wıth men who do not shave theır own, when they tell me to shave my legs. I am much happıer ın a bıg T-shırt than ın a crop top. My clothes tend to cover me. However, I don’t agree wıth the cultural enforcement of coverıng up, whether ıt be haır or knees or the whole of your body. I thınk that ıt suggests a whole bunch of thıngs about both women and men  wıth whıch I fundamentally dısagree. I thınk ıt suggests that women can easıly be reduced to theır bodıes, that thıs ıs the overwhelmıng element of a female self, and ıf uncovered would be the only thıng notıceable. It also suggests that theır bodıes are objects of temptatıon – ıt remınds me of a medıeval text a read at unıversıty that descrıbed female sexualıty as a pıt of horror and pustulatıon ınto whıch men fall. Wıth regards to men, ıf ıt ıs ‘neccessary’ for women to cover themselves then one can ınfer that men are uncontrollably drıven by theır sexual desıres when encoutered by female flesh. My ıssues wıth  heteronormatıvıty asıde (men only desıre women?), ıf ıt ıs women who have to cover themselves, and not men who have to conscıously check thıs lecherous and ‘ınherently male’ behavıour, then ıt must be women who are the guılty partıes.

All of thıs ıs nonsense, and whılst I have no fıgures to back thıs up, I assume that growıng up ın an area whıch ımplants all these prejudıces ın one’s mınd could even lead to more actıons whıch confırm them, lıke gettıng groped on a traın. The ‘women only’ carrıages on traıns ın Indıa seem to suggest that thıs ıs more lıkely. After only a couple of weeks, even I found myself starıng at the bums of women who weren’t wearıng long tops or sarıs (whıch were very few). But whether ıt ıs true or not that growıng up ın such areas leads to prejudıces and whether those prejudıces affect people’s actıons, ıt defınıtely undermınes a sense of equalıty between genders.

So when people say that as a woman you should cover your shoulders/ankles/bum when ın Indıa so as to ‘respect the the culture’, I sımply cannot agree. Ignorıng my questıons about ‘homogenous’ culture, I do not have respect for a mındset whıch I belıeve oppresses both men and women. Thıs doesn’t mean that I don’t respect ındıvıduals who follow these rules, but I have no desıre to ‘ show respect’ for a cultural element whıch I don’t respect…

Of course, ıt’s not just about ‘culture’, but also about relıgıon – ıt ıs part of certaın relıgıons to dress ın certaın ways – but I wısh to challenge thıs as well. Just because ıt ıs supported or enforced by a relıgıon or an ınterpretatıon of a relıgıous text doesn’t stop ıt from beıng a set of values. Why should they not be challenged lıke any other set of values?

When we were ın very conservatıve Bhopal, I had less problem wıth coverıng up because we were workıng ın a medıcal clınıc and challenges to one’s sense of proprıety are, I should ımagıne, not conducıve to comfortable and healıng surroundıngs. So I would tıe a shırt around my waıst and wear a baggy t-shırt. But elsewhere I felt less desıre to do so, sımply out of prıncıple. Whıle ın the UK, I wear baggy clothes ın part as a response to the form of oppressıon whıch suggests that to ‘be a woman’ you should show your fıgure and skın, ın the Indıa the opposıte ıs true whıch compels me to dress dıfferently.

It would be possıble to argue that ıt’s not my place to make thıs sort of challenge as I am an outsıder to the country and ‘the culture’, but I am not suggestıng that anyone forcıbly ımpose my value system (as can be seen ın France wıth theır headscarf ban whıch I personally thınk ıs completely stupıd – battlıng the oppressıon of women by crımınalısıng them? Please…), nor am I suggestıng that I am a ‘lone femınıst crusader ın a land of oppressıon’ by wearıng a sleeveless top. I would also lıke to poınt out that I would defend the rıght of anyone to wear what they lıke, whether ıt be headscarf or crop top, whılst sımultaneously defendıng my own rıght to questıon why they do so.

Ultımately, when ıt came down to the practıcalıtıes of lıvıng ın Indıa, I wasn’t sure I wanted to draw anymore attentıon to myself than I already dıd by beıng whıte and havıng blonde haır. Despıte the heat, I dıd not wear vest-tops, although I dıdn’t wear dresses or kemeezes to gıve my bum a second layer of cover. Call ıt a compromıse…

It is safe to say that there is very little to do in Bhopal. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that Bhopal is a truly horrible place, which is only made palatable by the Sambhavna Clinic, and a surprisingly good book shop (though the organisation inside is rather lacking).

Flicking my eyes across the books, from Harry Potter in Hindi to Lonely Planet Hong Kong, I suddenly saw ‘Noam Chomsky & Ilan Pappe’. There was no title, but when these are the two authors, the title becomes of secondary importance. When I excitedly pulled the book out, I found it was titled Gaza in Crisis – Reflections On Israel’s War Against the Palestinians.

After reading Pappe’s book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and knowing that India is a favoured relaxation spot for post-compulsory military service Israelis, this book was a must-read.

Having now finished the book, I feel all the wiser. Even though much the material pre-dates the Israeli attack on the peace flotilla, the content is still highly up-to-date, with the cut and wit expected of Chomsky, and the historical grounding Pappe always provides.

While the overall message of the book is rather simple and obvious – Israel is a brutal colonialist nation and is only able to hold the position it does due to its unprecedented support by the Western nations, the US in particular – it still provides highly useful information and evidence to add feathers to anyone’s bow in the fight against Zionist myths and propaganda.

Of particular interest to me were the discussions over the desirability of a one-state vs two-state solution, as well as the merits and flaws of boycotts (the latter discussion is further assessed in an interesting article in a recent International Socialist Journal – http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=680&issue=128). While neither author favours a two-state solution as the desirable end goal, Chomsky clearly believes that it is only through this process that what he terms ‘a binational state’ can be created.

While the overall impression of the book is of a rather ramshackle collection of related articles and interviews, Gaza in Crisis still gives an excellent analysis (several, in fact) of the situation in Palestine today, and dispels the cynical hypocrisy of Israel and its supporters.

Firstly, Happy New Year. We have now completed our outward journey to the Sambhavna Clinic (thank-you for all the donations) in Bhopal, which is where we spent NYE – we arrived to an invitation to a party. What a way to be introduced to the staffing body!

We have about a week to catch up on and then we’ll move onto blogging about Bhopal for the rest of the month.

On a totally different issue, if you have an interest in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict you should really read Ilan Pappe’s ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’. Lucie has already recommeded it, but we would now like to quickly state why we found the book so useful. Pappe seeks to document the methods of establishment of Israel, through a highly detailed account of the end of 1947, and more particularly 1948, the year of the Nakba.  His account in fact counters (although he never explicitly states this) the term ‘Nakba’, which means ‘catastrophe’. The depersonalisation of a faceless ‘catastrophe’ is exactly what did not happen. Using material from the Zionist founding-fathers, especially Ben Gurion, he demonstrates how to counter the Zionist myths that Israel was founded in a barren land, where those that did live there voluntarily left. Instead, he presents the clear facts that it was always the intention of the Zionist movement to de-populate Palestine as extensively as possible reaching their ends through extreme violence, intimidation and lies.

He documents dozens and dozens of villages that were foricbly expelled, and the brutal techniques for doing so. Often, the population would be gathered together, the men (those aged 10+) would be seperate from the women and children, those involved in any anti-Israeli activities (including the 1936 uprising against the British) would be identified and shot. After hounding the remaining people from the village, the houses would be looted and then destroyed. Finally, mines would be planted amongst the debris to prevent people from returning.

The title of this book comes from the fact that Pappe argues that similar to later ethnic cleanings, such as in Serbia, the creation of the Israeli state is another example.

It is understandable that Pappe wishes to document as many villages as possible, but at times it is overly detail heavy. Nonetheless, a fascinating book that anyone should read who wants to get historical understanding of the current conflict.

For a better review read: http://www.isreview.org/issues/57/rev-pappe.shtml

China is communist, right..?

In many discussions or arguments about the merits and flaws of communism, China is dragged into the frame as a classic example of how it doesn’t work (second only to the USSR). Such arguments are not exclusive to the right, but are often found amongst the left, especially from so-called anarchists. While we were not under the same illusions even before we entered the country, experiencing life in China has both confirmed our preconceptions, and also helped us develop more material and tangible examples of how China is not communist.

Before going to China I would try and explain to people through theory how China was at best an example of state capitalism (in that sense similar to the USSR). Such arguments are still crucial, but now I simply want to say “have you been to China?”. More than any theory, the reality in China demonstrates how far from communism it is.

So what would make a country communist? I could bang on about this for hours, but to keep it brief: a classless egalitarian society, where the means of production were in the hands of the workers, where production was run according to need not profit, where people gave according to their ability and received according to their needs. More than that, it would be a sustainable society that did not create and accentuate divisions between society and nature. It would be internationalist and support the right to self-determination whether on an individual (the way people express themselves) or state level (the right to self-governance). This last point is probably the most controversial even amongst socialists – who have been arguing about this for over a 100 years – but from my perspective this is a crucial tenant of communism. China fails from our experience to tick any of these boxes.

Is production in the hands of the workers? No! This in itself undermines any claims to it being a communist society. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to discuss the situation faced by workers with anyone, and this blog is really about our experience of China, so maybe we should simply remind you about the conditions in Foxconn factories (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/27/foxconn-suicide-tenth-iphone-china). One thing this Guardian article doesn’t really draw out is that instead of dealing with the material reasons why people are jumping to their deaths, they have put up “safety nets”. Does this really sounds like workers’ control?

While egalitarianism is clearly intertwined with ownership of production, our experience of the inequalities in China were a lot more banal. Beijing, like many large cities, obviously highlights this inequality. Grand glass structures, built for the rich and for tourists, stand side by side with hutongs (tiny back alleys), where people wash their clothes on the street outside their tiny, corrugated iron-roofed, concrete houses. Such inequality is not unsurprising, and similar though less stark scenes can be seen across the capitalist Western world, but China is meant to be communist and therefore such scenes should not be part of the landscape. Unless, of course, we understand that the similarities between all these countries are far greater than their differences.

Another example of evident class divide is the organisation of the trains. While in the UK there are 2 classes (first and second), China’s trains have a much more nuanced class categorisation, running from  soft sleeper (which is the best of the best) through hard-sleepers to hard seating. The latter can seat people for up to 18 hours and there are never enough seats for everyone, so some people simply sit in the alleys. Even within hard-sleeping class there is a triple-tiered system, where the lower your bed the more space you have and therefore the more you pay. Egalitarianism..?

The train system also highlights the individualistic mentality implanted in people. “If you get there first you win”, explained an English immigrant to China. This is demonstrated in the mad dash for the trains, which serves no obvious purpose other than to get your bags in a better place. But, trains are not the only space in which this occurs. Queuing generally follows this rule, as does driving. While no communist society has ever existed for long enough to test the mentality of the inhabitants, this competitive individualism is generally associated with a society which places such principles at its core, i.e. capitalism.

The rift between nature and society again highlights China’s lack of communist credentials. People might refer to the USSR and claim that they were communist and their environmental policy wasn’t all that great, but all I have room to say is “No soviets, No unions”. The West, especially the USA, obviously uses China as its scapegoat for not cutting its carbon emissions and I in no way wish to support this argument. Per person China pollutes significantly less than the West which is the only fair way to measure emissions. However, China is still incredibly destructive to the environment. If they continue on their current path of development, by the end of the century they will be producing significantly more CO2 per capita than the USA (the largest emitter by far in the world).  For an interesting discussion on Marxism and the environment check out J.B. Foster.

Finally, in terms of what we experienced, The Big One. Tibet. An interesting topic, not least because some members of the left (including the maverick Slavoj Zizek) still seem to support China’s occupation of it – something to do with “development”, one of the core reasons for the split in arguments over self-determination. However, the arguments of development  in relation to Tibet are farcical. Moreover, I challenge anyone to go to Tibet and then argue the Chinese occupation is a positive thing for Tibetans, regardless of what little infrastructure has been put in place.

The Tibetans are an oppressed people economically, practically and culturally.  Since the occupation began, similarly to Israel’s occupation of Palestine, there has been a massive influx of ethnically Chinese people (of course what is meant by Israeli is rather more controversial). This was increased by the construction of the Beijing to Lhasa railway. Now two-thirds of the inhabitants of Lhasa (Tibet’s capital city) are Chinese. Again similarly to Israel, the settlers are given an economic incentive to move and live there. As a result, unlike in British India, where the Indian elite were used as puppets by the British (holding positions in government administration), if you are Tibetan it is extremely difficult to get any sort of well-paid job. A significant cause of this may be that exams at university can only be taken in Chinese. We met people who spoke perfect Chinese, but had been unable to finish their degrees (after several years of expensive tuition [another example of the unequal realities of China – universities are prohibitively expensive for anyone but the rich])  because their written Chinese was not good enough. There is, by the way, a 54% illiteracy rate in the “Tibetan Autonomous Region” which rises to 59% when including the Tibetan regions incorporated into China.

A further consequence of the new railway is the increased militarisation of Tibet, particularly after the unrest of 2008. Armed police officers stand on every street corner in Lhasa holding massive guns (with live ammo) or just big sticks. They patrol up and down in groups, taking up the whole of the pavement and expecting you to move out the way. They oversee the squares both from the ground (where they have “PR” friendly resting spots for pilgrims) and from the rooftops. If anyone was to kick off they would probably simply be shot.

We met one person who told us that if you murder someone, you can buy off the officials (presumably they weren’t talking from experience!), but if you are arrested for “politicals”, your life is over. Moreover, you can look forward to torture which the UN called “widespread and routine” in Tibet in 2008. Not only your life will be affected, in fact, but that of your entire family. Given that you can’t even get a passport if one of your family members lives in India (to which the Dalai Lama fled in 1959), you can imagine the extent of ruin that this would cause. By the way, getting a passport standardly takes 3 years for Tibetans – they could go to China, but of course everything is too expensive for them to do that.

Unsurprisingly, there do not seem to be any political organisations that are not affiliated with the Chinese government. We heard that sometimes “Free Tibet” posters turn up in public toilets, but that seems to be the extent of the resistance. In fact, the main form of resistance against the Chinese comes from the Tibetan monks.

Protests by monks are what sparked the 2008 unrest and this is not the first time the monks have led the resistance. From  the perspective of the Chinese administration therefore, the repression of Tibetan religion was crucial. Obviously, the initial onslaught of violence against Tibetan monks and nuns in particular was prompted by the Cultural Revolution, in which thousands of monasteries were destroyed and thousands of monks and nuns killed or imprisoned. Yet even now, the majority of political prisoners in Tibet are monks. There are police stations either inside or directly next to most monasteries. The Chinese authorities run programmes of “patriotic reeducation” which involve monks being “taught” pro-Chinese lessons at the end of which they have to pass an exam, write a self-critical essay, and denounce the Dalai Lama.

The “cultural genocide”, so called by the Dalai Lama, stretches even to eating implements. Whereas traditionally Tibetans used knives and spoons, now using chop-sticks is the norm, at least in public. During special festival times, people will still use spoons, but otherwise the Chinese influence dominates.

Does any of this sound like an autonomous, or even semi-autonomous region to you? This may be in line with Stalin’s idea of communism, but it certainly isn’t in line with mine, or any true revolutionary socialist. A simple reading of Lenin’s accessible pamphlets should demonstrate this.

So overall, no. China isn’t communist. It may not take the same form of capitalism which the Western world takes, but we know that while capitalism’s form can change its core principles and objectives cannot, and China certainly holds these close to its heart.

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For more information on Tibet see http://www.freetibet.org, or see http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=457&issue=119 for a decent history of Tibet post-1949