Monday, September 07, 2015

Einmal ist Keinmal

There's no denying that there is a high that comes from the street. It's a natural high, unlike what the pee-sniffing authorities would like you to believe. But there is also a tendency to romanticize street protests and to give the illusion that people spontaneously mobilize in a response to a stimulus. While the garbage pile up in the city is both visually and olfactory stimulating, street protests are organized events with multiple mobilizing groups. As the Beirut protests continue, the make up and size of the groups behind the mobilization are becoming clearer. 

The leftist groups on the ground make up a good chunk of the mobilization and they are probably the majority if you count in the entire spectrum of left from Trotskyites to the Saudi-loyal "Left." Many of the leftist "coordinators" (apparently leader has a become a taboo word) claim to be aware that many of the other main groups on the ground and the ones being pushed to "coordinate above the rest" by establishment mass media are not going to deliver the change that is sought by them. But their argument is that word is now to the street and you have to be on the street to steer the mobilization your way. Incorruptible figures like Hanna Ghareeb and Charbel Nahas are invoked as insurance against the movement being taken in the "wrong" direction of globalized neoliberalism–or "depoliticization"–that promotes self-interest and individualism. It's not an Ego problem with some of the organizers; it's a political one. 

That's not to mention the possibility of whole movement being co-opted by the ruling feudal oligarchy, which remains the most likely outcome. Yes they are corrupt, but they have offered the people something to gain their loyalties. They are people and not sheep as many in the protests keep referring to them, and the fact that the feudal and sectarian party is more appealing to them than the alternatives is a more of a condemnation of their foes than it is of them. 

The continued failure to erode the sectarian divisions by leftist secular forces is because their activity over the past couple of decades has been largely limited to attempts at seizing opportunities created by circumstances. The abysmal performance of the ruling parties–like in today's garbage crisis–is an example of such an opportunity. Rarely, if ever, is this opportunity of their own making though, and there is always a sense of now-or-never-opportunism. The famous German saying "Einmal ist Keinmal" basically means that if something happens only once then it might as well not happen at all. Jumping on an opportunity created by your foes might lead to accidental gains, but only when you're making these opportunities you are in control and you can celebrate accumulated gains. Revolution is not a shout, it's a way of life.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Weekend Activism

Tropical storms and hurricanes are given names for easier tracking. The names also serve an accounting purpose as insurance companies treat named storms differently. They have higher deductibles as some can be very costly in this line of business. A lot of money exchanges hands at hurricane wind speeds during natural disasters, which means the accounting audits are "temporarily" overlooked and we end up with instances where half a billion dollars slated for Haiti earthquake relief end up building 6 flimsy houses. In the case of hurricanes, names are recycled every so many years. In some cases where the storm's damage crosses a certain threshold the name is retired. The same name technique is used in other fields where financial auditing may be needed.

Some NGO projects may in themselves be more damaging than many a natural disaster. Now if we want to rate NGO storms on the same scale that tropical storms are rated on (the Saffir-Simpson scale), then what has hit Lebanon in the last couple of decades is definitely a Category 5 hurricane.  Recent years have seen a rise in NGO named campaigns. Blame El NiƱo. Also the convenience of the hashtag makes the campaign names easily trackable. The CVs of NGO campaigners applying for funding include such hashtags to boost their donation worthy credentials. Trainings provided by civil society advocates teach a step-by-step guide on how to act in the case of a "cause." The 2015 summer garbage crisis was gold for seasoned scavengers… It's a textbook case for an opportunistic cause.

Today's international-funder-preferred activists are against the ideological -isms. But this form of activism is the worst of the -isms. They fulfill their -ism solely by being active. Maintaining a status quo works in favor of those with accumulated experiences and techniques on how to be apolitically active. You can recycle a campaign every so often as is. Shockingly, the non-results are always the same too. Tracking the success of campaigns is essential to accumulate experience and gains with political aims. Any half-serious political movement cannot overlook that. However, "politics are bad" and "all politicians are equally shit" are repeated by the depoliticized NGO activists. Empty slogans of unity are invoked. The cycle has been repeated many times over the past decade and it always ends with no gains; except if you measure gains by the NGO grants to some individuals. Some old campaign names are retired because they cross a certain threshold of notoriety (see the campaign against sectarianism of the Spring 2011 collection). But it's 2015, and NGO-bred depoliticization has more of a foothold today and thus the stakes are much lower. Visibility is always prioritized in NGO-friendly movements because they need to be tracked and audited. In these depoliticized campaigns, street protest becomes a goal rather than a means to achieve a goal. Despite the demands being minimal, today's movement like all previous hashtaggable ones will fail at achieving anything substantial. They will create real disillusion for a new generation of enthusiastic youth, and this is likely by design.

This is not to advocate inaction, but inaction is always better than action that is doomed to fail. Political action is a must, but serious political action tends to be invisible...except when necessary. Results should be more visible than activity: Resultivism over Activism. It should be more earthquake than a stinky wind.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Good riddance to his excellence

There’s nothing wrong for someone in a position of authority to be humble. As rare as that might sound, there are actually numerous examples of humility in power. However, there is a not so fine line between genuinely humble and outright hypocrite. Tom Fletcher, who goes by the title of her majesty’s ambassador, is unmistakably the latter. This diplomat was deployed to Beirut in 2011. His predecessor, Frances Guy, might have been genuinely humble… or at least as genuinely humble as a representative of a Crown may be. Genuineness actually may have ended her career, but more on that later.

In all fairness to humble Tom, the word humble is being redefined by generation selfie. A “look at me” era is upon us, and the empire and its Ambassadors have to adapt. The new crop of the Queen’s servants is all equipped with the look-at-me plugin. Look at her majesty’s ambassador in Cairo for example. Beirut might get him next, or any of his douchey clown clones. Basically, someone at the Foreign Office in London decided the new faces of the ever-shrinking empire have to sound like an insecure teenager. Tom Fletcher excelled at doing just that; tweeting his way to a like-minded audience and keeping it simple and dumb. But adolescent hormones play with your ego and sometimes push you to pop out of your twitter bubble exposing your ignorance and hypocrisy. Tweeting your love for hummus is one thing, but making political statements is another.

In an inane video exchange with satirist Karl Sharro, Fletcher quipped that her majesty’s constables would pick up Sharro. Fletcher of course was bragging that his country is superior when it comes to freedom of expression and that shit countries like Lebanon should follow their example. Oh how we'd love to be like thee…   

Of course, Fletcher chose to conveniently ignore that her majesty’s constables are constantly silencing journalists. While Fletcher was yapping in Beirut, UK authorities raided the offices of the Guardian and shredded hard drives. Heathrow authorities used anti-terrorism excuses to hold David Miranda. Oh, and do you remember Fletcher’s predecessor? She was silenced by her majesty’s censors when she expressed genuine human sentiment after a man she met while doing her job died. Frances Guy is no longer an Ambassador by the way.

Also, her majesty’s constable have had a street in London under siege as part of their war on WikiLeaks. Speaking of WikiLeaks, Look-at-me Fletcher seems to have wanted to be noticed from a young age. Look at young Tom passing petty information to the US embassy in Paris. But hey, petty informers grow up and become big...ambassadors.

Well, he wanted to be naked.

What else did Tom Fletcher preach about?

In one publicity stunt he wanted to show the natives how not to be racist. He did so by “trading places” in front of TV cameras with Ethiopian Kalkiden, or is it Kalkedan, or is it Kalkidan. She has no last name. I’m sure if she applied for a visa to visit her majesty’s kingdom her misspelled first name would suffice.

Fletcher cares about the borders his openly colonialist predecessors drew. The closeted colonialist loves Scotland, but loves Lebanese consumption a lot more. At the end of the day he’s a servant of an empire of monarchs and oligarchs.

Tom Fletcher, your empire is a relic. Its decaying components should replace the looted artifacts that sit as trophies in London museums. From Palestine to Egypt, Iraq, Syria and beyond. Stop loving us so much. You snooty colonizers have brought the world nothing but blood and pain.  

Your silly protocol states that you bow to your masters with class.

Well, with all the crass of a commoner I say:

Fuck their Majesty!