Noam Chomsky’s “Fateful Triangle – The United States, Israel & the Palestinians”

Chom

NOAM CHOMSKY
 Fateful Triangle – The United States, Israel & the Palestinians
(South End Press Classics, 1999, 600 pgs)
Foreword by Edward W. Said

Download e-book (PDF, 2 mb): http://bit.ly/1rJLGK1
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Fateful Triangle may be the most ambitious book ever attempted on the conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians viewed as centrally involving the United States. It is a dogged exposé of  human corruption, greed, and intellectual dishonesty. It is also a  great and important book, which must be read by anyone concerned  with public affairs.  The facts are there to be recognized for Chomsky, although no one  else has ever recognized them so systematically. His mainly Israeli and  U.S. sources are staggeringly complete, and he is capable of registering contradictions, distinctions, and lapses which occur between them.  There is something profoundly moving about a mind of such noble  ideals repeatedly stirred on behalf of human suffering and injustice.” – Edward W. Said

Bloodshed in Gaza – The Historical Roots of the Conflict

Art by Venezuelan artist Eneko, with reference to Pablo Picasso's "Guernica"

Art by Venezuelan artist Eneko updates Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”

I’m deeply saddened and worried by the ongoing bloodshed in Gaza. One of the most densely populated areas in the planet, home for 1.8 million people, 56% of them under the age of 18, what’s happening in Gaza right now is a heartbreaking historical tragedy unfolding before our eyes.  According to the The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA),  these are the disaster’s description in numbers today – July 23, 2014, 16 days after the start of Israel’s military attack: 697 Palestinians killed, including at least 518 civilians, of whom 170 are children and 86 are women; 32 Israelis killed, including 3 civilians and 29 soldiers; 3.993 Palestinians injured (1.213 are children and 698 are women); more than 140.000 have been displaced and 1.2 million people in Gaza have no proper access to water.

Watch Al Jazeera’s Gaza’s Humanitarian Disaster:

The latest news about the conflict are all around the news – I particularly recommend tuning in to Al Jazeera or independent blogs such as Gazanism – so I’d like to share with you some material that can enlighten us about the historical roots of the present crisis. I’d like to start quoting from one of the world’s greatest writers and activists, Mrs. Arundathi Roy, a well-informed and highly sensitive witness to all the sound and fury of human history:

Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy

In 1937 Winston Churchill said of the Palestinians: ‘I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance that a great wrong has been done to the red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place’. That set the trend for the Israeli state’s attitude towards Palestinians. In 1969, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir said: ‘Palestinians do not exist’. Her successor, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, said: ‘What are Palestinians? When I came here [to Palestine] there were 250,000 non-Jews, mainly Arabs and Bedouins. It was desert, more than underdeveloped. Nothing’. Prime Minister Menachem Begin called Palestinians ‘two-legged beasts’. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir called them ‘grasshoppers’ who could be crushed. This is the language of heads of state, not the words of ordinary people.

In 1947 the UN formally partitioned Palestine and allotted 55% of Palestine’s land to the zionists. Within a year they had captured 78%. On May 14, 1948, the state of Israel was declared. Minutes after the declaration, the US recognized Israel. The West Bank was annexed by Jordan. The Gaza strip came under Egyptian military control. Formally, Palestine ceased to exist except in the minds and hearts of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian people who became refugees.

In the summer of 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Settlers were offered state subsidies and development aid to move into the occupied territories. Almost every day more Palestinian families are forced off their lands and driven into refugee camps. Palestinians who continue to live in Israel do not have the same rights as Israelis and live as second-class citizens in their former homeland.

Art by Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff

Art by Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff

Over the decades there have been uprisings, wars, intifadas. Tens of thousands have lost their lives. Accords and treaties have been signed, ceasefires declared and violated. But the bloodshed doesn’t end. Palestine still remains illegally occupied. Its people live in inhuman conditions, in virtual Bantustans, where they are subjected to collective punishments, 24-hour curfews, where they are humiliated and brutalised on a daily basis. They never know when their homes will be demolished, when their children will be shot, when their precious trees will be cut, when their roads will be closed, when they will be allowed to walk down to the market to buy food and medicine. And when they will not. They live with no semblance of dignity. With not much hope in sight. They have no control over their lands, their security, their movement, their communication, their water supply.

So when accords are signed and words like ‘autonomy’ and even ‘statehood’ are bandied about, it’s always worth asking: What sort of autonomy? What sort of state? What sort of rights will its citizens have? Young Palestinians who cannot contain their anger turn themselves into human bombs and haunt Israel’s streets and public places, blowing themselves up, killing ordinary people, injecting terror into daily life, and eventually hardening both societies’ suspicion and mutual hatred of each other. Each bombing invites merciless reprisals and even more hardship on Palestinian people. But then suicide bombing is an act of individual despair, not a revolutionary tactic. Although Palestinian attacks strike terror into Israeli civilians, they provide the perfect cover for the Israeli government’s daily incursions into Palestinian territory, the perfect excuse for old-fashioned, 19th century colonialism, dressed up as a new-fashioned, 21st century ‘war’.

Israel’s staunchest political and military ally is and always has been the US government. The US government has blocked, along with Israel, almost every UN resolution that sought a peaceful, equitable solution to the conflict. It has supported almost every war that Israel has fought. When Israel attacks Palestine, it is American missiles that smash through Palestinian homes. And every year Israel receives several billion dollars from the US.

What lessons should we draw from this tragic conflict? Is it really impossible for Jewish people who suffered so cruelly themselves — more cruelly perhaps than any other people in history — to understand the vulnerability and the yearning of those whom they have displaced? Does extreme suffering always kindle cruelty? What hope does this leave the human race with? What will happen to the Palestinian people in the event of a victory? When a nation without a state eventually proclaims a state, what kind of state will it be? What horrors will be perpetrated under its flag? Is it a separate state that we should be fighting for, or the rights to a life of liberty and dignity for everyone regardless of their ethnicity or religion? – ARUNDHATI ROY

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To delve deeper into the roots of the matter, I share with Awestruck Wanderer’s readers three excellent documentaries. They have taught me a great deal about the history of the Middle East’s conflicts and still have a lot to say to us under the present tragic situation. They are: BBC’s The Birth of Israel; Ilan Ziv’s Six Days in June – The War That Redefined The Middle East; and B.Z. Goldberg’s Promises. I’ve managed to gather these films here – including YouTube or Vimeo full-lenght videos, official synopsis and other relevant information. If you find this documentaries as relevant as I do, please share the knowledge!

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“On 14 May 1948 Prime Minister David Ben Gurion announced the establishment of the state of Israel in the portion of Palestine allocated by the UN as a Jewish state. For the Israelis, the events of 1948 were a triumph; for the Palestinians it was the beggining of the ‘naqba’ – the catastrophe which saw them driven from their homeland. Within 24 hours the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria attacked. What followed was the first of many bloody wars between Israel and the Arabs – a bitter struggle which has dominated the region for the past 60 years and continues to threaten global security. Jeremy Bowen travels to Israel and the neighbouring countries involved in the conflict to take a fresh look at the events leading to the foundation of the state of Israel. Using a combination of rarely seen archive footage, historical eyewitness accounts and interviews with the surviving political, diplomatic and military figures of the time from both sides of the divide, Jeremy uses the history of the period as a prism to reflect the current state of the Israeli / Palestinian conundrum. Interviews include Shimon Peres, David Den Gurion’s right hand man and now president of Israel, and Hassan Nusseibeh, Jordanian Ambassador to the UN, among others. Challenging existing myths – promulgated by both sides – about the founding of Israel, this is a fresh perspective on an ongoing conflict.”

BBC Production. 2009. 60 mins.

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“In June of 1967, a war pitted the Israelis against the Arabs and the US against the Soviet Union. It lasted only 6 days, but it changed the Middle East, and America’s policy towards the region, and the war’s results are embodied in every aspect of the current bloody Middle East conflict. This groundbreaking documentary provides a fresh perspective on the war, bringing to life its battlefields, politics, and the personal histories of the many lives it affected. Today, the regions remains trapped in a never-ending cycle of occupation, terrorism and reprisal, much of which is caused by the same animosity that triggered the war in the first place. Shot in location in Israel, Palestine, Egyps, Syria, Jordan, Moscow and Washingston, and using newly declassified archives, home movie footage and personal photographs, evocative recreations, and dozens of interviews with participants, this film offers unprecedented insight into the story of the Six Day War. With an extraordinary cast of characters – Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Field Marshal Amer, and Lyndon B. Johnson, to name a few – Six Days in June examins how the war came about, how it was fought, and how it reshaped the regional political landscape… all in six days.”

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Brazilian poster for B.Z. Goldberg’s Promises

“B.Z. Goldberg, an American filmmaker who was raised in Jerusalem and is fluent in both Hebrew and Arabic, returned to the Middle East to help make this documentary, which chronicles his encounters with seven children between the ages of 11 and 13, some Israeli and some Palestinian, who discuss their political views, their thoughts about the ongoing violence in their homelands and the possibility of a lasting peace, and the impact the aggression has had upon them. Encompassing extremists and moderates on both sides of the fence, the seven youngsters are interviewed individually and then brought together, where their common interests become clear — as well as the fact that it’s quite possible they’ll never live together in peace. Co-directed by Goldberg with Justine Shapiro and Carlos Bolado, Promises won the Audience Award at the 2001 Rotterdam Film Festival.” – Amg All Movie Guide

In Praise of Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things” – by Eduardo Carli de Moraes

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“She is one of the great writers and intellectuals of our time. I was thinking about what makes her a really great writer, a really great person, and a really great rebel: someone who listens more than she talks. Someone who goes to find where the silence is, and tries to understand why the silence is there. She is so precious and so rare. Like Charles Dickens, like Charlotte Brontë, like Virginia Woolf, like Victor Hugo, like all those wonderful writers who spoke for the people who had no voice. Arundhati Roy joins a long and proud list of people who care deeply, and who listen deeply, and who then speak fearlessly. This is our salvation, this kind of writer, this kind of person…” – ALICE WALKER , author of Pulitzer-Winning novel The Color Purple (filmed by Steven Spielberg)

I.  A SUNBEAM LENT TO US TOO BRIEFLY

ARUNDHATI ROYTo listen attentively, to care deeply, to speak fearlessly: these are some of the many virtues of our brave sister, Arundhati Roy. Even if she never writes another book of fiction, she already deserves a place in the history of English-language literature: The God Of Small Things, the winner of 1998’s Booker Prize Award, can be easily included in the Olympus of the 20th century’s true masterpieces in the realm of novels.

Her story-telling talents are such that it’s hard not to get hooked on the tale she’s telling so compellingly: The God Of Small Things entrances with its language, seduces withs its humour, and then delivers, apart from a delicious verbal banquet, a blood-soaked tragedy.

She told BBC that she never meant to write a thriller, but her novel is filled with thrills, like a rollercoaster ride through Aymenem, Kerala, India, where Arundhati Roy grew up. Perhaps it’s her own way of embarking on a Proustian recherche du temps perdu. 

Yet this book ain’t a memoir or an auto-biography, but something much more ambitious: an Indian tragedy, set to the background of a nation in turmoil. Bloody messy turmoil. We only need to remember what happened in Gujarat in 2002 – more than 1.000 Muslims butchered and murdered openly in the streets by Hindu fanatics, and more than 150.000 fleeing the scene of the pogroms as refugees – to have a glimpse of the turmoils of India. Its dawned to the 21st century happened on the brink of a nuclear war with Pakistan, while Kashmir was held hostage by India through the biggest military occupation in the word. This is a scary picture of India which Arundathi Roy paints – and it rings so much truer than the demagogues propaganda.

She belongs to a pantheon of writers capable of writing passionately, with words that a sensible reader feels at the same time as he deciphers them. While reading The God Of Small Things, I was frequently aware not only of an intellectual process going on in my head – the whole process of language-deciphering – but of something else, ringing with truthfulness and verve: Arundathi’s words were injected with feeling. These are sentences written to be felt rather than simply understood. In a prose so marvellous that I can only find something similar in writers, which I cherish a lot, such as Anton Tchekov, Katherine Mansfield, Heinrich Heine, Manoel de Barros…

And yet The God of Small Things, so often, seems to focus on banalities, on minute occurrences – for example, the funny description of the twins in their “delight with underwater farting”. Several times, it seems she’s jokingly playing with language like Lewis Carroll or James Joyce did so well. She evokes images – for example: a child being forced to eat spinach – that seem at first sight to be trivial chronicles of day-to-day life. But Arundhati Roy portrays this commonest matter of life as something dynamic, in perpetual motion, and that can undergo sudden changes. As if she is saying that the extraordinary is the most ordinary thing there is, yet not all among us can see it and realize it. The motto, running like an underground stream in her narrative, is this: “things can change in a day”. So we better be prepared.

 When you reach the last page of the book, and you look behind you, remembering the path you’ve traveled together with Arundhati, you can feel the wisdom of every minute detail to the general composition. It reminds me of an interesting piece of literary criticism written  by an excellent Artist-of-the-Word, Cioran:

“No true art without a strong dose of banality. The constant employment of the unaccustomed readily wearies us, nothing being more unendurable than the uniformity of the exceptional.” (CIORAN, The Trouble With Being Born, p. 37)

In other words: a work-of-art doesn’t necessarily need to be an overdose of extraordinary occurrences and events. The common fibre that weaves human life must be used to compose a portrait of human life as it is – and life undeniably includes in its bosom much minute trivialities and minor events without further consequence. Until it comes: the day that changes everything.

The genius of Arundathi Roy’s book lies in her hability to portray how the extraordinary disrupts the web of common life. Thus the leitmotiv in The God of Small Things – “things can change in a day”, which means: your whole life may be suddenly transformed. It may be thrown out of its usual tracks, like a derailed train bound to a blind-date with fate.

After reading this book, I also emerge from it like a diver rising up from the seas, where he saw and witnessed little fish behind devoured by big ones (just like in Radiohead’s song). Life as a frail flame that can be blow off by the wind. Life as quicksand where our feet can never quite stand in firm ground. Life as box-of-surprises (not necessarily gentle ones).

These are some of the feelings about life Arundathi’s novel  may evoke and provoke. When she describes injustices being done against the powerless, her words have the beauty and the courage of similar ones written by Simone Weil or Emma Goldman. It seems to me that Arundathi depicts the destructibility of life as something that’s part of its essence –  mortality is something no mortal can escape from – and yet Arundathi’s voice is far from depressing.

Her words have an up-lifting effect, like an injection of enthusiasm shot right in the veins. It’s a voice filled with such compassion and boldness, and such lucid indignation and witty critique, that listening to her is a delight. Art can be empowering, it can communicate enthusiasm, it can teach a frame of consciousness, and it also certainly can act upon life – like Spinoza taught, it can become something we love because it enhances our vitality, adds vigor to our conatus.

This book may be playful and filled with wit, but ain’t kitsch at all: there’s pedophilia and police brutality and class struggles ending up in bloody mess. There’s scenes to make a punk’s hairdo spike up. There’s enough to make Chuck Norris cry. She extracts beauty from tragedy, from loss, from terrible grief, as if Arundathi was some sort of magic bee capacle of manufacturing sweet honey even from fly-trap plants. From brief sunbeams drowned out too soon.

Elizabeth Bishop’s famous poem says that “the art of losing isn’t hard to master”; Arundhati Roy also paints a poignant portrait of loss, and also points out that even the most precious things can easily be lost (“things can change in a day…”). Like the fateful day in which Sophie Mol tried to cross a river on a little small-boat with her cousins, the twins Rahel and Estha. Touched by tragedy in childhood, the twins learn from life some lessons that are usually reserved for older people. The wisdom that dawns upon them, written in their flesh by death’s killings upon the living, is stated very cleverly by little Estha: “Anything can happen to anyone, so it’s better to be prepared.”

20130628-gramsciThe wisdom of keeping eyes opened to the possibility of the worst, and yet continuing the struggle to act in order to build something better, is something that, it seems to me, is one of the many virtues of Arundhati’s work. Maybe she agrees with Gramsci that we should keep burning two flames, simultaneously: pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

It’s always good news to discover that Humanity still holds among the living some people so wise and so courageous.

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II. HOLES IN THE UNIVERSE

In The God Of Small Things, I kept bumping into some re-occuring events, popping up several times in the narrative: the Holes in the Universe. No: this novelist isn’t venturing into the territories of astrophysics, nor trying to decipher the mystery of supermassive Black Holes. Arundhati Roy uses “holes in the universe” in order to portray the human mind’s experience of death: “Joe was dead now. Killed in a car crash. Dead as a doorknob. A Joe-shaped Hole in the Universe.” (p. 113)

Of course not only death can open these holes in the Universe, subjectively-perceived, and Arundathi knows it well. It’s so brilliant the way she is able to communicate a lot with a single word, when for example she writes “die-vorce”  (p. 124). This is no crass error of misspelling, and this is no mere typo that the publisher’s reviser didn’t detect: this, my friends, is poetry in action. 

Instead of writing the word as the dictionary demands (“divorce”), she subverts official language, and in this process links divorce with death. Both death and divorce – understood not only as the end-of-marriage, but as a sudden separation between affectively bonded humans – have the power to “open” these Holes in The Universe that The God Of Small Things so frequently talks about.

She also uses, with equivalent brilliancy, the witty expression “die-able” (154), to convey the sense of “being able to die”, of being in a state of danger.

The way she deals with Time in her narrative is also quite fascinating, and it works really well: instead of following a straight path in her story-telling, always going forward in linear time, she messes up with our coordinates. Like a brat willing to spread confusion in a world of bureaucrats and stock-market money-junkies, she sets the clocks to different times and steps back to laugh at how confused and lost in Time we really are.

We are short-sighted short-term-beings, who are neither beasts nor prophets. She does not only take us on a ride through India – it’s also a ride through Time. For example: Ammu’s death occurs in the middle of the novel, at page 154 (out of 315), and yet Ammu is present in the very last chapter. She even says the very last word of the book (“Tomorrow”).

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“The church refused to bury Ammu. So Chacko hired a van to transport the body to the electric crematorium. He had her wrapped in a dirty bedsheet and laid out on a stretcher. Rahel thought she looked like a Roman Senator. (…)  It was odd driving through bright, busy streets with a dead Roman Senator on the floor of the van. (…) Outside the vans windows, people, like cut-out paper puppets, went on with their paper-puppet lives. Real life was inside the van. Where real death was.

The crematorium had the same rotten, rundown air of a railway station, except that it was deserted. No trains, no crowds. Nobody except beggars, derelicts and the police-custody dead are cremated there. People who died with nobody to lie at the back of them and talk to them. When Ammu’s turn came, (…) the steel door of the incinerator went up and the muted hum of the eternal fire became a red roaring. The heat lunged out at them like a famished beast. Then Rahel’s Ammu was fed to it. Her hair, her skin, her smile.

20 minutes: that’s how long Chacko and Rahel had to wait for the pink receipt that would entitle them to collect Ammu’s remains. Her ashes. The grit from her bones. The teeth from her smile. The whole of her crammed into a little clay pot. Receipt No. Q 498673.”

(pg. 154-155)

aroyrArundathi paints images of holes in the Universe that emerge and take the place where joy was once intensely present. She portrays beautifully some occurrences that are far from cute – including pedophilia; child-sized coffins; police brutality against people from the lower castes; several acts of violence (both verbal and physical).

As if she was trying to paint a huge mural of a world – ours, the real one – where careless words are legion, and where sometimes death comes to claim life’s yet to be lived, or who had many fruitful years ahead of them. Untimely deaths.

No one should live somewhere where infancy is normally considered as a very “die-able” age. And yet India, may I remind us, has the largest population of undernourished children in the planet. And the emergence of shopping malls and billionaires, of Bollywood movie-stars and triumphant stock markets, ain’t stopping neither the tragedy of massive deaths by famine, of children and adults alike, nor the tragedy of massive suicides of empoverished peasants, which sometimes end up killing themselves by drinking pesticides made by Monsanto…

algebraWithout resembling in any way a political pamphlet, the novel is in fact deeply political. I would strongly recommend to you Arundhati Roy’s books of essays, excellent and thought-provoking books such as Algebra of Infinite Justice and Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy.

After reading them recently, I got the impression that, both in her fiction and non-fiction writings, she delivers a portrait of India as a country still suffering from the tragedies that ensue from the rigid social hierarchy of a Caste System.

Baby Kochamma, for example, feels very proudly that she is higher and nobler in society than those she calls “the sweeper class” (pg. 132). It seems to be one of the main intentions of The God of Small Things to give voice to the voiceless. To portray those who are so often killed without leaving behind them no portrait. No footprints in the sand’s shore. Those Power wants to throw into Oblivion. Arundhati Roy, through the means of such a compelling story, communicates to the reader the lived experience of the lower castes, the toiling masses, and she makes us suffer together with those who suffer from the anathema and the stigma of being “Untouchables”, the pariahs of Indian society.

Some books, after we finish them, never quite leave us. They become part of us. We move on, but transformed by them. We have been taught to care more for the voiceless, for the powerless, for the wretched of the Earth; we have learned empathy towards small frail things such as ourselves. We now have been enriched by the new holes we now carry in our hearts: a Sophie-shaped hole in the Universe; a Velutha-shaped hole in the Cosmos; an Ammu-shaped hole in the Fabric of Life…

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III. THE LOVE LAWS (AND THE RISKS OF TRANSGRESSION)

It’s evident that Arundhati Roy is pretty well-read, and that she has learned a lot from the masters of the English Language: she evokes images and characters from Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, for example, and she inserts into her narrative verses from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. 

Apart from the direct references to other books, she also can remind the reader of highly creative artists such as Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett or Julio Cortázar, especially because of her ability to invent a language of her own, a verbal landscape that’s quite unlike any I’ve ever read.

Of course some of the scenes may remind us of other novels – for example: when Arundanthi described the minute details of the family business Paradise Pickles & Preserves (“Emperors of the Realm of Taste!”), I felt some resemblance to John Steinbeck’s marvellous narrative in The Winter of Our Discontent. And wild rivers, with dangerous secrets lurking below the surface of the waters, may also make some experienced reader reminisce the days he spent surfing the pages of Melville’s magnum opus Moby Dick.

Of course a little boat, with three children in it, crossing a river in India, is quite different from Ahab’s vessel, in its epic journey in search of the giant white whale. But what I mean to point out is this: The God of Small Things is such a great book also because it can evoke in us past reading experiences, and good thrilling ones such as Herman Melville or Steinbeck wrote. Arundhati Roy’s work can “drown” us in a literary experience of aesthetic amazement.

However, there’s  no l’art pour l’art here: this novel can teach us a lot about India, if we care to listen to the narrative’s details. When you least expect it, she writes, for example: “Some days Estha walked along the banks of the river that smelled of shit and pesticides bought with World Bank loans.” (p. 15) That’s how politics manifests itself in this novel: acting directly on the characters and their environment. Politics is something the flesh-and-blood, the pulsating heart, knows about by its effects on life.

There’s a mist of mystery surrounding the narrative that contributes a great deal to the thrilling sense of suspense of the book. He are told right from the beginning  about the tragic loss of Sophie Mol, but Arundhati takes her time in unveiling what happened to this English child visiting her cousins and aunts in India.

Sophie and her mother came to India after experiencing trauma in England – the death of Joe – but unaware that they would be further traumatized rather than healed. After all this is India, a country filled with “public turmoils”, where “various kinds of despair competed for primacy”, “poised forever between the terror of war and the horror of peace”, and where “Worse Things kept happening” (20).

I see in The God of Small Things a tragedy set in India, a country where “caste issues are very deep-rooted” (263). People are “conditioned from birth”, says Comrade Pillai, to think and feel in accordance with the caste system – which is, of course, a system of stratification of social classes in which a lot of violent conflict keeps exploding (in his century, the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008 and the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 stand as examples). This Caste Segregation is the political background for a tale of forbidden love, and love loved in spite of laws forbidding it.

Ammu and Valutha are a bit like Romeo and Juliet, daring to love when the social landscape around them deems it a scandal. What an obscenity, to love someone outside of one’s caste! In Arundathi Roy’s novel, two persons from two castes who aren’t supposed to mix end-up choosing the experience of forbidden love, even tough they know this could be their doom.

When Ammu and Velutha join their bodies in the delights of wild love-making, there’s a big fear lurking inside them. There’s an anguished panic poisoning their delightfully forbidden love. This love, in the wildness of its force, tramples underfoot the taboos of caste. They will be punished, for certain, by their transgression. This love is risky business. By daring it, you gamble with your life.

Stanton_R&J CoverIt’s quite similar to what happens in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: the “clash” and conflicts that sets apart Capuletos and Montecchios, as you well remember, is the background for the forbidden love between Romeo and Juliet. They transgress the Laws of Segregation with their Union in Love. Though brief, it’s a symbol of love’s power to demolish frontiers and unite what has been kept severed. Romeo and Juliet refuse the segregation imposed by their families and by the social structure, and dare to love and unite amidst a conflict filled with bloody hate.

I wouldn’t say that The God Of Small Things is inspired by Romeo and Juliet, but rather that Shakespare’s famous play deals with similar dilemmas.

Rahel and Estha, Ammu and Velutha, are characters which transgress the Love Laws, which lay down who should be loved, and how much, and according to what dogmas and rules. “…once again they broke the Love Laws. That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.” (p. 311)

Ammu and Velutha unite in the art of seeing the common, beyond differences, in the boundary-transcending light of a loving eye. They transgress the Love Laws and then they are crushed to an horrendous death. And yet the genius of Arundhati lies not only in the tragic grandeur she can convey in her story-telling, but also in the lush sensuality of her imagery. The sex scenes at the very end of the novel are the greatest example. Love-making description skyrockets to Shapespearean heights in these pages, and the beauty of them resembles the beauty in D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley or in Abdel Kechiche’s film Blue Is The Warmest Color… 

In Arundhati’s Roy, the tragedy of the lovers runs parallel with the children-in-the-boat subplot. An accident happens, the children’s boats hits some obstacle in the waters of the river, and then the fragile vessel throws into the water Rahel, Estha and Sophie.  “Just a quiet handing-over ceremony. A boat spilling its cargo. A river accepting the offering. One small life. A brief sunbeam.” (pg. 277)

Velutha – the Romeo of the forbidden-love saga – now is claimed by another play, another saga: he’s to be a scape-goat, the one to be punished by the death of a child. Velutha, tender lover and hard-working man, an activist of the Marxist Party and a friend of maoists, ends up being beaten to death by the police. Beaten out of existence. To be buried in the Pauper’s Pit.

And then one suddenly awakes to the fact: what impels Arundhati Roy to write is clearly indignation for the horrors and strifes that she describes. She suffers with these crushed lives because of her extraordinary capacity for empathy. An hability to have attentive antennas to listen to the voices of human diversity.

In recent years, amazing works-of-art also reflected upon false accusations and unjust punishments – Ian McEwan’s Atonement and the film The Hunt by Thomas Vinterberg are examples take occur to me. It would certainly be interesting to attempt a comparison of these works with The God of Small Things. My impression is that Arundhati Roy deals with matters of Crime and Punishment with such depth and intelligence as one can find only in the works of great masters such as Franz Kafka or Dostoiévski.

Alive, awake, alert. That’s what some books do for us: they kick-start our mind’s capacities to marvel and wonder. They expand our horizons by unveiling the magnitude (it’s huge) of all that we can’t understand. They enchant us with their language, until we wake up to what what we were previously unaware of. They tell stories that we feel that needed to be told. When he reach the last page, we feel that the book isn’t finished, it will reverberate and echo inside us, perhaps for years.

We close this book and it’s possible we’ll be burdened by a grief similar to the one we feel when a loved-one dies. I surely carry now within me a Velutha-shaped hole in the Universe, a Sophie-shaped hole in Existence. And yet I feel enriched by these new holes, by these tales of transgressive love, by these human kaleidoscope flowing in Time on the Earth Woman’s bosom.

“We belong nowhere”, Chako said. “We sail unanchored on troubled seas. We may never be allowed ashore. Our sorrows will never be sad enough. Our joys never happy enough. Our dreams never big enough. Our lives never important enough. To matter.”

Then, to give the twins Estha and Rahel a sense of Historical Perspective, he told them about the Earth Woman. He made them imagine that the earth – 4600 million years old – was a 46-year-old woman. It had taken the whole of the Earth Woman’s life for the earth to become what it was. For the oceans to part. For the mountains to rise. The Earth Woman was 11 years old, Chacko said, when the first single-celled organisms appeared. The first animals, creatures like worms and jellyfish, appeared only when she was 40. She was over 45 – just 8 months ago – when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

“The whole of human civilization as we know it”, Chacko told the twins, “began only 2 hours ago in the Earth Woman’s life.”

It was an awe-inspiring and humbling thought, Chacko said, that the whole of contemporary history, the World War, the War of Dreams, the Man on the Moon, science, literature, philosophy, the pursuit of knowledge – was no more than a blink of the Earth Woman’s eye.

“And we, my dears, everything we are and ever will be are just a twinkle in her eye…”

The God Of Small Things is a fountain of life: drink it up with might, O you who thirst for Truth, Freedom, Justice, O you all who grieve everyday by witnessing them crushed!

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You might also like:

BBC’s Book Club Interviews Arundhati Roy (Audio Only)

Download Arundhati Roy’s books for free on Library Genesis

“Raízes e Frutos da Rebelião” – Comentários sobre a luta dos Zapatistas mexicanos contra o Capitalismo Neoliberal

CddeMexico

“To kill oblivion with a little memory,
we cover our chests with lead and hope.”

SUBCOMANDANTE MARCOS,
Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN).
In: ‘Our Word is Our Weapon: Selected Writings’,
Foreword: José Saramago (Nobel Prize In Literature)
Published by Seven Stories Press (New York, 2003, Pg. 100.)


PART I – THE BIG-BELLIED BEAST
AGAINST THE GRASS-ROOTS RESISTANCE

 

CHAPTER I – CHIAPAS LOSES BLOOD THROUGH MANY VEINS

“We are a product of 500 years of struggle: first, led by insurgents against slavery during the War of Independence with Spain; then to avoid being absorbed by North American imperialism; then to proclaim our constitution and expel the French empire from our soil; later when the people rebelled against Porfirio Diaz’s dictatorship, which denied us the just application of the reform laws, and leaders like Villa and Zapata emerged…” – First Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, January 2, 1994

EZLNIn the mountains and jungles of the Mexican southeast, an insurrection explodes in January 1st, 1994. Several municipalities in the province of Chiapas are taken over by the armed rebels that call themselves Zapatistas, followers of the legacy of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata (1879-1919).

Led by the campesinos and the indigenous populations of Chiapas, this neo-zapatist movement blossoms into the spotlight of the world’s arena in exactly the same day of the implementation of NAFTA, the Free Trade Agreement of the North American countries.

From day one, it was made quite clear by the rebels that one of the objectives of EZLN’s uprising was to be an obstacle to the implementation of Free Trade policies in Mexico. The economical set-up of Neoliberalism (based on privatization, free competition, consumerism etc.), argues the Zapatistas, is nothing but an authoritarian imposition of rules made-up by “the world of money”:

“The world of money, their world, governs from the stock exchanges. Today, speculation is the principal source of enrichment, and at the same time the best demonstration of the atrophy of our capacity to work. Work is no longer necessary in order to produce wealth; now all that is needed is speculation. Crimes and wars are carried out so that the global stock exchanges may be pillaged by one or the other. Meanwhile, millions of women, millions of youths, millions of indegenous, millions of homosexuals, millions of human beings of all races and colors, participate in the financial markets only as a devalued currency, always worth less and less, the currency of their blood turning a profit. The globalization of markets erases borders for speculation and crime and multiplies borders for human beings. Countries are obliged to erase their national border for money too circulate, but to multiply their internal borders.” – (Marcos, Unveiling Mexico, p. 117)

Wall Street and Washington join hands and try to persuade Mexicans that “Free Trade” will be a marvel for Mexico, but Mexicans have every reason to be suspicious of their neighbor who stole from it a big slice of territory in bygone years. Today, at the frontier that separates the countries, the yankees have built up a huge Wall of Segregation, and soldiers with license to kill can deal with illegal immigrants in very unbrotherly ways.  The same country responsible for La Migra (and Guantánamo Bay, and Abu Ghraib detention facility…) preaches the Free Trade gospel as if it was salvation.

The men and women who have arisen to speak out their discontent in Chiapas are yet to be fully heard by the world-at-large. Artists and writers have helped spread their voices, from Manu Chao and Rage Against the Machine, to José Saramago and Eduardo Galeano. 20 years later, the Zapatistas are still struggling against the powers that want to crush human dignity in the bloody altars of profit. And if the Zapatistas’ scream has the potentiality to be heard and comprehended all around the world, it’s because they accuse the established capitalist system of committing crimes that are visible worldwide, in many different countries: ecological devastation; ethnical genocide of indigenous populations and destruction of their cultures; concentration of capital in the hands of a few multinational corporations etc.

Zapatismo has been called the first revolutionary movement of the Internet-era, the avant-garde guerrilla that’s pioneering the ways to be followed by the guerrillas of tomorrow. But reactionary political powers have been violently trying to silence their voices – and the “money world”, also referred to by Marcos as “The Beast”, doesn’t refrain from methods such as military agression, police repression,  institutionalized murder, and para-military militias. All in order to maintain the Order imposed by The World of Money and to bury the voices of these “indians”, covered in masks and carrying guns, that insist in demanding social justice, autonomy and real democracy.

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Marcos describes Chiapas’s tragedies very vividly in his poetry-filled words: “This land continues to pay tribute to the imperialists”, writes the insurgent Zapatista, “and there’s a thousand teeth sunk into the throat of the Mexican Southeast” (Unveiling Mexico, 1992, pg. 22-23). Would the indigenous populations of southeast Mexico have risen in rebellion if the suffering they endured hadn’t become unbearable?

“In times past, wood, fruits, animals, and men went to the metropolis through the veins of exploitation, just as they do today. Like the banana republics, but at the peak of neoliberalism and ‘libertarian revolutions’, the Southeast of Mexico continues to export raw materials, just as it did 500 years ago. It continues to import capitalism’s principal product: death and misery.

The health conditions of the people of Chiapas are a clear example of the capitalist imprint: 1.5 million people have no medical services at their disposal. There are 0,2 clinics for every 1.000 inhabitants, 1/5 of the national average. There are 0,3 hospital beds for every 1.000 Chiapanecos, 1/3 the amount in the rest of Mexico… Health and nutrition go hand in hand with poverty. 54% of the population of Chiapas suffers from malnutrition, and in the highlands and forest this percentage increases to 80%…. This is what capitalism leaves as payment for everything that it takes away. (…) Chiapa’s experience of exploitation goes back for centuries. ” – Sub Marcos, Unveiling Mexico

In Subcomandante Marcos’ political tought, which seems to be deeply rooted in an understanding of Latin America’s reality similar to Eduardo Galeano’s, Imperialism is the name of the beast which has it’s thousands of teeths sunk into Chiapas neck – and so many numberless others places on this Earth where 85 flesh-and-blood earthlings retain the same amount of wealth as half of the world’s population (according to Oxfam). Welcome to the established economical and political orden in 3rd planet from the Sun, a place of extreme inequality in which the criminal status quo is defended by armies and warmongers, for the profit of speculators, gangsters and banksters.

“A handful of businesses – one of which is the Mexican state – take all the wealth out of Chiapas and in exchange leave behind their mortal and pestilent mark..(…) Pemex has 86 teeth sunk into the townships of Estación Juárez, Reforma, Ostuacán, Pichucalco, and Ocosingo. Every day they suck out 92.000 barrels of oil and 517.000.000.000 cubic feet of gas. They take away the petroleum”, states Marcos, “and in exchange leave behind the mark of capitalism: ecological destruction, agricultural plunder, hyperinflation, alcoholism, prostitution, and poverty.”

It’s easy to delineate the image of the Enemy in the Zapatistas’ hearts: the face of the big-bellied beast of Greed. Imperialism is dirty business, greediness in action, devastating egotism that turns nations into vampires that suck the life-blood of others. Besides the petroleum that gets sucked out of Chiapas by greedy oil companies, another similar process affects the production of coffee: 35% of Mexico’s coffee is produced in Chiapas, but more than 50% of Chiapas’ coffee production is exported. The campesinos that work in the fields to produce it have terribly inadequate life-conditions of nourishment, health, education etc. The true producers are dying of hunger and disease while foreign powers ride on golden streets of robbed privilege.

The list can be enriched with many other “commodities” that are sucked-out of Chiapas to feed, elsewhere, the belly of the beast. There are 3.000.000 animals waiting to be slaughtered for beef in Chiapas: “the cattle are sold for 400 pesos per kilo by the poor farmers and resold by the middlemen and businessmen for up to 10 times the price they paid for them.” (Unveiling Mexico, p. 23) Chiapas’ forests are also among the culinary preferences of the greedy hungry beast: whole woods are cut down by capitalism’s chainsaws, and this precious wood is then shipped out of Chiapas to be sold elsewhere for huge profits. Similar histories could be told about honey, corn or hydrelectric energy – goods that Chiapas produces in large quantities, but get eaten away by this beastly creature which Marcos denounces and summons to answer: “what does the beast leave behind in exchange for all it takes away?” (pg. 24)

zapatismos

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CHAPTER II – THE TIME TO HARVEST REBELLION INSTEAD OF DEATH

John Lennon asked us in his era-defining song to “imagine a brotherhood of man”, but Chiapas isn’t the place to look for it. It ain’t brotherly treatment to exploit, repress and steal fellow humans – and that’s what businessmen and fancy capitalists have been doing against the Chiapanecos. “1.000.000 indigenous people live in these lands and share a disorienting nightmare with mestizos and ladinos: their only option, 500 years after the “Meeting of Two Worlds”, is to die of poverty or repression.” (Marcos: p. 26)

There are 300.000 Tzotziles, 120.000 Choles, 90.000 Zoques, and 70.000 Tojoales, among other indigenous populations, that inhabit the land of the poorest state in Mexico. Chiapas could be rich, but it’s wealth is sucked away and taken abroad, to bank accounts of greedy capitalists, and if you join the Zapatista up-rising against this reality you might end up killed by the repression. How many people has the Mexican Army killed in order to silence the voices that question the undoubtable goodness of the so-called “Free Market”? I leave the question unanswered, for now, and move on, from exploitation to rebellion.

At the dawn of the New Year, in January 1st 1994, the Zapatista National Liberation Army descended from the Lacandon Jungle to take over the power in several cities of Chiapas, including San Cristobal de Las Casas and Ocosingo. They believed to be “professionals of hope”, “transgressors of injustice”, “History’s dispossessed”, finally raising their voices to demand liberty, justice, democracy, dignity. This is the moment when they became visible, when they stepped out of the shadows, when they shouted for the whole World to hear.

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January 1st, 1994: EZLN takes power over San Cristobal de las Casas. Photo by Antonio Turok.

“Death does not hurt; what hurts is to be forgotten. We discovered then that we longer existed, that those who govern had forgotten about us in their euphoria of statistics and growth rates. A country that forgets itself is a sad country. A country that forgets its past cannot have a future. And so we took up arms and went into the cities, where we were considered animals. We went and told the powerful: “We are here!” And to the whole country we shouted: “We are here!” And to all the world we yelled, “We are here!”…”

This movement is deeply rooted in History: far from being immediatist and pragmatic, the Zapatista movement demands respect for the rights of human populations who descend from the occupants of this land prior to the European’s invasion. This scream of rebellion raises from an ocean of blood: the genocide of the Indians and the destruction of their civilizations is still an open wound in the Zapatistas hearts, and they won’t allow the world to forget these past misdeeds. In January 1994, Subcomandante Insurgent Marcos reminded us than in Mexico

“during these past ten years (1984-1994), more than 150.000 indigenous have died of curable diseases. The federal, state, and municipal governments and their economic and social programs do not take into account any real solution to our problems; they limit themselves to giving us charity every time elections roll around. Charity resolves nothing but for the moment, and again death visits our homes. That is why we think no, no more; enough dying this useless death; it is better to fight for change. If we die now, it will not be with shame but with dignity, like our ancestors. We are ready to die, 150.000 more if necessary, so that our people awaken from this dream of deceit that holds us hostage.” (pg. 17)

Seen from the capitalists’ perspective, there’s a dispensable strata of the population labeled as “Indians” (so called because Columbus thought, more than 500 years ago, that the land where he had arrived was India…). “Check out the text of the Free Trade Agreement, and you will find that, for this government, the indigenous do not exist.” (p. 66) Social inequality and marginalized people go hand in hand in Mexico: “on a national level there are 2,403 municipalities. Of these, 1.153 have a level of marginalization considered high or very high. States with high indigenous population have the majority of their municipalities with high and very high levels of marginalization: 94 out of 111 in Chiapas; 59 out of 75 in Guerrero; 431 of 570 in Oaxaca…” (p. 67)

 For 10 years the Zapatista uprising had been fermenting in the woods, since 1984, and at the beginning of 1994 time had arrived for their voice to be heard, not only in Mexico, but throughout the world, amplified by the Internet, sending its shout throughout the Global Village.  One of the easiest ways to understand the emergence of Neo-Zapatism is to look at the consequences of the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) agreement becoming active: free market had kicked out the barriers and products from abroad were about to flood into Mexico, like a tsunami, drowning out Mexican campesinos with the devastating power of a Dust Bowl Storm. The Zapatistas knew very well that NAFTA would certainly enrich some big corporations, mainly american and canadian, but would wreck the equilibrium of the local economies – especially in southeast Mexico. NAFTA was inforced with “dictatorial” fashion: it’s a fact that neither civil society nor the indigenous populations of Mexico were consulted on the matter, even tough they would be tremendously affected by the transformations in the National Constitution.

 “The preparations for NAFTA included cancellation of Article 27 of Mexico’s constitution, the cornerstone of Emiliano Zapata‘s revolution of 1910–1919. Under the historic Article 27, Indian communal landholdings were protected from sale or privatization. However, this barrier to investment was incompatible with NAFTA. With the removal of Article 27, Indian farmers feared the loss of their remaining lands, and also feared cheap imports (substitutes) from the US. Thus, the Zapatistas labeled NAFTA as a “death sentence” to Indian communities all over Mexico. Then EZLNdeclared war on the Mexican state on January 1, 1994, the day NAFTA came into force.” – Wikipédia

According to Marcos, NAFTA “only means freedom for the powerful to rob, and freedom for the dispossessed to live in misery.” (p. 73) We’ve heard this real-life story many times: everytime a Wal-Mart opens in a city, lots of smaller stores go bankrupt because they can’t compete with Wal-Mart’s prices. That’s why it’s possible to considerer EZLN as a movement demanding national sovereignty; from the Zapatistas perspective – which arises from the experience of thousands of Mexicans – what is called “neoliberalism” is just a fancy name for imperialist capitalism, for foreign domination, for the sad reality known for centuries in Latin America of wealth being robbed from a country and getting transformed in capital that enriches some big-shot abroad.

In Ana Carrigan’s excellent article “Chiapas: The First Postmodern Revolution”, she reminds us that years before NAFTA forced itself into North America there was already a lot of rebellion by campesinos in Mexico: in April 10, 1992, for example, 4.000 indigenous campesinos marched to the country’s capital and read a letter adressed to President Carlos Salinas, in which “they accuse him of having brought all gains of the agrarian reform made under Zapata to an end, of selling the country with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and of bringing Mexico back to the times of Porfirio Díaz.” (pg. 36)

tumblr_mpx6g1cDs31sz9br6o1_500

“You are in Zapatista territory: here the People rules and the Government obeys.”

“The Zapatistas made their first, spectacular public appearance in San Cristobal de Las Casas. On October 12, 1992, amid demonstrations marking ‘The Year of The Indian, 500 Years of Resistance’, 4.000 young men and women armed with bows and arrows suddenly appeared out of the crowd. Marching in military formation, they advanced to the central plaza where they attacked the monument to the founder of San Cristobal, the 16th century Spanish encomendador, Diego de Mazariegos. As the symbol of 500 years of opression crashed from its pedestal, the Indians hacked it to pieces and pocketed the fragments before disappearing. In the annals of indigenous resistance, the toppling of Mazariego’s statue had a symbolic resonance equivalent to the destruction of the Berlin Walls.” (ANA CARRIGAN)

The communities in Chiapas who have embraced the EZLN program were bound to clash with Mexican establishment. The powers that be, unbrotherly as usual, sent Army soldiers in great numbers in a bloody attempt to silence the rebels. As Juana Ponce de León states,

“for the government, the issue is simple. There are vast oil reserves, exotic wood, and uranium on the autonomous indigenous lands of Chiapas; the Mexican government wants them, but the indigenous communities, who have no currency in the world’s markets, are in the way. While projecting through the national and international press an image of concern for the human rights issues and the intention to resolve them, the government orchestrates the privatization of the Mayan lands and a low-intensity war to weaken and divide the communities.” (Traveling Back for Tomorrow, XXV).

Eduardo Carli de Moraes

A graffiti at City Lights Books, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s bookstore in San Francisco

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Galeano and Jean Ziegler discussing “The World’s Criminal Order”
(In Spanish, Portuguese subs)

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To be continued…

“Esta pirâmide absurda e invertida que é a América Latina…” – Uma jornada com o Subcomandante Marcos (EZLN)

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CHAPTER III – THE CLASH BETWEEN OBLIVION AND MEMORY

“…there once was a man named Zapata who rose up with his people and sang out: ‘Land and Freedom!’ The campesinos say that Zapata didn’t die, that he must return… They say that hope is also planted and harvested. They also say that the wind and the rain and the sun are now saying something different: that with so much poverty, the time has come to harvest rebellion instead of death.” – Sub Marcos, Our Word is Our Weapon: Selected Writings, pg. 33, Seven Stories Press. All following quotes are from this source.

ezln 1 (1)The Zapatistas know their task is Herculean: the Mexican federal Army, certainly backed-up by Washington and Wall Street, greatly outnumbers the army of the Zapatista rebels. The power of destruction of the Establish Capitalist Powers is crushing: they own the police and the prisons, and they pay the soldiers and militias to persecute the Mexicans who join EZLN. The defeat of this insurrectional movement is something that has been aimed at by established powers for the last 20 years – according to Marcos, the enemy would like to see “democracy washed with the detergent of imports and water from antidemonstration cannons.” (pg. 54)

In 1994 Mexico’s president Carlos Salinas de Gortari is considered by EZLN as “the sales manager of a gigantic business: Mexico, Inc.” (pg. 63) Free Trade, for the Zapatistas, is nothing but capitalism’s “law of the jungle”, and it generates a couple of millionaires while throwing millions into hunger, sickness and death. To use Occuppy Movement’s imagery, the top of the social pyramid, the richest 1% of the country, don’t give a fig about defending the rights of the Mexican people as a whole (the 99%): “the only country mentioned with sincerity on that increasingly narrow top floor is the country called money.” (pg. 63)  “On every street corner misery knocks on the windows of the car.” (pg. 64)

Even tough they see peace and social justice as an ideal to accomplish, the Zapatistas feel they would remain powerless if they were Gandhian pacifists. Thus they take arms, just like the guerrillas led by Fidel and Che in Sierra Maestra in late 1950’s Cuba. EZLN, as the name itself sufficiently states, is an armed rebellion and doesn’t comply with what Marcos called, in Aguascalientes, august 1994, “pacifist complicity with injustice” (p. 56) and “fraudulent unconditional pacifism” (p. 58)

EZLN is quite aware that military victory is rather unlikely against such a powerful army as that of Mexico’s established powers, backed-up by Washington and Wall Street. So Marcos tends to underline the symbolical importance of the Zapatista’s up-rising, its capacity to inspire similar movements throughout Latin America. The 4th Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, January 1996, states: “Brothers and sisters of other races and languages, of other colors, but with the same heart, now protect our light, and in it they drink of the same fire.” (p. 87)

“To confront an army superior to ours in weapons and personnel, although not in morality, nullifies the possibilities of sucess. But to surrender has been expressly forbidden; any Zapatista leaders who opt to surrender will be decommissioned. No matter the outcome of this war, sooner or later this sacrifice – which today appears useless and sterile to many – will be compensated by the lightning that will illuminate other lands. For sure, the light will reach deep into the South, shimmer in the Mar de Plata, in the Andes, in Paraguay, and the entirety of this inverted and absurd pyramid that is Latin America…” (74)

The future of Latin America lies not only in its ability to build international solidarity, planting the seeds of a future of social justice and true democracy, but also in its struggle against oblivion. The Zapatistas claim that memory has been progressively wipe-out by the forces of a capitalist production, distribution and consumption system that runs on shallow foresight and narrow hindsight. In other worlds: the system wants us to buy like crazy, and think only of immediate enjoyment of products sold in the markets, thus imposing to our minds oblivion of future and past generations. This is one of the most important ideas to understand if we want to grasp what these more than 20 years of the Neo Zapatista movement in Mexico means:

“On the side of oblivion are the multiple forces of the market. On the side of memory is history.” This thesis of the markets’ attempted murder against memory is illustrated by the treatment conferred upon indigenous populations by capitalists and their accomplices among politicians. The Zapatistas are saying: the past is not to be forgotten, consumed down to ash, thrown in the garbage can, in order for us to “enjoy” the here-and-now of mass society, mass production, mass consumption, and mass ecological catastrophes. The Zapatistas see the past as “a guide to be learned from and upon which to grow”. The problem is:

“the past doesn’t exist for technocrats, under whose rule our nation suffers. The future can be nothing more than a lengthening of the present for these professional amnesiacs. (…) What better example of this phobia of history is there than the attitude of the Mexican government toward the indigenous peoples? Are not the indigenous demands a worrisome stain on history, dimming the splendor of globalization? Is not the very existence of indigenous people an affront to the global dictatorship of the market?” (MARCOS, pg. 147)

The sad thing is: instead of learning from the past in order to build a better future, the authorities in charge of markets and governments complicit to them are basically waging war against those who are labeled by the repression forces and portrayed by the plutocratic media as “The Terrorists”. The inner enemy. The war against the Zapatistas waged by the Mexican Federal Army, with the aid of the Yankees, is simply an attempt to silence by massmurder those who are demanding freedom, dignity, and social justice. In March, 1995, EZLN writes “to the people of Mexico and to the peoples of the world”:

“Our voice was silenced all at once by the noise of the machines of war. Terror was unleashed again in the Mexican lands by the one who, from arrogance and power, looks at us with contempt, denies our name, and gives us death in answer to our thought. (…) With the complicity of big money and a foreign vacation, he wanted to force us with bayonets to deny our history. (…) For that reason, our past went to the mountains. We went into the caves of those who came before us. Death cornered us… Death came to wield its knife-edged oblivion. It came to kill memory. Again, our hand filled with the fire to avenge our own pain, again being animals eating dirt, dying persecuted and forgotten.” (pg. 81)

The name Zapatistas then gains the meaning of a very powerful symbolical weapon: a “collective name”, that any individual can claim for himself, and by adhering to it he goes away from the forgetfullness that his individual self lies buried in.  A campesino who haves always felt as nobody, as one of the many who History will forget, now can call himself a Zapatista and thus believe he’s part of a collective entity that won’t be so easily brushed away to oblivion. Every zapatista will die, but zapatismo will live, beyond the duration of individual lives. When an individual leaps from being an unrelated isolated atom and joins his forces with the supra-individual movement, it’s as if his heart has been connected to a vaster entity and now pulsates with a collective heart.

 “No longer are we the unmentionables. We the forgotten have a name. (…) Having now a collective name, we discovered that death shrinks and becomes small before us. The worst death, that of oblivion, flees so that the memory of our dead will never be buried together with their bones.(…) “They, our ancestors, taught us to be proud of the color of our skin, of our language, of our culture. More than 500 years of exploitation and persecution have not been able to exterminate us. (…) If they destroy us, the entire country will plummet and begin to wander without direction or roots… Mexico would negate its tomorrow by denying its yesterday.” (October 12, 1995, pg. 82-83)

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Read chapters 1 and 2

TO BE CONTINUED…

Copyleft material. Re-share and re-blog as much as you wish,
but please acknowledge Eduardo Carli de Moraes @ Awestruck Wanderer.