Category: Ethics

Coronavirus: The Governmentalization and Medicalization of Safety, an article by David Garyan

26/08/2021
Trento, Italy

 

Coronavirus: The Governmentalization and Medicalization of Safety

Today, thanks to the miracles of science, along with the generosity of the Italian government, I was able to receive my second Pfizer COVID shot at no charge. While I do feel eternally grateful to all the men and women working in the scientific and governmental sector who’ve made vaccination for all possible, I nevertheless have hesitations about the direction our society is taking. To be clear, this article will not engage in debates about the pros and cons of vaccines because there’s really just one stance a responsible person can take in the midst of a pandemic: Whatever risks these substances may pose—and they certainly do pose some as the recent deaths of these young individuals demonstrate—the threats presented by the actual virus will always be far greater than any given vaccine trying to prevent the spread of said virus. In short, more people have died of COVID than COVID jabs; at the same time, it must be admitted that long-term effects are difficult to measure and it’s often impossible to tell whether something years down the line was caused by a jab, by the virus itself, or whether any manifestation was simply due to the natural progression of a person’s physiology, regardless of vaccination, virus, or other variables.

In short, despite trying to avoid a discussion on the safety of vaccines, we’ve nevertheless managed to go off-topic—let’s get back on track and state that it’s not science and government which are the problem, but an overreliance on medicine and politicians. Before I get into a discussion about what I mean precisely, it’s important for me to go on record and state the following: Firstly, as a student of human rights, my appreciation for honest, paradigm-changing world leaders runs deep, and, secondly, my parents (father a medical profession, mother an engineer) were and continue to be sensible people who both ensured that I had all the proper vaccinations done as a child.

So, what’s the problem here? Let’s start with the fact that governments, along with their respective nation-states are only interested in protecting their own skin; the wealthiest and most powerful don’t really care about your health and well-being—they’re only concerned with it insofar as it either corresponds with promoting their treasured agenda, or, more importantly, they strive for “safety” because any degree of uncertainty in the public and private sectors can seriously damage not just their reputation, but also the depth of their pockets.

It seems that the most powerful figures on the planet have fixated on coronavirus at the cost of everything else—they’ve done this to such an extent that your health and well-being paradoxically no longer matter. What do I mean? Well, simply that at the height of the lockdown one year ago, when millions of people were forced to endure months of isolation, no politician or police officer cared to inform themselves about the various problems that such measures could inflict upon the individual. We were told that by isolating ourselves from each other, we would all become “responsible” citizens who would ensure that this particular virus wouldn’t spread, and somehow, in the midst of all the frenzy, we forgot all our other needs; more importantly, we failed to remember everyone else who perhaps wasn’t capable of such feats, whether due to financial reasons, or psychological ones. Just for clarity, below is a picture not of India, but of a ghetto in Camden, New Jersey, meaning this problem ranges far and wide.

Let’s, however, forget for a moment, these oft-discussed places, where the combination of geography, population, and economics, makes it difficult for poor city workers living with twelve other people in one apartment to self-isolate. Instead, let’s talk about things which have been rarely discussed: When the pandemic peaked, and even now, there were and there continue to be almost no studies which focus on the correlation between isolation and physical well-being. In other words, if before the pandemic it was someone’s habit, and perhaps even with the recommendation of his doctor, to take a one-hour or two-hour walk after dinner, why was this essential need repeatedly denied to many people by those in the highest spheres of government, and why were these policies so strictly enforced? Aside from the fact that mental health is also an aspect of well-being, and the effects of isolation on rising depression rates have been well-documented, it’s already becoming clear that the elite aren’t interested in protecting the fragility of the human body and spirit when those measures may not only expose, but, more importantly, threaten the fragility of their respective nation-states. In times of crisis, the safety of the flag will always supersede the safety of the bodies which carry it and represent it, metaphorically speaking, because it’s after all the masses who ensure its security.

The government, ultimately, isn’t keen on being creative; during the most desperate moments of the pandemic, it wasn’t interested in the well-being of the poet, who simply wanted to walk the street alone at night and look at the stars; it wasn’t interested in the claustrophobic athlete who yearned to jog in the early hours of the morning; it wasn’t interested in the artist who suffers from panic attacks if he spends too much time in the tiny studio he can barely afford; it wasn’t interested in the old widow—that surely must exist somewhere—who’ll incur a nervous breakdown unless she visits the grave of her husband every week to lay flowers, but florists are inessential and all shops are closed until further notice; it wasn’t interested in the single mother with three young kids who would surely drive her crazy if they couldn’t spend at last two hours at the park, which was located far across town, where no supermarkets could be found—ah, the excuse of going shopping; it wasn’t interested in the countless Alberts, Jacks, Sophies, Amandas, or whoever else it may be that had heart conditions and lived in the heart of the city, but couldn’t do their usual walk because it didn’t fall into the category of “essential” activity. No, with the well-being of these people the government wasn’t in the least bit concerned—they did what they needed to do, and, in many cases, placed individuals in far greater danger than COVID could’ve ever presented.

Other than the rising and falling coronavirus numbers, there was and continues to be hardly any data on which illnesses or diseases people may have contracted as a result of following the lockdown strictly as prescribed. For my own safety, mental health, and overall well-being, I’m not ashamed to say that I broke curfew laws many times, and had I not done that, perhaps the effects of the quarantine may have manifested themselves in more serious psychological, and God forbid, physiological ways. Thus, it was only a small inconvenience to be stopped occasionally, to have my paperwork checked, just to know, at the end of the day, that I was still human—a person with feelings, needs, and emotions who considered looking at the night sky an “essential” activity (despite what the government might tell us) not only for my creativity, but for the vitality of my body and spirit. I’m not ashamed to admit this.

This is the freedom I’m talking about—the human right to exercise one’s individuality, to know what’s best for you and your body, mainly because a generic measure to stay at home can’t possibly apply to everyone. Responsibility in this sense, then, isn’t just about making sure other people are safe, but also about making sure that you can likewise protect yourself while looking out for others. If our leaders had been more creative, many governments around the world could’ve instituted measures like designated meeting areas with specific dates and times for everyone, configured with an app or QR code system, for example, but they didn’t do that. For students, they could’ve introduced initiatives to hold classes in parks or even stadiums, which naturally weren’t being used, with respect for social distancing rules, but nothing of the sort was attempted—and not only because these things are difficult, costly, and time-consuming, but, more importantly, because the elite don’t really care about your well-being, unless it threatens their own status and pocket. Words like safety, responsibility, and health are hollow catchphrases, thrown around to give the illusion of compassion, concern, and duty, all things which the ruling classes supposedly embody, but most of this rhetoric is meaningless at best and dishonest at worst.

It seems to me that progressively-minded thinkers, something I consider myself to be, aren’t consistent in the way they apply the doctrine of choice: Why is it that we view abortion, more correctly, a woman’s right to decide what’s best for her body, in very positive terms, while the decision regarding vaccines can’t be left to the will of the individual? In both cases, we’re dealing with matters of life and death, and while irresponsibility in either scenario must not be tolerated, we should ultimately settle the issue of who has ownership over our bodies— individuals themselves or the bureaucracy of the state.

Having spoken about government, it’s now time to discuss science, and my opinions about the topic are really not much more positive, despite the supposed altruism of the field. For one, science, like government, has made us believe that it alone can solve our problems; whereas politicians claim this right in the sphere of social issues, scientists, arrogantly, claim it on the medical front. Vaccines, as I wrote, are safe and effective, and especially during pandemics, they’re an indispensable element in containing the spread of a virus—but that’s just it; they’re only one small part of the matter, not the whole substance. Just like government alone can’t eradicate mass poverty or even a single person’s destitution without individual initiative (hard work, education, proactiveness), so too science, let alone vaccines, can’t eradicate pandemics or even one person’s disease without our freedom to choose what’s best for us (the perfect diet for each individual body, appropriate exercise for every person, proper rest, pleasure, and other activities); in amount and duration, all these requirements will naturally vary, depending on psychology and biology, and this is precisely why people must be given the freedom to choose—responsibly—when it’s best for them to go outside, eat, play, and so on, without the government placing blanket restrictions on its subjects.

Science has become so powerful that it has miraculously been able to solve most of our problems, but that’s precisely its flaw. Those who believe that a vaccine will eliminate the coronavirus are deeply mistaken, and, likewise, forcing people to get jabs shows, in fact, that we’re interested only in the easy way out—we encounter a difficulty and we aspire to kill it immediately, without examining its root causes or underlying motives that are driving us towards such behavior. There’s no vaccine for the complications of global poverty, intolerance, ignorance, and greed. Unfortunately, while there’s also no vaccine for depression, thankfully, at least, there are drugs, and so, if you’re in bad shape, take something immediately without thinking about why you may be feeling that way—for the love of God, just take a pill and don’t worry about whether you could’ve recovered more creatively with the help of music or friends, perhaps. Science, in this respect, has come to dominate our lives to such an extent that the totality of the individual is being sacrificed for the benefit of the nation state—the classic definition of fascism.

It’s precisely this aforementioned medicalization of safety that I have a problem with—unlike the East, we don’t believe that art, prayer, and meditation, just as examples, can really solve the most difficult issues plaguing our society. Yes, we have incredible venues for art in Europe and the US; there are magnificent churches in which people still conduct prayers to this day, but these things, ultimately, are considered “inessential.” In other words, we don’t take artists and religion seriously—most of us engage in these activities mainly because they add decorum and entertainment to our lives, but the belief that art and prayer are in fact necessary to make the functioning of a harmonious, prosperous society possible isn’t really genuine; the proof for this lies right in the fact that art and faith were the first to suffer during the pandemic.

Instead of the government reaching out to creative individuals with the hopes of finding unique solutions, they shut them down in the name of safety because it doesn’t pay to have a “healthy” public when the goals of that healthy public don’t align with the values of the status quo. The attempt to build the complete individual as envisioned by the Ancient Greeks, for example—strong body and mind through the study of art, philosophy, and sports doesn’t seem to be a priority in the modern world. Depression and pandemics are better cured with drugs and vaccines alone, than with the holistic combination of music, healthy lifestyles based on individual choice, art, and a little self-reflection (perhaps even philosophy); these measures are inconvenient, time-consuming, and expensive, and, most of all, they can even threaten the elite, which is why no one cares to implement them, and why also politicians stipulate to their citizens that “responsible” people can only win the fight against the coronavirus with quarantines and vaccines—everything else is a conspiracy designed to discredit government and science. How convenient for them! We must demand more accountability and creativity from our leaders, and those who speak out regarding such matters, demanding precisely those things, shouldn’t be labeled as anti-vaxxers, agitators, right-wing fanatics, or any other disparaging epithet, because you may find that they aren’t any of those things.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection 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 recently graduated from the University of Bologna with a degree in International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage. He lives in Trento.

Looking in From the Outside: The Arab-Israeli Conflict, an article by David Garyan

12/05/2021
Ravenna, Italy

 

Looking in From the Outside: The Arab-Israeli Conflict

For a sensible person, aware of history’s complexities, it should not be difficult to feel sympathy for the plight of the Jewish people; aside from the well-known atrocities committed against them during WWII, the more “obscure” cruelties, such as those perpetrated by the Russian Empire, for example, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, are mostly topics for academics; in other words, everyone knows places like Auschwitz or even Dachau, but rarely do you ever hear about the Odessa pogroms, which, starting in 1821, occurred on average every twenty years or so until 1905.

In addition, the historical persecution of Jews, which, according to some scholars can not only be traced back to a place in antiquity, the Roman Empire, but also be given a specific date, 38 CE—the advent of the Alexandrian riots, which began under Emperor Caligula when he sent the King of Judea, Herod Agrippa, unannounced to Alexandria, something that angered the Greeks, causing riots to break out. Subsequently, the more brutal 66 CE riots of Alexandria reveal a continuation of tensions between Jewish inhabitants and their neighbors. A primary account by the historian Josephus describes the following: “The Romans showed no mercy to the infants, had no regard for the aged, and went on in the slaughter of persons of every age, until all the place was overflowed with blood, and 50,000 Jews lay dead. And the remainder would have perished as well, had they not put themselves at the mercy of city’s governor, Tiberius Julius Alexander. He felt pity and gave orders to the legionaries to retire.” A gruesome picture and it only gets worse four years later, when Emperor Titus together with that very same governor, Alexander, at his command, go on to capture the city of Jerusalem, totally razing both the city and its Temple (indeed, this is that destruction which many Jews to this day view as the ultimate catastrophe for their people because, for one, unlike the first time under Nebuchadnezzar II, it was never rebuilt, and secondly, in many ways, the Jews once again became an “exiled” people).

Throughout the Middle Ages, things don’t change much for the better. Jewish communities are blamed for the Black Death, accused of witchcraft or poisoning wells, and many innocent people are killed as a result in massacres such as those which occurred in the German city of Erfurt in 1349.

Indeed, right down from antiquity, the Jews have not had the most pleasant historical legacy, and this by any stretch of the imagination. Consequently, the curious question we must ask ourselves, hence, is the following: Why do Jewish authorities in Israel now subject Palestinians to experiences which aren’t radically different from the ones they themselves suffered living under the Roman Empire, and later all across Europe? With poverty rates as high as eighty-five percent in some Palestinian areas, the conditions depicted below not only rival but exceed those of the historical Jewish ghettos.

After the 2007 Battle of Gaza, the narrow stretch of territory with access to the sea, bordering Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, fell under the control of Hamas, which can be considered the more “militant” wing seeking Palestine’s liberation, and things have not improved one way or another; the problem is that, precisely, in some ways, it may not really matter who ultimately governs Gaza—saints or sinners, for lack of better words; the area, although under de facto Palestinian control, remains utterly dependent on Israel. According to a recent article in Al Jazeera, Gaza “relies on Israel for most of its energy needs. Its population of two million currently receives about six hours of electricity followed by a 10-hour power cut.” In addition to this, Israel has exacerbated the situation by closing “its lone commercial crossing with Gaza and banned sea access, shutting down commercial fishing.” Routine actions like this are naturally a response to Hamas’s occasional escalations of violence; these phenomena, however, can likewise be interpreted as a reaction to the frustration of living under Israeli occupation, and it would be rather hard to believe that the only thing Hamas really wants to do is harm innocent Jewish civilians.

Aside from electricity, water sanitation is another major problem. As with electricity, Palestinian water resources are largely controlled by Israel, and, according to a report published in 2017 by the Rand Corporation, “a five-year-old boy died in the Gaza Strip after swimming in seawater polluted with sewage.” Further, the report states that incidents like this, unfortunately, are more common than we want to believe. While the West Bank certainly fares much better in terms of the aforementioned issue, “less than 11 percent of Gaza’s population had access to safe drinking water through the public network,” according to the same report. In addition, the highly-prized Area C of the West Bank, where, according to the UN, Israel retains near exclusive control,” is precisely the place in which most of the “West Bank’s natural resources and open spaces, including the sparsely populated Jordan Valley, are located,” according to a National News article. And yet, according to a 2013 World Bank report, less than “one percent of Area C, which is already built up, is designated by the Israeli authorities for Palestinian use; the remainder is heavily restricted or off-limits to Palestinians, with 68 percent reserved for Israeli settlements, 21 percent for closed military zones, and 9 percent for nature reserves.” Having access to Area C, hence, would perhaps not cure all of Palestine’s economic woes, but it could “expand their struggling economy by a third and halve their budget deficit if Israel allowed them to use the 61 per cent of West Bank territory that is now largely off-limits.” The image below from Gaza summarizes the entire situation quite well.

It can thus be said that the majority of Palestinians living in Gaza and some of those in the West Bank as well have nothing but poisonous water to draw from their wells, literally and metaphorically speaking; this is unacceptable and regardless of which position we may choose to take in this conflict, the dignity of people must be protected, but this is merely the humble opinion of a human rights student.

Being Armenian, I sympathize greatly with Palestine, mainly because of Jerusalem, which, as many know, is divided into four quarters: Jewish, Christian, Armenian, and Muslim (listed in no particular order of preference); appropriately, then, we can say that the city is neither Jewish, nor Christian, nor Armenian, nor Muslim, but it’s all of those things at the same time. In this respect, the easiest way for Christians, let’s say, to best feel the plight of Palestinian people is to be told that Jerusalem is entirely Jewish in character and has no connection to Christianity whatsoever. Just for a second, take a look at this photo—it depicts the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and it has stood there since approximately 335 CE; this, however, isn’t the most fascinating part. In the most unexpected fashion, the main caretakers and guardians of this church, for over a thousand years, have been the Nusseibehs—an aristocratic family of neither Christian, nor Jewish origin, but, followers of Islam, capable of tracing their roots back to Jerusalem more than 1,300 years, all the way to the prophet Muhammad, that is. As you may have noticed by now, Jerusalem is complex, and it belongs to everyone who has a genuine claim.

It’s infuriating, hence, to hear Israel tell not only Palestinians but also the entire world exactly the opposite—indirectly for years and now overtly with the 2018 Nation State Law, that Israel is a country “that is different from all others in one way, that it is the nation-state of the Jewish people.” And yet, even the most ignorant simpleton strolling through Jerusalem’s Armenian or Muslim quarter will somehow sense that Israel isn’t just the nation-state of the Jewish people. For thousands of years, different people have inhabited the Holy Land—some are still there while others are gone—and telling Palestinians that Israel is a Jewish state is precisely like telling me, an Armenian, for example, that I have absolutely no connection to Jerusalem, even though there’s a quarter there. A well-written Reuters article from ten or so years ago describes how with gradual measures such as refusal of identity cards and withdrawal of residence rights, Israel is slowly trying to edge out its Armenian presence as well.

The 1980 Jerusalem Law, which is nothing but a covert guise for East Jerusalem’s annexation—utterly and totally unrecognized by the UN—is an ideology that not just politicians hold in high regard. Initially-innocent-looking, well-meaning, but really rather ridiculous articles such as this one from 1975, by what must’ve been, and probably still is (if alive) a disgruntled rabbi by the name of Yakov Goldman have attempted to use words instead of missiles or rather a missile of words to achieve their political objectives.

Ah, fascinating! Indeed, quite fascinating, Rabbi Goldman. So, you’re telling me that if other people live in the Armenian Quarter and we call it the Armenian Quarter that, somehow, is a travesty? Well, if that’s the case, why don’t we go ahead and stop calling Jerusalem a Jewish city, and, while we’re at it, let’s also stop pretending that Israel is a Jewish state, because, clearly, the Palestinians have and continue to live there, and if, by God Almighty, it has to have a name, as you’ve so correctly pointed out, let’s find a different moniker for your state—isn’t that a more wonderful suggestion? I think so.

Both the American historian David Howard-Pitney and US President Barack Obama (two figures whose level of fame is diametrically opposed—nothing we should hold against one or the other) believe that history is a burden. “For both of them,” according to Jennifer Mercieca and Justin S. Vaughn, authors of The Rhetoric of Heroic Expectations, “it was as much a burden foisted upon them by tradition as one taken up by choice. And for both of them, this burden inspired action. Whether it is the divine history of the Exodus or the divinized history of the Founders, the memory of the past functions as a goad to social action, a profound investment of political agency.” History, in this sense, has been precisely that burden for both the Israelis and Palestinians; for the former, the Holocaust was and continues to be viewed as a great tragedy and yet it was exactly this event which at once and finally convinced later Zionists of the key tenet in Herzl’s philosophy—that anti-Semitism will always exist and, thus, the only resolution is a Jewish state, which was eventually formed.

For Palestinians—a people fortunate enough never to have experienced the horrors equivalent to such destruction—the burden of history has paradoxically been far less kind than it has to the Jewish people; as of today, they’re individuals of a nation without a state living under the occupation of a nation who for the longest time didn’t have a state themselves, but were forced to create one precisely on those territories which the current people without a state had historically inhabited, and the reason for the creation of this state had to do with the persistent historical persecution of those people who had lacked statehood before but are now inhabiting precisely those territories on which the current people without a state feel they have a right to establish their own.

It’s all very complex and the history isn’t something that will be dealt with here, but what isn’t complicated at all is something I’ve not only hinted at but have said directly: Human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and Israel, being the occupying power, has largely not lived up to those ideals. Problems largely stem from Israel’s aggressive expansionist and annexation policies, most of which, if not all, are considered illegal under international law. To be fair, as part of the peace plan with Egypt in 1979, along with agreements in the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel did dismantle many of the settlements in Palestinian territories, but since then, it has largely continued its previous modus operandi of encroaching on lands which aren’t meant for them. When Israel annexed the Golan Heights (territory internationally recognized as part of Syria) only two years later, along with Trump’s subsequent recognition of that annexation in 2019, it was under the guise of providing a safety buffer for its actual borders, but, in reality, such encroachments are merely strategies to give Israel a more Jewish character; tactics like this may seem appealing in the short-run, but given that no nation state is really composed of one homogenous population, the subjugation and repression of minority voices is always bound to backfire, and, indeed it has.

Not only have the decisions of Israel and Trump led to an escalation in the conflict, but they have also seriously crippled whatever diplomatic channels may have existed in helping to foster dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 has formally brought an end to what was achieved during the Oslo Accords in 1993—the PLO’s recognition of Israel and its right to exist, along with Israel’s recognition of the PLO as the sole voice of the Palestinian people. Since those most recent events two and four years ago, respectively, the PLO has withdrawn its recognition of Israel and cut ties with the US; in addition, Palestine threatens to sever relations with all those nations which move their embassies to Jerusalem, a move which could potentially further isolate Palestine, as some US allies will invariably choose to go ahead anyways.

Most news outlets, naturally, portray the conflict with broad brushstrokes—Palestinian “terrorists” launch rockets from Gaza and Israeli “forces” defend against this “aggression.” No subtlety, little historical awareness, and even less understanding, in many ways, also of current events—strangely. For some odd reason or other, no one is really quick to point out that Netanyahu’s constant, and, more unfortunately, blatant disregard of international law is a type of terrorism—indeed, there are no guns or rockets fired, but people’s lives are uprooted and metaphorically disfigured forever. Why should Palestinian residents freely give up their homes to illegal Jewish settlers in Sheikh Jarrah, for example? In addition, the (not) good PM’s pledge to annex all Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territories have led a major Jewish newspaper to label him the “undertaker of the two-state solution.”

It’s no secret that this so-called funeral director for all non-Israeli ambitions has repeatedly stated, according to The Guardian, that no Palestinian state will ever come into existence so long as he’s in power; this, ladies and gentlemen, is terrorism in its most white-collar form, and yet the only thing that most major credible news outlets besides Al Jazeera choose to focus on are the horrible actions of perhaps some frustrated Palestinian “terrorists” in Gaza who’ve somehow managed to get a rocket past Israel’s incredibly sophisticated air defense system (the notorious Iron Dome in service since 2011); when the rockets, however, start flying the other way—to a place which cannot shoot down 90 percent of trajectories coming their way, it’s all for the sake of defending the state, all because Palestinians simply don’t have one, and, thus, have nothing worth defending.

In response to a friend’s despair that General Burgoyne had been defeated at Saratoga, which effectively brought about the end of British ambitions in Colonial America, Adam Smith said the following: “Be assured, young friend, that there is a great deal of ruin in a nation.” The quote has been interpreted in a number of ways—from strong countries can cope with poor policies to it takes a whole lot of work (in this case bungling) for political leaders to bring down a country which is prosperous and powerful. Despite what Smith may or may not have meant, I prefer the following interpretation: For a new nation to rise, it must first be ruined in order to be truly born anew. It’s hard to deny that Israel has done anything but bring Palestine to that brink. If Palestinians can hang on long enough, I truly believe that like all people who’ve ever wanted to be free, they may not get everything they wanted, but they will eventually find their freedom.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection 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.

Nestor Fantini, Human Rights Activist, Interviewed by David Garyan


Nestor Fantini

Nestor Fantini, Human Rights Activist, Interviewed by David Garyan
Interlitq

 

DG: We live in a time of unprecedented uncertainty. The fragility of the democratic values we cherish are being tested by a virus that in many ways requires people to set aside their personal liberties for the greater benefit of society, and for good reason; in this respect, especially, the frailty of the nation-state—if we see it as the representation of a single individual’s will—is being exposed. In a globalized world, however, no nation can really exist by itself, and yet, these are precisely the principles on which nation-states are grounded: independence, self-reliance, and a strange sort of homogenous unity. From a human rights perspective, how has COVID impacted nation-states and what does this mean for minority populations living within them?

NF: From a human rights perspective, COVID has, in a strange way, greatly impacted nation-states, and, at the same time, the influence of the pandemic has only shown what we’ve known for a long time, yet repeatedly refused and still refuse to acknowledge—that minorities have and continue to be the ones who must bear the greatest burden of society’s ills; in this respect, the pandemic has done very little to alter the age-old problems of minority discrimination. From the suffering imparted by economic stagnation to the dangers and inconveniences of navigating poor infrastructure, it has always been and it still is to this day the ones on the fringes of society who’ve had to struggle most in order to ensure their own survival—overcoming a pandemic like the one we have right now is certainly no exception to this rule. Take, for example, a country like India; it offers a fascinating case study related to our discussion because we can look at this very pressing matter from different perspectives, an economic one and that of human rights; in terms of the former, we know that people are having a hard time dealing with the virus because there’s a great deal of poverty to be found there; in addition, those people already disadvantaged must deal with the fact that the infrastructure which is available to them is mostly neither spacious enough nor even safe by any means to accommodate proper quarantine measures required by the very governments who institute those “safety” regulations to begin with—in some cases, these authorities are even responsible for the construction of such dwellings, government housing, for example. What I’m trying to say, hence, is that there are many problems like the ones people are facing in India also to be found in the US—perhaps not to the same extreme degree, but the characteristics, certainly, the nature of the difficulties are not that drastically different, at least from the economic side of managing a pandemic. At the same time, the problem, as you say, isn’t just an economic one—it plays out along racial and ethnic lines as well. Neither I nor anyone will be very much surprised to hear that the privileged are going to encounter far less problems getting their hands on the vaccine first. In India, the caste system will contribute to this dilemma while in the US the issue will be determined by equally predictable factors—ethnicity and race. In both cases, the social constructs of skin color and cultural hierarchies, and that’s precisely what they are—things created by humans—will determine how nation-states are going to react to the problem. So, I’m afraid there’s no simple answer to the question of how COVID has impacted nation-states from a human rights perspective, since we can say that it has impacted them quite a bit, yet, at the same time, almost not at all because minorities are in many ways fighting the same battles for justice they were fighting hundreds of years ago.

DG: We are precisely seeing what might happen when the existence of democratic governments is threatened; it was, after all, only a year ago that Italian authorities—in their attempt to control the outbreak—orchestrated an unprecedented shutdown of the entire country, which, according to the Italian paper Avvenire, constituted the largest suppression of constitutional rights in the history of the Italian Republic. Almost exactly a year later, Italy has blocked vaccine shipments to Australia. As someone who has directly experienced how authoritarian measures can be justified to stop threats real or imagined, how concerned should we be that, perhaps in the future, even more extreme measures might be employed, if and when the situation does worsen? Let us hope not.

NF: I happen to see the issue in a somewhat different way. If we look at WWI and WWII, for example, many of the genuine and necessary sacrifices, which we might today interpret as “constitutional suppressions of our rights,” were an indispensable part of the machinery which successfully combated fascism. The famous WWII poster Loose Lips Might Sink Ships comes to mind now. Indeed, from a retrospective viewpoint, we can look at the matter as a hackneyed piece of propaganda—something to dismiss simply on principle altogether, and many of us would feel comfortable doing just that, mainly because we, as of today, know very well there were no elaborate German plots to ruin the country from the inside, merely as an example. However, it’s important to remember that at the time—during the most critical moments of the war—we had no real way of gauging the extent of the danger we could’ve or could not have found ourselves in. Of course, freedom of speech and all other constitutional rights are always important and should be upheld wherever and whenever it’s possible to do so; at the same time, during periods of national emergencies or wars, we must seriously and critically reevaluate those rights—the best way to implement them in unpredictable circumstances, for instance—if we’re to consider ourselves responsible, politically engaged citizens. Another example I would like to bring to your attention is the League of Nations and its failure to stop WWII from happening; it was precisely the inability of the respective governments to work in unison which brought this second crisis about. In this respect, I admit, it certainly is a bit concerning to see political maneuvers such as blocked vaccine shipments and other things of this nature, but, really, what’s more frightening to me is how the pandemic is being used as an excuse for governments to become more authoritarian; indeed, it’s one thing to say that we must work in harmony to make certain sacrifices that will become beneficial for all of society, and it’s an entirely different thing for the government to use the pandemic as a cover to achieve exactly the opposite—making society even more authoritarian to the detriment of us all. Do you see the difference? To definitively answer your question so that there can be no doubt about it: There are genuine sacrifices which are worth making, even when they happen to encroach on the so-called human rights, if only for the benefit of a better world in the future, while those disingenuous sacrifices—the ones which authoritarian governments falsely portray as being “necessary” are not the ones I’m referring to when I speak of democratic societies implementing cautionary measures (in this case sanitary ones) with benevolent intentions for its citizenry.

DG: With the election of Donald Trump, it has become clear that economic problems, coupled with a majority population’s grievance over whom a nation really “belongs” to, can lead to some unfortunate consequences. Alas, such problems have existed for centuries, always leading to disaster. It is safe to say that throwing a pandemic into this equation does not help matters. Is it too much of a stretch, then, to draw a connection between COVID and the economic/political problems that plunged the entire European continent into not only two world wars, but also genocides, and countless other human rights abuses? Given how the US loves to frame its problems in militaristic terms (the war on drugs or war on poverty, for example), it is quite appropriate to say that we have now lost more people “fighting” COVID than all the casualties our troops suffered in WWII. Is this the end of American prestige?

NF: I don’t believe so. Perhaps I might consider the argument that Donald Trump himself was the end of American prestige but even that wouldn’t be correct. Many people still look to the US for leadership and guidance. Donald Trump did much to undermine that faith and trust; however, our ability to contribute towards the effort of making this a better world—and, yes, fighting the pandemic—has by no means disappeared; that’s not to say the task will be easy. Changes must come and they must be substantial. I’ve already spoken at length about minorities and those in underprivileged positions; more specifically, however, at the national level, the government has to roll out vaccination programs with greater efficiency and speed. With regard to international measures, we must reengage not only the European continent but also the entire world in those cooperative efforts which Trump abandoned during his term—the World Health Organization, of course, but also pacts like the Paris Agreement. Already this is starting to happen with meetings between top officials of institutions such as the aforementioned WHO. As I said before, indeed, we can draw a connection between the forces of history, which seem to be running parallel to our times—precisely as many historians and scholars would expect them to—but if that’s the case, there’s a more positive side to such developments as well, at least in terms of arguing against the end of American prestige. This line of thinking—the decline of America—is really nothing new and from my perspective, I really begin to see it emerging during and after the American Civil War. The country was in ruins—certainly as divided as it could ever be—and we’re not even mentioning the economic and political tolls that came about as a result of those events. Many people couldn’t imagine how a country so divided and broken could rebuild itself after such an experience. Undoubtedly, in 1865, the nation had overcome the worst disaster, which was secession, but at what price? We know that the war had done a great deal in leaving a legacy of economic backwardness and polarization that, in many ways, is still felt today across large parts of the land. Why do I say this? Precisely for the fact that the US was by no means the most powerful and influential country after the Civil War, but it nevertheless managed to become that very beacon, despite suffering circumstances which were far worse than what we’ve now endured under Donald Trump. Still, people may argue that the difference isn’t so great between what transpired during those four years of 1861 through 1865 and our own four years of 2016 through 2020—let me just state that they would probably be right in making such a claim, but even if they’re not wrong, I maintain that it wouldn’t be unjustified to believe, at the same time, that America has likewise not seen its best days yet. In other words, if people want to think this is our 1865, then so be it, but there are nevertheless two roads still facing us—the question hence becomes: Do we take the right one or the wrong one? I say only that choice, and that choice alone can really determine whether the end of American prestige has in fact come or not.

DG: Politics have always been a sensitive issue—in the sense that it has mostly been students and young people who have been at the forefront trying to make real changes. Despite the substantial progress achieved over the years, things have not gotten “easier,” however. Just last February, for example, Patrick Zaki, an Egyptian student studying at the University of Bologna, was arrested after traveling back to his home country. He was beaten and tortured and remains incarcerated to this day, due to his work as a human rights activist. In a way, for the college students who’ve never experienced what it feels like to be incarcerated, the “idealism” runs high, meaning they really believe in being able to change the world, which, inherently, is not a bad thing; and yet this is precisely the attitude which can also lead to a lot of unnecessary grief not only for them, but their parents as well. What advice, looking back on your own life, would you give the younger generation? What is the right course for those looking to “change” the world—political idealism, apolitical intellectualism, detached pessimism, or a combination of all three?

NF: I completely understand the cautionary advice surrounding political idealism, and, yet, I also neither see apolitical intellectualism nor detached pessimism as the answer. Perhaps I can get on board with balancing the three, but, despite the difficulties which I’ve had to endure myself, I’m still inclined to say that political idealism is important. Real change can’t come without idealism; we can think of it almost like a polar star—we will never reach the celestial body, the so-called promised land itself—but we can use its light as a guiding point for where we need to go and what needs to be done. I’m familiar with the Zaki case and it’s another one of the many unfortunate incidents this generation has had to endure. The truth about political prisoners such as Zaki in Egypt lies precisely in the fact that for Egypt the matter really has very little to do with Zaki himself, while, for the world at large, the matter really has little to do with Egypt. What do I mean? My point is that Egypt has decided to detain Patrick Zaki not because of who he is or what he’s supposedly done or not done, as a matter of fact; no, they’ve imprisoned him precisely because of what he represents. The detention of Zaki, and others like him, is a form of deterrence, of psychological warfare, if you will, utilized by authoritarian governments to send the following message to all would-be dissidents: See what happens if you disobey. In reality, the actual person of Patrick Zaki—the sole man in the flesh—poses very little existential danger to a state like Egypt, and not because he hasn’t done anything wrong, but even if he did, his isolated actions by themselves would still not be able to bring down an entire state; this is something the status quo knows very well; thus, what governments really fear is the non-corporeal ideology within the flesh of Zaki—something less “unique” than the individual of whom only one “copy” exists in the world. Ideology, on the other hand, is easily transferred, replicated, and much harder to kill because you can neither touch it, nor even see it. Ideology can infect great amounts of people just as quickly as a virus can—funny that we should be talking about that during a pandemic—and it is precisely that which governments really dread the most, especially during a pandemic. Authoritarian governments, hence, view dissident ideology with both a great suspicion and unease because it represents a sort of virulent revolution, a type of revolutionary movement guided by entities even more dangerous than COVID. For this reason, countries like Egypt quickly try to quarantine any and every “host” of “threatening” ideology they can get their hands on—all in the attempt to prevent their ability to spread it, but like our pandemic, for example, COVID itself isn’t dangerous unless it proliferates. And since authoritarian governments view political dissidents like viruses, it makes sense for them to try and keep people locked in “labs” to prevent their doctrines from diffusing. The second issue I raised is the one for the world at large. What do I mean? There are hundreds of democratic countries out there and only one Egypt. Why haven’t those powerful democracies managed to free Zaki from his Egyptian jail cell? Precisely because, like with Zaki, the matter has little to do with Egypt. As we’ve already discussed, the issue revolves exactly around the concept of nation-states—they are, in fact, based on a strange mixture of self-reliance, independence, and homogeneity, as you pointed out earlier. By nature, hence, nation-states love conformity, and while many can handle some forms of dissent, it’s not the way they would inherently prefer to operate, at least not on a consistent basis. I can think of no country in which the status quo prefers, more often than not, to have its views challenged rather than accepted. At the same time, I want to make clear that this isn’t an argument attempting to justify the silence of many nation-states on such matters—my point is that even the democratic countries like the US still have a long way to go in ensuring that minorities are protected, underprivileged voices are heard, and everyone’s needs are basically met, but this is a subject we’ve already discussed and I’m quite sure there’s no justification to repeat it. Instead, I’d like to say that the work of fighting for a better world must not stop, regardless of those difficulties; additionally, the efforts of securing the release of such prisoners of conscience like Zaki must continue like before. Believe it or not, just like those fighting for justice feel the pressure to conform when they witness the imprisonment of their fellow activists, so, too, the countries which imprison them likewise feel the pressure from the international efforts that try to secure their release. My message and advice, to answer your question, is the following: Do the best you can—call your local representatives, write to lawmakers, demand that action is taken; the key is consistent action, and, like I said, when governments do mobilize to demand the release of prisoners like Zaki, the status quo which has imprisoned them does consequently feel the weight of its own actions. These things take a long time, I know, but as you’re well aware, Amnesty International, along with their supporters, contributed a great deal in securing my own release. The work is difficult but it must never end.

DG: Speaking of idealism and optimism, the recent election of Joe Biden as President of the United States has certainly brought great aspirations—at least equaling and perhaps even surpassing the hope we had after Barack Obama’s election; and yet, a 2008 Gallup poll reveals the utter lack of enthusiasm people had for his selection as Vice President back then: “The only recent vice presidential choices to spark less voter reaction than Biden were Dick Cheney in 2000 (net 4%, with 14% more likely and 10% less likely) and Dan Quayle in 1988 (net score of 0, with 10% more likely and 10% less likely).” Additionally, people were concerned that should anything happen to Obama, Biden would consequently become president—clearly, the hope and optimism surrounding Obama was based on entirely different ideals than the positive surge that propelled Biden to the top; in the case of the former, it was a real belief in the possibility of change, while in the case of the latter it was the reassuring comfort that we would be returning to “normal,” meaning no more Twitter rants and a lot more “presidential” behavior. In this sense, what can Biden do to become more than just the anybodyisbetterthanTrump president?

NF: With regard to the numbers, they’re just that—numbers, and I’ll leave it that. I’m sure it’s not necessary to repeat the age-old maxim about statistics and lies. Personally, I tend to place a higher value on circumstances and the situational context. Okay, so in retrospect Biden wasn’t well-received in 2008. What difference does that make? All kinds of trends, ideas, and individuals were not popular at some point in time, but they managed to capture the public’s admiration later on. I can give many examples of people like Socrates, Galileo, and Darwin who were all basically loathed by one or another in their day and now most of us (the sensible ones, at least) revere them. And so, the Gallup poll might be right, and I have absolutely no doubt that it is, but, perhaps, this is precisely the reason to love Biden even more today. Let me say that, firstly, we’re no longer living in 2008, and, secondly, Biden himself isn’t the person he was thirteen years ago. When the poll was taken, he had no experience in the White House—something he has now, and this is a quality which I believe changes the game completely, rendering the argument more or less irrelevant. It’s certainly possible for people that you didn’t think of highly before to add new skills to their repertoires and this may go a long way in changing your opinion about any given individual. For example, a high school dropout might be the hometown punk, but there have been plenty of those who’ve turned their lives around for the better. Now, let’s reflect for a minute: Biden, as a senator running for vice president in 2008, was certainly not a loser before he ran for president, even if people didn’t think highly of him then, but with the additional experience he’s gained along the way, the prospect of having him as president instead of Trump must certainly, at this point, be much more desirable than the nuclear option, if I may be so blunt. To answer the second part of your question, I believe Biden has many opportunities to stand out—and success with the pandemic is his biggest opportunity. Earlier you mentioned that more people have now died from COVID-related complications than all the casualties our troops suffered in WWII. Well, wouldn’t it be something if Biden were to create a cohesive, targeted set of policies that were to not only substantially reduce the country’s burdens as they relate to the pandemic, but maybe even get rid of many ills altogether. We can no longer ignore the fact that people are in desperate situations. Businesses have been closing, individuals are being laid off, and young people are frustrated with both their immediate and future prospects. Indeed, it’s unfortunate, like you said in your previous question, that the US has historically approached its problems with a warlike mentality, but if Biden can successfully win this so-called “war,” it would instantly propel him to the rank of the more desirable presidents we’ve had over the course of this country’s recent history, if not its entire course. Having said that, containing a pandemic is no easy task, let alone completely beating one, but as a man who’s overcome many difficulties in his life already, I don’t see why this particular challenge isn’t within the realm of possibilities for him. Biden would need to surround himself with a skilled, knowledgeable staff capable of getting the job done—a tall proposition, certainly, but not too idealistic. The fact of the matter is that he’s been in office for just over two months—let’s see where the road leads.

DG: Many people are not only delighted but overwhelmed by excitement at the prospect of returning to normal under Biden’s leadership, but is that really what we want? In other words, might there still be a chance to shake up the system a little bit, to actually bring some change, for lack of better words, and if you’ll allow me the expression—to drain the swamp, but in a democratic, politically inclusive way, and what would such a presidency look like? We may even ask whether such trailblazing administrations can actually exist—Biden’s reluctance to do anything about the Khashoggi murder seems to be another discouraging sign that further reinforces the point: One cannot be a politician and idealist at the same time. How do you see it—should we resign ourselves, yet again, to the fact that nothing will really change, at least from the perspective of human rights?

NF: I’ve already spoken about the importance of political idealism for the youth and I understand how that can be a more pressing issue for politicians, especially those like Biden who are holding a high office; in this respect, too, I believe in moderation. The Khashoggi murder was a quite a surprise, but Biden’s reluctance to act appropriately right then may have been more due to circumstances than to his own ethical code of conduct. I can’t stress enough that Biden has been in office for just over two months. Punishing a major ally, even if they are one of the worst human rights offenders in not only the region, but also the world, is certainly the noble thing to do, but perhaps not the most sensible foreign policy objective carried out so early into one’s presidency, at least from the perspective of regional stability. Politics is, above all, about relationships and it’s best to be on safer grounds before embarking on such controversial decisions. From a human rights perspective, Biden’s actions aren’t possible to defend, but we must also think about the possibility of those very same human rights—which we do cherish so much—deteriorating even further if Biden had decided to act differently. What do I mean? Increased hostility, violence, and repression that could’ve sprung forth in the region as a result of the president’s decision to sanction a few of those actors. As far as changing things for the better, some revolutions, if you will, are better made gradually than quickly. I know this seems like an excuse, but I really do believe in progress and I think Biden is far more capable of giving us that, as opposed to Trump, at least from the much-needed perspective of human rights.

DG: It is not an overstatement to say that Donald Trump will be remembered as the worst president in recent US history. The only one who can really come close is Nixon, and, yet, aside from the Watergate scandal, he was actually pretty popular during his term; additionally, unlike Trump, it must be admitted that he was not nearly as deranged; that we should refer to Trump using such words is unfortunately necessary. What is truly regrettable, however, is Trump’s destruction of the Republican Party. In a country whose mindset was already insulated by the two-party system, it seems that the Democratic Party has really done it this time—with this election they have completely crushed their opponent for the foreseeable future; the silver lining in all of this is that Democrats now have an unprecedented opportunity to accomplish many of the things they could perhaps not have accomplished in other years, which may not be a bad thing altogether. And yet, as an American living in Europe, I tend to see party plurality as a largely positive development—something I wish we could have back home. How do you see the issue? What is the future of the Republican Party and can it ever really free itself from the legacy of Trump, from the mob who stormed the nation’s most hallowed place of democracy, trying to overturn a fair election?

NF: What you say about pluralism is interesting and I would agree with you, except for the fact that US politics have, for the most part, had priorities and intentions which could be considered different from their European counterpart; at the same time, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what those differences are, but what remains essential is that the Republican Party has been the one to stall many of the reforms that would’ve greatly benefited minorities, along with other deserving people in need. I don’t know if the Republican Party can ever win the trust of those populations again, but that point, also, may be an irrelevant one because the demographics of the nations are changing anyways. It has become an indisputable fact that by 2050, more or less, the composition of the country will have changed so much that White Americans will no longer be the majority. Now, when that happens, Republicans will be faced with two choices: Either get with the program, as they say, or fade from existence. For too long, the GOP has been trying their best to subjugate people in inner cities and low-income neighborhoods in general. From Reagan’s infamous trickle-down economics (but even before that) to Trump’s aggrandizement of the one percent, we’ve seen this movie play out too many times. What many people don’t know, however, is that a substantial number of these policies first arose in California. Those who are more or less my age will remember the Pat Buchanans and Pete Wilsons. Years upon years of discriminatory social and economic policies ultimately contributed to the fact that California has not sent a Republican to the Senate since 1992—almost thirty years. Part of that has to do with the effects of the ongoing demographic shift which I’ve already mentioned, but also the frustration and anger over not only state but also national policies endorsed by Republicans. As I’ve said already—big changes have to come. The future of the Republican Party will rely mainly on the following premise—its ability to embrace the future or not, simple as that. Already we’re starting to see Biden overturn many of Trump’s discriminatory policies, along with appointing minority candidates to top cabinet positions. Incidentally, we were speaking earlier about his ability to stand out as a president—in two months he’s already shown an aptitude for doing that. The appointment of Deb Haaland, the first Native American elected to serve in a cabinet secretary role, is an encouraging sign that we’re heading the right way. As far as the Republican Party, they will have to be receptive to similar changes if they want to be embraced by the representatives of the shifting demographic.

DG: What are you working on at the moment? Any interesting projects you would like readers to know about?

NF: I recently finished teaching a couple classes on criminology at Rio Hondo College. Although I retired some years ago, the urge to get back into teaching did catch up with me, and I plan to continue this activity on and off, naturally with a much lighter load of courses than I had before. These days I’m also contributing to the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión. Life in retirement is wonderful but staying busy here and there isn’t bad either.

 

About Nestor Fantini

Nestor Fantini, born on May 11th, 1953, in Cordoba, Argentina, is a human rights activist, writer, educator, and former political prisoner. He has contributed to the Huffington PostLa Opinión, and has served as the editor of the online Spanish-language magazine HispanicLA.

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 (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection 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 (DISS)INFORMATION, a full collection 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.