Category: Civil Rights

Freedom for Patrick Zaky, an article by David Garyan

05/09/2020
Ravenna, Italy

 

The Case of Patrick Zaky and Giulio Regeni

Freedom for Patrick Zaky

It’s been over half a year since Patrick Zaky, an Egyptian graduate student at the University of Bologna, was arrested in his home country in early February. After enduring human rights violations for months and going through arduous legal proceedings, Zaky was at last given permission to see a family member on August 25th—his mother.

Although the 27 year old has committed no crime, both abroad and at home, the Egyptian state has handed down various charges, accusing him of disseminating fake news and attempting to incite protests without permission. His defense team has argued that these accusations are unfounded.

According to Amnesty International, Zaky’s family only received “two short letters” out of the twenty he had sent to them. The Italian newspaper il Post has likewise reported that although he’s generally in good health, he has lost weight and is worrying about the future of his studies, asking how long he will be unjustly detained. The photo below is a recent one from the Patrick Libero Facebook page.

Every picture of Zaky before his arrest certainly depicts a happier individual and what else do we expect when there isn’t yet the potential 25 year sentence hanging over him? Let’s hope for the best and pray that the Egyptian government finds the good sense to release this innocent young man very soon.

Amnesty International is working hard to gather 118,000 signatures in order to try and secure his freedom; thus, signing the petition will not only prove to be an act of tremendous help for Zaky’s legal team but the gesture would most certainly also boost Patrick’s morale and that of his family. The petition can be accessed on the official Amnesty International page, and as of today, it’s only 638 signatures short, with 117,362 already having been collected.

Thank you to all who’ve given their time to make this goal possible.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

 

The Rohingyas and Their Plight of Denial: An Armenian Glance, an article by David Garyan

August 26th, 2020
Ravenna, Italy

 

The Rohingyas and Their Plight of Denial: An Armenian Glance

On August 24th, I received an email from one of the representatives of Free Rohingya Coalition, an organization which, according to its own webpage, describes itself as a “network of Rohingya activists and friends of Rohingyas who share common concerns about Myanmar’s on-going genocide and the need for Rohingya survivors to play an active role in seeking a viable future for their group,” inviting me to join an event called “FRC Global Virtual Rally to Commemorate Myanmar Genocide of 2017,” which would take place on Facebook Live the following day.

Not only as a descendant of genocide survivors, but, also, more importantly, as a student of human rights at the University of Bologna, I certainly felt sympathy for the plight of the Rohingyas. It’s incidentally the University of Bologna which conferred Aung San Suu Kyi (the Nobel Prize laureate who’s now the State Counsellor of Myanmar) with an honorary doctorate in philosophy—a regretful decision given the fact she’s been largely silent about these issues. Our cohort signed a petition asking the university to strip her of the aforementioned degree, but that’s really another matter.

Although the blood of our own cause is now fully dry on the pages of history, having occurred over a hundred years ago, genocide remains genocide—nevertheless, it’s hard to deny that the more recent the tragedy is, the more immediate and pressing its concerns are. At the same time, the old argument of what happens when we constantly relegate history to the dustbin in favor of the future also remains—horrors of the past are both repeated and simultaneously also seen as something new, mostly because people forget that these “current” events are just repetitions of the past situated in new circumstances. Yesterday they killed people with swords; today they kill them with guns.

Let’s, however, return to the argument, which isn’t about the relevance or irrelevance of tragedies; what it’s really about is the Rohingyas who’ve been systematically persecuted by the Burmese government and continue to suffer. The genocide could be said to have begun in October 2016 with the military crackdown of the Muslim population in the northwestern region of Myanmar. The UN, various newspapers, and independent journalists have documented the crimes and reached the conclusion that the military’s actions constitute genocide.

Sexual violence, burnings, and forced displacements are just some of the tactics employed by the government to institute its policy of ethnic cleansing. The government, naturally, rejects any notion that it’s committing genocide and, in this respect, denial is precisely the final stage of genocide.

The argument about denial being just another form of ethnic cleansing holds for this reason: First you literally destroy the people, then you metaphorically murder the memories of the event by denying that the crime ever took place. The noted UCLA Professor Emeritus Richard G. Hovannisian said the following regarding denial: “Following the physical destruction of a people and their material culture, memory is all that is left and is targeted as a last victim. Complete annihilation of a people requires the banishment of recollection and suffocation of remembrance.” It will certainly take some time before the actual killings of Rohingya people stop and the genocide moves into a space entirely governed by philosophical annihilation—cleansing through rationality, if you will; after more than a hundred years, this aforementioned “logical” frontier is the one on which the Armenian Genocide is now currently occurring, with the government of Turkey doing everything in its power to silence all research which has already produced conclusive proof about the matter and continues to do so. But again, current events are always more pressing and so here’s another image from Myanmar.

In the past, the Institute of Turkish Studies, a United States research foundation established in 1982—with the help of a three million dollar grant from the Turkish government—occupied a considerable space in various history and Middle East departments, issuing scholarships to undergraduates, providing grant money to researchers, and giving language study awards, among other things, in order to “influence” both students and professors in how they approached the sensitive issue of the Armenian Genocide. Thus, it’s no longer a secret that in the late 80s, the government of Turkey began founding chairs and sometimes even entire institutions focused on Turkish language and history—the most prominent example being the Atatürk chair in Turkish studies at Princeton University—along with a research center in the Capitol called Institute of Turkish Studies. Many prominent academics—and by no coincidence whatsoever also the most fanatic deniers of the Armenian Genocide—ended up being products of those departments; Justin McCarthy, Heath W. Lowry, and Stanford Shaw making up some of the more well-known examples. In 1985, Lowry was the key figure in convincing roughly seventy academics to sign a statement arguing against the recognition of the Armenian Genocide—something which was printed in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

It was a great victory for the Turkish government, but sweet success didn’t last too long. Just over ten years later, the New York Times ran an article called “Princeton Is Accused of Fronting For the Turkish Government,” in which it was discovered that “the university accepted $750,000 from the Government of Turkey to endow a new Atatürk Chair of Turkish Studies in the Department of Near Eastern Studies and hired a professor, Heath W. Lowry, who had worked for the Turkish government, as executive director of the Washington-based Institute of Turkish Studies.” A year later, in 1997, UCLA returned a one million dollar grant given to them by the Turkish government to create a department in Ottoman studies after an investigation revealed that scholars who attempted to use the archives in Istanbul wouldn’t be allowed to access any material that could be sensitive to the tragic events of 1915.

Even more poignantly, in the year 2000, three years after UCLA had returned the one million dollar “donation,” when the US House of Representatives was scheduled to discuss the Armenian Genocide resolution, a Turkish politician by the name of Şükrü Elekdağ openly admitted that Lowry’s 1985 statement had not only become irrelevant but furthermore useless because not one of the original 69 signatories besides Justin McCarthy had agreed to sign a similar declaration.

In a surprising move, Turkey ceased funding the institute in 2015, yet its policy of denial has continued in more subtle, nuanced ways.

The country’s main strategy has always been to sow doubt in the minds of both ordinary citizens and scholars regarding the events of 1915, which is the real reason why it calls for repeated historical investigations—not in the interest of truth but to fish out academics willing to “interpret” the facts in ways which would justify Turkey’s stance of denial on the issue.

And who better to do the interpreting than historians? In a healthy academic environment, interpretation is precisely what’s necessary to arrive at an objective conclusion, but in the hands of those seeking to distort history, this very same “interpretation” also works very well if you have people who are willing to play ball only for your side—the latter type of interpretation and historical “research” is precisely what the Turkish state is after, mainly because it has already lost the main battle long ago; in this respect, various governments such as France, Germany, and more recently the US congress, have implemented legislation recognizing the Armenian tragedy as a genocide.

Furthermore, the International Association of Genocide Scholars wrote the following in a 2006 open letter: “Scholars who deny the facts of genocide in the face of the overwhelming scholarly evidence are not engaging in historical debate, but have another agenda. In the case of the Armenian Genocide, the agenda is to absolve Turkey of responsibility for the planned extermination of the Armenians—an agenda consistent with every Turkish ruling party since the time of the Genocide in 1915.” Pretty strong statement, I would say.

Victories like the ones I’ve mentioned have, thus, forced Turkey to look for other ways to sow doubt in the minds of both people and academics, which brings me back to the case of the Rohingya; in this sense, I must ask why a spokesperson for Anadolu Agency was so enthusiastic to speak on behalf of the aforementioned oppressed and to defend them against the horrors of ethnic cleansing when they themselves have devoted numerous pages to doing everything possible to manipulate and discredit the validity of the genocide their own government has committed? Taking advantage of the fact that it’s utterly impossible for the Free Rohingya Coalition to do complete background checks and investigate all of the panelists which they either invite or those who submit unsolicited proposals to speak, Anadolu Agency must have slipped through the cracks, but I really can’t say for sure. In all honesty, with regard to our Turkish friends, I don’t know which scenario we’re dealing with here, but I don’t believe the organization responsible for protecting the Rohingya is to blame in this matter. After all, Anadolu Agency did agree to broadcast the event “through its 13 world languages programme,” probably bringing considerable attention to the plight of Rohingyas, but we must nevertheless question Turkey’s motives for doing so.

As far as motives are concerned, let’s begin here: When reading any Anadolu article regarding the Armenian Genocide, one initially does get the sense that they’re simply reporting on the incidents surrounding the event, but a simple search reveals that the news agency hasn’t published a single piece regarding the positive gains Armenian activists have made in securing justice for themselves—no, all the reports are either about an obscure “expert” challenging the events, Turkish officials slamming other countries that go on to recognize the events as genocide, and, likewise gleefully reporting on those nations which have refused to recognize the plight of the Armenians. Not a single article in the style of their Rohingya campaign can be found on the Anadolu Agency website regarding the need for justice in the case of 1915; nor is there anything about the necessity to help Armenians in their cause—not one piece. I’m tempted to ask: Why is their solidarity nowhere to be found in this particular case?

In that sense, I wasn’t surprised to read the following in a scholarly article by the Turkish intellectual Dağhan Irak: “the state-run media Turkish Radio and Television (TRT) and Anadolu Agency (AA) companies have been subsidized and restructured in line with the government agenda. These public news producers, especially during the most recent term of the AKP government, have been controlled by officials from a small network close to the party leadership.” Since the official government line has always been to deny classifying the Armenian tragedy as genocide, it’s no surprise why Anadolu Agency takes such a passive-aggressive view towards the issue.

More pertinent to the point, however, is their strategy to deflect their campaign of historical distortion by precisely supporting the causes of other populations who’ve endured genocide—people like the Rohingya—in order to give the impression that their editorial policy really isn’t based around genocide denial. In other words, by supporting the campaign for justice with respect to other countries, Anadolu Agency tries to portray itself as a benevolent force which is only out to seek truth and that no matter how negatively it portrays the struggle for recognition on the part of Armenians, this is more about the doubtful validity of the Armenian Genocide itself and really has less to do with its own dishonest stance on genocides in general.

Again, nothing but negative coverage of 1915, and, in fact, Armenian issues in general is published. Accusations of Armenians keeping their genocide archives closed (which as we already saw is an issue that Turkey is really guilty of), Spain’s rejection of Armenia’s genocide motion, and the tired old Turkish national line of propaganda, which is copied and pasted verbatim into at least four other articles I’ve read—excellent state-sponsored journalism:

Just to drive the point home, here’s another article about Anadolu Agency’s gleeful reporting about Serbia’s rejection of the genocide bill—with the same copied and pasted journalism as the Spanish article.  They really need to pay their writers better.

And for a good laugh, here’s the Dutch version of good old copy and paste journalism so graciously provided to you by the Turkish state.

And since we’re already having so much fun exposing the assembly line tactics of state-sponsored journalism factories, why not show this one about the Swiss as well?

As already stated, these “joint commissions” are dishonest ways to try, for the last time, to rewrite the honest scholarship which has already been done numerous times in this area. “Good” historical research which has gone so far as to make a definitive statement on an issue really doesn’t need to be repeated for the millionth time. In other words, why is it considered a downright insult to form those so-called “joint commissions” to verify the veracity of the Holocaust while the attempt to do the same for the Armenian Genocide is seen as a normal occurrence?

It’s no surprise, then, that Turkey is now finding different ways to make itself look like the good guy—standing up and speaking on behalf of other groups currently experiencing genocide while doing everything in its power to silence the people against whom the state has committed violence itself. It’s hard to imagine who they’re trying to fool, but, like the academic “bribery” campaigns of the 80s and 90s, this too shall pass.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

Cancel Culture Salad: Women, The Confederacy, Tupac Shakur, Barack Obama, and Robert E. Lee, an article by David Garyan

July 28th, 2020
Ravenna, Italy

 

Cancel Culture Salad: Women, The Confederacy, Tupac Shakur, Barack Obama, and Robert E. Lee

In one of the most empowering moments for women not just in the US, but all across the world perhaps, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took the House floor and issued one of the strongest statements not only in defense of herself, but she also spoke in a way that gave voice to countless women who’ve had to endure similar insults, such as “disgusting,” and “fucking bitch,” which were just two of the remarks that Congressman Ted Yoho directed at her. Subsequently, Yoho attempted to justify himself by stating the following: “Having been married for 45 years with two daughters, I’m very cognizant of my language. The offensive name calling, words attributed to me by the press were never spoken to my colleagues and if they were construed that way, I apologize for their misunderstanding.” Little did the man know that he was dealing with an empowered individual who wasn’t going to concede an argument simply because, at 29, she became the youngest woman to ever serve in the US Congress while Yoho has been married for 45 years. In a charged speech, Ocasio-Cortez addressed the Congressman’s remarks in the following way: “Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man.” Indeed, this isn’t simply what we want from our women today—it’s what we expect in the 21st century, and rightly so.

Still, is it possible to say—without defending Yoho—that individuals can’t be reduced to one action, that they’re incredibly complex, that people who aspire to goodness and even those who actually manage to achieve great things do have flaws, sometimes even serious ones? In the age of cancel culture, we need to be incredibly careful about choosing the conditions, traits, and characteristics with which to measure the so-called “goodness” of people. With regard to misogyny, things still haven’t improved much in the way men treat women. The president’s well-known 2005 remarks in the presence of Billy Bush that were revealed during the 2016 campaign highlight this problem very clearly—while many men today might not be so vocal as Trump about their desires as they were in the past, it’s unlikely to believe that male psychology itself has changed very much. Thus, while grabbing them by the pussy is perhaps not something males are comfortable expressing right now, it’s nevertheless something they’re comfortable thinking in private.

Whatever the case may be, this article is neither meant to defend sexist men, misogyny, Ted Yoho, nor is its purpose to justify occasional insults by men towards women simply because all individuals possess “complexity.” What this article will attempt, however, is precisely to take the first step in proposing the following: People should try their best to move beyond an individual’s flaws—even at times when those shortcomings are quite serious—but only if said individual would never wish harm upon someone had they not been in the state that caused them to insult or hurt another human being, whether voluntarily or out of ignorance.

The fact that every person has flaws is nothing new; however, the harsh nature of how we’re perceiving these shortcomings—the overemphasis on people’s negative traits—isn’t a recipe for success either. As an idealist, one perhaps too far on the side of Don Quixote, I’ve always wanted individuals to be more or less perfect, and that’s perhaps why I’ve struggled with friendships, relationships, and other basic human engagements all my life. It’s disappointing when people don’t live up to expectations; at the same time, it’s extremely exhilarating when someone you know does measure up to your level of perfection—if only for a little while; a day after my 33rd birthday, I think I’m really beginning to “accept” that; naturally, this is something I’ve known for a long time, but there’s a big difference between knowing something (or someone) and actually living with it (or someone); the former implies distance while the latter implies complete intimacy. In no way should the meaning here be construed purely on the basis of human relationships; in fact, my point is meant to be understood philosophically.

I’ve always been fascinated by the demons that afflict individuals and also my own suffering. In a short story called “Cynthia,” written by Aldous Huxley and published in the collection, Limbo, the author wrote the following: “I can sympathize with people’s pains, but not with their pleasures. There is something curiously boring about somebody else’s happiness.” The story is about a man named Lykeham who projects an image of perfection onto a woman he admires and also himself; the narrator who flashes back to the story which occurred fifty years ago eventually makes it known that Lykeham is neither the Apollo he describes himself to be (probably closer to Hephaestus) and we likewise get the sense that the woman too may be far from perfect herself, mainly because “here was chaste Cynthia giving herself to him in the most unequivocal fashion.” Either way, this article is also neither about Aldous Huxley nor is it about whether beauty plays any role in a man’s ability to attract women. What this article will attempt, however, is take yet another bold step: To argue that Aldous Huxley was on to something when he contrasted the way we perceive human beings in our own imagination and how, in turn, those human beings actually are in comparison to those imagined realities we hold in our heads.

Besides just an artistic fascination with people’s demons, along with the narrow focus of how suffering may contribute to the creative process for artists, I really didn’t start thinking about the issue of flaws very seriously until I rediscovered the music of Tupac Shakur. Before I even begin the main discussion of our topic (finally), I must first take the time to settle an unrelated issue: Contrary to what many people, along with the staff at Billboard (who don’t even include him in their ten greatest of all time) like to believe, Tupac was the most remarkable and illustrious rapper of our time. No one in the history of rap (for better or worse) even came close to displaying the type of lyrical and musical range that Tupac showcased during his short 25 years of life—not to mention starring in six movies (three released posthumously).

It’s precisely this musical “range” that will help not only drive but round out the argument already introduced. Let’s begin matters this way: Any genuine fan of the great rapper knows that there really isn’t one Tupac, but, actually, two such personalities—perhaps it’s for this reason that his name appears as 2Pac on almost every album, including one of his best-selling, All Eyez On Me.

What I mean to stress is that the man embodied, to an extreme extent, the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde attributes that are, in fact, found in all individuals, perhaps not in the same degree, but this really isn’t the main point. The more relevant thing to say would be the following: As I listened to songs from the great rapper in the spirit of Dr. Jekyll and others recorded with the sensibilities of Mr. Hyde, it quickly occurred to me that Tupac, in the 21st century, could either have been the most gentle feminist or the cruelest misogynist—depending on which part of his catalog you burned or destroyed and which musical legacy you left for the cancel culture generation to discover. Ultimately, however, it would be senseless to erase any part of Tupac’s artistic output to try and rewrite or even revise his legacy, again for better or worse. Music, unlike statues, is much harder to tear town, and perhaps it’s because of this timelessness that we must confront the man known as Tupac Shakur and deal with him in terms of “Keep Ya Head Up” while also reconciling ourselves with “Wonda Why They Call U Bitch” and “There U Go,” a song in which he says “Can’t turn a ho into housewife,” and this isn’t even the worst line on this particular tune.

Let’s however start with what I consider Tupac’s greatest recording and perhaps even the most powerful song in all of rap—that would, naturally, be the aforementioned “Keep Ya Head Up.” I can think of no other rapper, especially one so “masculine” as Tupac, who could even begin to approach the type of tenderness that he displayed in the aforementioned track. Released when he was only 22, the song discusses poverty, racial injustice, but most of all it focuses on the plight of women, which will be a general theme throughout the article. The misogyny in early rap music is rampant; from music videos sexualizing women to promoting unchecked promiscuity on the part of the male—all while calling women who act the same way sluts—Tupac is but one piece in this puzzle. The difference, however, is that, unlike the rest, he had a vulnerable side to him that almost no one during the gangsta rap era came close to possessing. Even today, one is hard-pressed to find an artist who’s willing to risk the type of vulnerability that Tupac offered in one of his sincerest songs.

Since Mr. Hyde is never far away, however, the opposite side offers the other extreme—Tupac’s rampant sexism and misogyny; even if we continue with the theme of women and skip perhaps the cruelest diss track in rap history, “Hit ‘Em Up,” where he insults the rap group Mobb Deep, a member of which, Prodigy (now deceased), suffered from sickle-cell anemia (again probably not the worst thing he did on this particular recording), Tupac’s “range,” so to say, really becomes apparent. In the song “Wonda Why They Call U Bitch,” he portrays women who sleep around as the embodiment of vice—without realizing himself, perhaps, that he was glorifying the “playa” lifestyle on almost every track; the double-standard is so blatant here it’s surprising that an intelligent individual like Tupac never questioned his own logic or perhaps didn’t even realize the hypocrisy. All that, even, wouldn’t have been a problem had he not insulted a Civil Rights activist by the name of C. DeLores Tucker in the same song.

It’s true that after marching alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965 and forming the African-American Women for Reproductive Freedom in 1990 with 15 other African American men and women, Tucker dedicated the remaining years of her life to speaking out against the misogynistic and sexually explicit lyrics of gangsta rap. In turn, according to 2005 Washington Post article, “Rappers called her ‘narrow-minded.’ Some ridiculed her in their lyrics. She was sued by two record companies.” In one of his other misogynistic masterpieces, “How Do U Want It,” which is in many ways far less offensive than “Wonda Why They Call U Bitch,” Tupac gives a clue as to the reason for his anger: “Instead of tryin’ to help a nigga, you destroy a brother,” meaning that Tucker’s refusal to support black rap artists was a stab in the back, mainly because a great number of them, like Tupac, had come from impoverished backgrounds and her desire to silence their message was an attempt to subjugate the black nation and keep it from being empowered, an ideology which, according to the rappers, ran contrary to her own civil rights values of free speech and expression.

It should be noted that the ten million dollar lawsuit Tucker brought against Tupac for both songs was eventually dismissed in court, which, ironically cited the same reasoning as he did for its dismissal. According to the RCFP (a non-profit organization press organization founded in Washington D.C. in 1970): “In explaining its holding in an unpublished opinion, the court wrote that the reference to Tucker ‘did not tend to injure her reputation, her business or profession, or expose her to public hatred, contempt or ridicule and thus were not defamatory.’ The court described the reference to Tucker as an opinion ‘that Tucker was out to hurt rather than to help her fellow African-Americans.'” Along roughly similar lines, an LA Times article appeared which described the civil rights leader’s own failures and faults—being fired by Philadelphia Governor Milton Shapp for allegedly asking “state employees to write speeches for which she collected $65,000 in honorariums, some of the money from charities under her supervision.” Many rap artists, thus, justified their accusations on these grounds but what Tucker’s actions in fact do is simply confirm the message of my entire article, something that Sandra Mills, her campaign manager during the good activist’s failed bid for Congress, echoed in the same LA Times piece: “Everybody has some baggage in their past and in C. DeLores Tucker’s case, the baggage is in bad property management, but I don’t see how that diminishes in any way the public service she is performing for African Americans by fighting against the negative lyric content in rap music.” In the same sense, we may apply this to not only Tupac, but all the others like him who’ve at some point in their lives striven for a better world in which no one can really be perfect.

Now, let’s slow down a minute; no one wants to rehabilitate Robert E. Lee, for example, just because he stated the following in an 1856 letter written to his wife: “In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country.” Similarly no one wants to romanticize the entire Confederacy simply because at one point in 1864 Patrick Cleburne, an Irish-born American Major General in the Confederate Army, once wrote a pamphlet urging Jefferson Davis to arm the slaves and free them after the war. Indeed, even the Confederacy and the people who served within it were incredibly complex; nevertheless, there’s a fundamental difference in the way we must apply this logic for our purposes—while the Confederacy can’t get a pass, because it was fighting to protect slavery, individuals like Tupac and others who championed and continue to fight for a better world do deserve some latitude for their shortcomings because they were doing precisely that: Using their power or art to change society for the better.

It may often be the case that it’s too late for art to change society—the only thing it can achieve is remind people of a horrific past in the hopes that its message can prevent similar things from happening again at some point in the future; if art has such power, perhaps we can interpret its ability to renew society as a genuine way to reform the world at large, but prospects remain bleak. In the song, “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” Tupac raps about a twelve year old girl who gets pregnant. Loosely based on a true story of a person the same age, a New York Times article which Tupac had supposedly read or heard about talks about a girl who is “already an orphan, a rape victim and a mother. Now, two days after her newborn son was rescued from the maw of a trash compactor, she has become something more—a symbol of the violence that stalks the young in some corners of this city.” Such instances of violence, despair, and hopelessness are precisely the things which Tupac wanted to highlight—it was his way of bringing more attention to these issues.

It might not be Tupac in his most tender moment, but the level of social awareness in the aforementioned song is high, speaking in the most modest sense; likewise, in a very conservative manner, the track “Run tha Streetz,” is the exact opposite of “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” to say the least. Tupac wastes no time telling listeners in the opening lines exactly where women stand: “the secret on how to keep a playa / some love makin’ and homecookin’, I’ll see you later.” Not to mention he later repeats the fact that women should prepare meals for him—this time saying please. Tupac’s assumption that women must stay in the kitchen is yet again not the worst thing that happens on this track but it nevertheless astonishes—how could a man with such sensitivities, the man who wrote “Keep Ya Head Up” and “Dear Mama,” stoop so low? To his credit (whatever is left of it in this instance anyways), Tupac does, at the very least, feature a female vocalist (Michel’le) on this track, and she raps the following lines: “it’s a man’s world / But real women make the shit go around.” Once more, I wish to stress that complexity within individuals doesn’t simply excuse whatever mistakes they happened to make; what it should do, however, is give us the opportunity to think about the demons which many good people have; as I’ve said, we can excuse these negative qualities, if, overall, the person has for the most part dedicated themselves towards fighting for justice.

Speaking of struggling for a righteous cause, no one else in Tupac’s family (except the man himself) embodied that trait better than his mother, Afeni Shakur. Having joined the Black Panther Party in 1968 at the age of 21, she wrote for the organization and eventually became a section leader for the Harlem chapter. Along with other Black Panther members, she was arrested in 1969 and subsequently charged with multiple counts of conspiracy to blow up police stations and other public places in New York. Already pregnant with Tupac during her trial in 1971, she chose to represent herself, interviewing witnesses and arguing in court. A 1971 New York Times article states that she, along with the other members, were acquitted and that Mrs. Shakur was “eight months pregnant, [and] represented herself during the trial.” The latter alone, without the former, would’ve been a major accomplishment by itself.

Recognizing the struggles which his mother endured to raise him, Tupac wrote “Dear Mama” as a tribute to the most meaningful woman in his life. Additionally, like in “Run tha Streetz,” he naturally mentions that a woman cooks for him (in this case his mother); however, this naturally has no sexist or misogynistic undertones because, firstly, he talks about himself as a child, and, secondly, he also mentions that his mother “comes home from work late,” meaning that, although she lives in poverty, she’s an empowered individual because of her capability to both work and prepare a good meal for her son—one of the traditional values of motherhood.

As already mentioned, one of the lines in “There U Go” is “Can’t turn a ho into a housewife.” The line is very denigrating because many prostitutes don’t consciously choose to be one—they’re often forced into the profession by proxy of human trafficking or because of poor financial resources, as Tupac himself admits in “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” Furthermore, the fact that his own mother, while never being a prostitute, herself had to undergo hard times and poverty, makes it even stranger that Tupac would speak of women in this way, especially since his mom did manage to overcome difficult obstacles while also being able to raise a child. The song goes on to state blatant hypocrisies such as this:

We’re to assume that only men have the right to be irresponsible in clubs, to stay out late, dress up in flamboyant ways, and so on. The double-standard is so blatant that Tupac himself admits it: “It’s all good, ’cause there you go / Me I’ma still be a player, all day baby.” There’s a fundamental disconnect between the type of leisure that Tupac allows himself (and by extension all men), and the type of activities that women are supposed to partake in (staying home, cooking, and raising children).

A lesser known song in Tupac’s catalogue called “Mama’s Just a Little Girl,” from the posthumously released 2002 album Better Dayz, has a somewhat similar message to “Brenda’s Got a Baby.”

However, despite the fact that the baby also dies in the end, Tupac concludes the song with a heartfelt message, along with the fact that he’s probably the only figure in gangsta rap to use the archaic word “thee” in a song:

The rose that grew from concrete is the most powerful metaphor, in my opinion, that Tupac ever created; it’s a genuine poetic image in the sense that it can live without music or even his lyrical ability. As Tupac stated numerous times, the phenomenon of a rose growing from the concrete is something so strange and distinct—for this to happen the rose must have a type of will to live that’s unequaled by the majority of life. He wrote a poem by the same name, further symbolizing the message that unique and beautiful things can come from hostile environments, but, likewise, stressing the fact that phenomena like these require the greatest willpower on the part of such individuals in order for them to grow in environments everyone claims they can’t survive in.

The final song I’d like to contrast is “How Do U Want It.” I’ve purposely chosen to end on Tupac’s Mr. Hyde side to really symbolize the fact that people who are in essence good, those who strive for a better world, and those who actually do make some positive changes within it, aren’t perfect—they may even have, as in the case of Tupac, very serious flaws, but this shouldn’t stop us from celebrating these individuals freely without ourselves being harassed, cancelled, or humiliated; anyways, all this is really material for the conclusion, so let’s discuss the actual song before we pursue those matters further.

As we’ve already seen and as Tupac himself stated on numerous occasions, he was someone who appreciated women, for better or worse. The song can, perhaps, be considered a parallel of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” for the rap community. It celebrates the female form, sexuality, and worldly pleasures in general—probably to an extent which crossed a few boundaries that Gaye’s song didn’t; I say this only because in a track which talks about casual sex with multiple women and hitting “switches on bitches like I been fixed with hydraulics,” Tupac, somehow, finds a way to diss the ever-present C. Delores Tucker, who was already an unattractive woman of about 69 at the time Tupac released the record in 1996; surely, I don’t have to explain the relevance of the age in this matter.

Additionally, the fact that Tupac includes a mention of Bill Clinton in a song about wild sexual escapades is also a statement to his, should we say, talent? I can’t speak for Bob Dole, but it seems that contrary to Tupac’s premature criticism, the jolly Bill Clinton of forty-nine years really wasn’t too old to know how the game is told, given that his decision to have an affair with a twenty-two year old intern called Monika Lewinsky doesn’t really favor Tupac’s assessment so well, although in his defense, the good rapper himself had already been dead for three years at that point.

Well, it’s always good when humor can be brought into a serious environment, but returning to weightier issues, Tupac is the best person to illustrate why we must give people with serious flaws a chance. I’ve said it and I’ll repeat it again: Tupac was the greatest rapper in terms of lyrical composition and delivery, along with being the most influential spokesperson for social justice in that genre. He was a real artist—an actor, a poet, and a soldier for peace, even though his post-imprisonment career began to symbolize the latter less and less. Still, there’s evidence that Tupac wanted to walk away from the gangsta rap lifestyle. Even before signing the actual contract with Death Row Records, his manager and two of his lawyers, “argued vigorously with Tupac about his decision to go to Death Row,” according to a 1997 New Yorker article called “The Takedown of Tupac.” The late rapper, while still in prison, responded to his manager, Watani Tyehimba, in the following way: “I know I’m selling my soul to the devil.” Suge Knight paid Tupac’s bail in exchange for Tupac’s services at Death Row.

Charles Ogletree, his criminal and civil defense lawyer is quoted as saying the following: “I remember seeing him just before his twenty-fifth birthday. He felt it was a glorious day. He never imagined he’d live to be twenty-five—but there was a sadness in his eyes, because he still had these chains binding him. This [Death Row Records] was not where he wanted to be. I said, ‘You can be anything you want to be.’ He said, ‘Can I be a lawyer?’ I said, ‘You’d be a damn good lawyer!’ I sent him a Harvard Law School sweatshirt.” Had Tupac fulfilled his dream and actually become an attorney, what would he have said about the times we find ourselves in? There’s that would make one believe he didn’t have the intellectual capability to attain academic success—just watch this 1992 MTV interview in which he was already speaking about the dangers of living in a Trump-influenced environment, even going so far as mentioning the mogul’s name—and you’ll be convinced by the way he articulates his points that the man was clearly no idiot. Certainly he had flaws and yes he was reckless, but we shouldn’t burn half his catalog and write him out as a human being because of them. When I do wonder what Tupac would’ve said about our times, I watch this video and it becomes apparent that it’s not difficult to image his own take on the Black Lives Matter movement and social unrest in general.

If the previous statement and interview, however, didn’t do much to convince, perhaps a more “reputable” figure might. Here’s what President Obama himself had to say in Rolling Stone about the so-called “woke” culture back in 2019: “The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids, and share certain things with you. I do get a sense sometimes now among certain young people, and this is accelerated by social media—there is this sense sometimes of the way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people, and that’s enough. If I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself. Did you see how woke I was, I called you out. Then I’m going to get on my TV and watch my show … That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far.” It’s always nice to see that a former president (and a sane one at that) can confirm what you have to say. So let the outrage come. I can handle it.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

“Something More than Civil Discontent,” an article by David Garyan

June 7th, 2020
Ravenna, Italy

 

Something More than Civil Discontent

The international solidarity surrounding the fight against racism is, perhaps, the most refreshing thing to have happened since the election of Barack Obama in 2008; at the same time, the moods with which one might categorize these respective events could not be any more divergent—hope twelve years ago and utter despair today. What has happened to us?

For the record, not only do I see these protests as a positive development, but I also support the violent nature that embodies them. Before Malcolm X used the phrase “by any means necessary,” it was actually employed by a likewise famous writer and activist, Frantz Fanon, best known for his book, The Wretched of the Earth, in which he analyzes colonialism from a linguistic perspective, arguing how language is used to shape the mind of both the colonizer and the colonized, so that they can each assume their respective role; in that sense, the identity and experience of the colonized is always lived through the colonizer, denying the subjugated population their own history, culture, and humanity—all things which they must perceive through the agency of the colonizer; this naturally causes great psychological distress. Fanon writes: “Colonized society is not merely portrayed as a society without values. The colonist is not content with stating that the colonized world has lost its values or worse never possessed any. The “native” is declared impervious to ethics, representing not only the absence of values but also the negation of values.” Through this discourse, the colonizer gives himself the justification to fill the so-called void (which he himself has created) with the values that the colonized are supposedly “lacking,” and, naturally, the colonizer doesn’t take into account a native’s outlook on life, but, rather, fills his worldview with western values.

Even the religion he brings has more to do with espousing the virtues of whiteness than with the actual worship of God (for if the colonizer actually did have genuine religious inclinations, they would never allow him to commit violence against a people to begin with). Fanon writes: “The Church in the colonies is a white man’s Church, a foreigners’ Church. It does not call the colonized to the ways of God, but to the ways of the white man, to the ways of the master, the ways of the oppressor. And as we know, in this story many are called but few are chosen.” Thus, the parallel can easily be drawn between Fanon’s discourse on colonialism and the completely paradoxical nature with which Trump famously used violence and force to clear protesters in order to pose in front of a church, just to be photographed holding a bible. The man neither worships God nor perhaps even believes in him—what he worships is a fanatical idea of whiteness perhaps so extreme it rivals the militancy of 19th century Belgian and English colonial administrators.

I can imagine no greater suffering than to be denied your own identity; it’s for this reason that Fanon espouses violence as perhaps the only conceivable way to loosen the colonizer’s unrelenting grip on the society which he seeks to subjugate eternally. As Fanon argues, it’s not enough for the colonizer to know that he’s committed violence in the past or that he’s committing violence in the present; no, colonialism is the most brutal form of subjugation, for it’s perhaps the only method of tyranny that seeks to operate across all periods of time—past, present, and future; in other words, its aim is to continue forever under the guise of “civilizing” the natives; in that sense, everything is always done for their own good and this will continue until the ways of natives can no longer be distinguished from those of white people—civilized, that is.

In 1960, Fanon addressed the Accra Positive Action Conference, where he stated the following: “Colonialism, however, is not satisfied by this violence against the present. The colonized people are presented ideologically as a people arrested in their evolution, impervious to reason, incapable of directing their own affairs, requiring the permanent presence of an external ruling power. The history of the colonized people is transformed into meaningless unrest, and as a result, one has the impression that for these people humanity began with the arrival of those brave settlers.” Given that colonialism doesn’t merely seek to deprive the colonized but also desires to replace the Third World’s values with their own, Fanon, thus, espouses violence as the only way to escape the “eternal” colonizer’s chokehold; the discourse, “by any means necessary,” is in this respect another rallying point for colonized people to untangle themselves from the colonizer’s web that has trapped their own past, present, and future: “Violence in everyday behaviour, violence against the past that is emptied of all substance, violence against the future, for the colonial regime presents itself as necessarily eternal. We see, therefore, that the colonized people, caught in a web of a three-dimensional violence, a meeting point of multiple, diverse, repeated, cumulative violence, are soon logically confronted by the problem of ending the colonial regime by any means necessary.” What do we say about the peaceful (really?) protests of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King?

Well, it seems even violence is a right which the West reserves strictly for itself—the right to exert force is interpreted exclusively with the intellectual apparatus of the hegemon so that savagery can only be used to protect the status quo, and thus, it becomes a method of action which is only acceptable when employed by the colonizer. Fanon writes: “When German militarism decides to resolve its border problems by force, it is no surprise, but when the Angolan people, for instance, decide to take up arms, when the Algerians reject any method which does not include violence, this is proof that something has happened or is in the process of happening.” It’s, therefore, clearly in the interest of the West to establish a discourse which makes them the bearer of values while depicting colonized subjects as those who lack them—and it’s precisely this intellectual effort that justifies the use of violence on the colonizer’s part when the natives refuse to be “civilized.” Here’s ethnic cleansing interpreted somewhat differently—whether it’s peaceful from the perspective of both sides, I can’t say.

Likewise, this is the very reason why the West continues to call for “peaceful” protests because it’s exactly such “obedient” attempts at dismantling the colonial system that the West can easily neutralize, discredit, and eliminate. Even Gandhi, who considered nonviolence to be superior, ultimately believed that violence, in the absence of other choices, had to be utilized if that was the only way to bring about change; regarding India, he wrote: “I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor.” The West, however, would rather keep people from realizing that an individual like Gandhi could’ve held such beliefs because it would rather deal with people who are docile than those who are violent, especially when the docile ones have no real opportunity to change anything.

Truly, it’s very often the case that peaceful protests benefit the colonizer and no one else. With its cunning, crafty intellectual mechanisms, the West has managed to convince the entire world that Gandhi’s and MLK’s protests were peaceful—on many occasions, they were anything but that. Indeed, they were non-violent on the part of the protesters themselves, but there was plenty of violence on the part of colonizers (those who attempted to silence the protesters). One must only remember the Amritsar massacre or the countless beatings, arrests, and instances of brutality that these “nonviolent” activists needed to endure for the sake of real change; it’s precisely this asymmetrical violence that allowed the world to feel solidarity with the protesters—to garner the attention these leaders needed so badly in order to bring about real changes; without the uneven barbarity, without this violent response from the colonizer, very little would’ve been achieved in terms of real change. The presence of violence is, thus, imperative for any substantial transformation to occur, whether it comes from the protesters themselves or in this case from the hegemon.

Firstly, peaceful protests by themselves (by this I mean the absence of a violent response on the colonizer’s part) have been mostly ineffective, and secondly, are the main forms of revolution that the West prefers. The hippies, for example, and their nonviolent movement was largely tolerated by the government and perhaps even encouraged until the Kent State shootings happened. When violence ended up being used against the movement, the message of peace, love, and pulling out of Vietnam suddenly became a threat to the US government and the previously docile music-loving, marijuana-smoking youngsters at once became public enemy number one—in other words, by forcing the state to commit a violent act, the counterculture effectively managed to put the government’s depravity on full display for the whole world to see; furthermore, only when the state itself was forced to step back and witness its own barbarity did the course of Vietnam really begin to change. According to CNN, “The shootings turned the tide of public opinion against the Vietnam War, and some political officials even argued that it played a role in the downfall of the Nixon administration.” It’s unfortunate that governments only listen when their own existence is threatened but that seems to be the recipe at work even with the so-called “nonviolent” protests, which the Kent State one certainly was—again, depending on which perspective you look at it from.

After the shooting, however, the government could no longer ignore the counterculture; their own violent response created a rift in the system that continued to resonate exactly ten years later when Ronald Reagan gave a speech in 1980 at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention, stating the following: “And while we are at it, let us tell those who fought in that war that we will never again ask young men to fight and possibly die in a war our government is afraid to let them win.” Put another way: the hippies caused the government to stab us in the back, for lack of better words, and this great nation could’ve won the war, but it was prevented from doing so by a treacherous entity which didn’t want to see victory.

This sounds awfully close to the stab-in-the-back myth employed by Nazi Germany, which became the widely-held belief in right-wing circles that Germany didn’t lose WWI in the trenches but was betrayed by civilians on the home front, mainly those who overthrew the House of Hohenzollern; not surprisingly, the Jews were also blamed and the connection between this now-discredited myth and the reasons for trying to exterminate an entire race during a subsequent world war aren’t difficult to see.

It’s after all Friedrich Ebert, the first president of Germany, who uttered the following: “No enemy has vanquished you. As you return unconquered from the field of battle, I salute you!” Not far from that discourse is Ronald Reagan, when he said this: “We continue to talk about losing that war. We didn’t lose that war. We won virtually every engagement.” Defeat is the most difficult burden for a nation to bear and it will do anything to avoid it, even, paradoxically, when it’s actually been defeated. A nonviolent protest doesn’t have the power to bring powerful nations like the US to their knees—only war and violence can do that. Hence, both Ebert and Reagan could tolerate dissent so long as they remained victors, but when defeat threatened the existence of their nations, they both resorted to measures of blaming the protesters and dissidents within their respective societies.

It’s perhaps not surprising that it’s now—when the country is once again at a critical juncture—that the NFL is finally admitting it was wrong about Colin Kaepernick, not because they really see racism any differently, but only because they fear an unprecedented backlash from players that could threaten the existence of the entire league. In the end, it all comes down to survival—and money. Whereas before, in more peaceful times, Kaepernick looked like a nuisance disrespecting the US flag, now, in a country governed (if you can call it that) by a deranged president capable of dismantling the entire nation, the very same player has become a beacon for human rights and the NFL has just realized that—a very convenient time to learn that lesson indeed (precisely at a moment when the survival of not simply the entire organization but also the whole country depends on it). Kaepernick’s protest was a peaceful one, precisely what the status quo preferred because it could neutralize him very easily; however, when his actions suddenly contributed to creating a monster that the colonizer could no longer deal with, it was time to make a deal with the devil, so to say, and admit the fault to save your own skin; this is precisely the reason why sometimes only violence brings about real change.

The other convenient rhetoric that the West employs to smother violent discontent which doesn’t serve its own interests is to say that the protesters are damaging property, looting, and have by their very actions turned away from what they’ve been protesting to begin with. Again, this is another devious element of the Western intellectual apparatus, for who’s really the responsible one? Is it not the West and its colonial/capitalist tradition which has exploited, stolen, and corrupted not only societies abroad but their own people? Is it not corporations which employ child-labor in order to maximize profits for themselves?

Indeed, who’s, in fact, responsible for stripping the Third World of its resources and leaving nations to fend for themselves when they no longer have anything to offer the West to steal? Similar to Fanon’s argument about the tolerance of historical German militarism to secure their borders, along with the hypocritical outrage when violence is used by non-Western powers, we can likewise say there’s a double-standard surrounding theft—it’s okay for big corporations to steal from people but when a black person swipes a few Iphones, it suddenly becomes all the rage. For all I know, the protesters haven’t stolen enough, given how long this country has historically exploited the slave labor of African-Americans and continues to make use of a different captivity—child labor overseas, and the good thing about that is that we don’t even have to put them on boats; they can be enslaved right where they are. Who’s the real hooligan, looter, and thief? It’s not the protesters because no revolt can steal on a regional scale the amount that corporations pillage on a global one. We must only remember how the environment is destroyed, how families are exploited, and how developing nations are bankrupted to realize who the “thugs” really are.

Contrary to what the media says, the looting and destruction has just as much to do with the murder of George Floyd as the so-called protest does, because it’s the legacy of capitalism and colonialism that has always disenfranchised minorities—not just racism itself. Colonialism was always motivated by profit, and, in that sense, the destruction of the natives’ society was justified through the socially constructed inferiority which the West imposed on the Third World; thus, it’s impossible to dismantle racism by leaving capitalism untouched because it’s precisely the former which gives the latter justification to steal. As Fanon writes: “It becomes clear that what divides this world is first and foremost what species, what race one belongs to. In the colonies the economic infrastructure is also a superstructure. The cause is effect: you are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich.” This colonial attitude has permeated to modern society because it’s now the underdeveloped world that’s viewed as poor (and paradoxically ripe for exploitation) and the developed one as rich (but only so because it exploits the abundant resources of the “poor” countries that can’t utilize them effectively due to a global system that only benefits the West). The devastation of a family’s livelihood, earned justly through hard work, is an unfortunate consequence of protest activity, but I have no empathy for the destruction of corporate property, which is accumulated through the exploitation of cheap labor and Third World resources.

Suffice it to say, the US has to burn before the colonial administrators (rich, white Republicans) begin to feel their existential crisis threatened and bring about some real change. As Fanon states: “Colonialism and imperialism have not paid their score when they withdraw their flags and their police forces from our territories. For centuries the capitalists have behaved in the underdeveloped world like nothing more than war criminals. Deportations, massacres, forced labor, and slavery have been the main methods used by capitalism to increase its wealth, its gold or diamond reserves, and to establish its power.” It’s now beside the point to discuss US foreign policy and its destruction of democracies, such as Guatemala and Chile, among many others, which didn’t align with their economic interests; the only relevant thing, perhaps, in this discourse is that the devastation which this country is currently witnessing isn’t just necessary but also justified. If the US now calls you a terrorist for being against fascism, then it’s better to be a terrorist; after Mussolini fell, we stopped having that problem here in Italy.

At this time, I stand in full solidarity with Black Lives Matter—by any means necessary.

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 15)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 15
March 29th, 2020

Trento, Italy

 

Live Free or Die

“Live Free or Die.” That’s the motto of New Hampshire. Throughout history we can find many variations upon this theme. There’s Patrick Henry’s famous closing statement during the Second Virginia Convention: “Give me liberty or give me death.” Then Emiliano Zapata, the famous Mexican revolutionary, who said: “It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees.” Of course, when it comes to dying for liberty, the French can’t be left out—Louis-Sebastian Mercier had this to say about our subject in his 1771 dystopian novel: “Choose then, man! Be happy or miserable; if yet it be in thy power to choose: fear tyranny, detest slavery, arm thyself, live free, or die!” A bit wordy, but we’ll take it.

However, despite the French people’s excellence in dying for liberty, the phrase can really be traced back to the Battle of Warns, which occurred in 1345. The battle cry of the Frisian was: “Better to be dead than a slave.” Well, I’m starting to get a sense that freedom is something people have valued and continue to value a great deal; all it takes is looking at a US quarter to know that I mean this literally and figuratively.

In addition, the amount of effort which the so-called free world dedicates to chastising countries like Russia and China for their authoritarian measures is substantial. Supported by the greatest modern military (which spends the combined equivalent of the next five biggest militaries in the world) makes it easier for the “free” countries to proclaim democratic values and to defend them; after all, if anyone threatens democracy, the US will send the cavalry; the French are starting to doubt it, however—ah, the French. They always have something (interesting) to say.

In any case, let’s forget about the usual scenario of militaries threatening democracy. What if there’s a threat out there that democracy can’t protect itself against? I’m talking about a peaceful threat that can bring life to a standstill, create a financial crisis, and then unleash conflict without good and bad sides. What if that threat is coronavirus? Let’s face it: This pandemic has exposed the frailty of not only western democracies, but all of society.

One of my favorite poets, Robinson Jeffers, coined the word inhumanism; the core principle of this philosophy is that humanity isn’t at the center of nature but only a part of its whole. Jeffers himself described it as “a shifting of emphasis from man to not man; the rejection of human solipsism and recognition of the transhuman magnificence.” Above all, then, it’s the need to escape from the myths and traditions which have placed humanity at the forefront of the world and thus move to worshipping a non-human deity, which is nature.

Indeed, humanity has become arrogant in believing it can control nature; Jeffers think that it’s precisely this “progress” which is destroying the world. In one of his most famous poems, “The Purse Seine,” he uses the analogy of a fishing net to describe how we—the prey—are being caught by the hands of modernity. Written in 1937, the poem is eerily relevant to our own times, especially the ending quoted here:

It’s important to remember that the coronavirus isn’t a natural thing; it’s a product of progress. Sure, we’ve enjoyed many comforts bestowed upon us by modernity, but at what cost have these things been achieved? In an effort to modernize China, for example, Mao Zedong killed—by the most conservative number—at least 18 million people, although the more correct estimate is at least twice that much. Such catastrophes can only be caused by meteorites and progress. To liberate the world from fascism and bring freedom to it, over 70 million people had to die in WWII, which ultimately did nothing but divide the globe into two spheres of influence; the effects of this are still felt today, as Russia and the US continue to revive the Cold War.

Robinson Jeffers’s opposition to WWII led to his decline in popularity. Publishers and critics who had earlier been sympathetic to his work now began to write dismissive reviews. I guess that’s the price you pay for speaking out against humanity’s barbaric nature—you get treated with human ruthlessness.

Again, I’ll ask question I’ve been posing often: What’s the point of all this? The point is that during this coronavirus pandemic I would rather choose freedom over safety any day. Back in January, when Italy only had three confirmed coronavirus cases, Giuseppe Conte, PM of Italy, boldly stated the following: “The system of prevention put into place by Italy is the most rigorous in Europe.” I guess this is why Germany and Austria today have a combined death toll of less than a thousand while Italy’s death toll is at over ten thousand.

Precisely in the spirit of sprezzatura, a concept first developed by Baldassare Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier, published in 1528, the Italians are trying to handle the coronavirus in the manner of a renowned Renaissance author—that is with “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it,” in Castiglione’s own (translated) words.

In my own other words, sprezzatura is simply the art of making the difficult look effortless and the Italians have certainly employed this approach with great success in all areas (art, architecture, fashion, and film, just to name a few)—the only exception where this approach has failed them is in the area of coronavirus containment. By the way, if you want to know what Castiglione actually looked like, here’s his beard after two years of strict quarantine.

Again, what’s the point? I don’t know anymore, but I’m starting to resent the fact that it’s always the populace who must bear the fuck-ups of the government. Their inability to contain what should’ve been a minor outbreak has led to a pandemic and the need to encroach on individual freedoms. Well, to hell with that. There’s a limit at which the necessity for safety begins to demand authoritarian measures and I’m not prepared to stand for it. The restrictions are becoming increasingly harder to not only accept but also to follow.

In his sixth “Desiderata,” laid out in a book called The Morality of Law, noted legal philosopher Lon L. Fuller stated that a law must not ask something impossible; in other words an unobeyable law can’t be considered a law. Likewise, in his book Law as a Leap of Faith, John Gardner, an Oxford Professor of Law and Philosophy echoes Fuller’s statement: “All else being equal, however, a law that it is impossible for people to obey needs to have its content changed if it is to become possible for people to obey it.” I must say that Italian quarantine laws are slowly approaching Gardner’s definition. It’s been more than two weeks and I don’t know how long the government expects people to stay holed up in their apartments for what’s essentially their fault.

Likewise, I won’t sacrifice my freedoms for safety if I feel that they’re being encroached on for no reason. I really don’t see the need to ban jogging or walking in the woods. thus, I repeat: I won’t follow this quarantine if I feel that my rights are being violated in the name of safety. Like I’ve said in previous entries, the world was and continues to be a dangerous place. We take risks every day and I don’t know why this particular risk—coronavirus—demands such ever-increasing sacrifices of liberty? Let’s put it like this: In the name of liberty and the freedoms we seem to cherish here in the West, if I feel my sanity slipping away, that’s a good enough reason to go outside without a reason.

Human beings were meant to move and no government can make me “forget” that part of my evolution. This is why my brother and I went outside today and were quickly yelled at by an annoyed Italian neighbor from a balcony—ah, the Italians and their damn balconies. In the end, we just looked at the middle-aged man, greeted him, and continued going our way.

Like Jeffers, I believe that people are most at peace in nature; it’s where God is to be found; it’s where religion is. I took this picture of my brother as he was immersing himself in the sounds of the river.

After returning from his daydream, he recalled the following passage from A River Runs Through It: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.” At that moment, I felt a freedom I haven’t felt in a long time; that’s when I realized that like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Gandhi, a healthy amount of civil disobedience isn’t only good—it’s necessary. Without it, we would’ve missed the chance to lift our spirits with this sight and look out for our mental health—something which everyone seems to have forgotten about. Is that a good reason or not?

In the woods, we were the furthest we could be from humanity, and thus we embodied the emblematic notion of social distancing. Laws are meant to protect people, not to harm them, and governments don’t exactly have a good track record of safeguarding their own people, or even looking out for the populace’s best interests. Ever since 1964, at least in the US, trust in the government has been declining, and things have never recovered.

Forgive me, but I like to think that I live in a free world; that’s why I value liberty more than safety. Citizens can safely walk down the street in North Korea—if they’re prepared to renounce all freedoms and retain only the right to walk down the street. I don’t want that kind of safety. I would rather move to a cabin in New Hampshire and not speak to anyone.

All the way from quarantined Italy: I may seem crazy now, but in a month everyone here will be no different.

Until next time.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.