[WSMDiscuss] 'We must listen to Black Lives Matter in the way we listen to the Arab Spring, to Hong Kong, and to protesters in Russia' (Bessma Momani)

Jai Sen jai.sen at cacim.net
Mon Jun 8 19:06:57 CEST 2020

Monday, June 8, 2020

Viruses in movement…, Resistance in movement…, The US in movement…, The world in movement…, International solidarity in movement…

[The US is aflame, the people of the US are afire… and although taking her own position, the author of this article in a way also asks an interesting question about the present situation : How and why is that governments in other countries (with democratic pretensions) are not responding to the current developments in the US – the structural violence of endemic racism in the US, the violence unleashed by the US state, the violent behaviour of its president, and especially the voices of the Black Lives Matter movement - in the same way that they have responded to other similar situations and movements in other parts of the world, in the recent past ?  In West Asia / the Middle East, in Hong Kong, in Russia – among other places ?  Which is true; there is indeed a deafening silence – from governments, and also from the UN.  (As a professor of International Relations, she almost reflexively talks only about and to governments, and not about society at large.)

[She poses this question, takes her position, and – I think implicitly - leaves us to think about this.  Let me try and venture some possible explanations.  Is the silence some kind of mirroring of the famed ‘American exceptionalism’ ?  Is it because other governments are – still, and even as the US is unravelling before our eyes - fearful of how the US (government) may react to comment and criticism ?  Or are they silent, perhaps, because - after all is said and done - this movement in the US is only about the rights of Black people, and is also led by them – and therefore the ‘situation’ and the repression don’t quite merit comment, let alone condemnation ?  Just as is the case of Dalits in India and the structural violence they too face, day in and day out, and in relation to which very few other governments bother to speak up ?  (And where deep down, the governments are perhaps even fearful of consequences for them from their own populations, if they were to take positions in these cases ?)  Just a thought…  Read on :

We must listen to Black Lives Matter in the way we listen to the Arab Spring, to Hong Kong, and to protesters in Russia

Bessma Momani

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-we-must-listen-to-black-lives-matter-in-the-way-we-listened-to-the/ <https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-we-must-listen-to-black-lives-matter-in-the-way-we-listened-to-the/>

Bessma Momani is a professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, and a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation there.

As a scholar of international affairs, it is not hard to see the parallels between the United States of America under President Donald Trump, and recent global protests calling for justice, human rights and dignity. The protests across the U.S. are akin to demonstrations we’ve witnessed in the Middle East, Hong Kong and Russia, to name only a few. If we listen to the words of  racial-disparity protesters in North America, we can see that Black Lives Matter deserves our ear and empathy.

When George Floyd, a Black American man, was pinned down by Minneapolis police and muttered, “I can’t breathe," it echoed the experience of so many Black Americans, who have witnessed their people, society and communities endure endemic poverty, systemic racism and police brutality. Much like the slogan <https://cadmus.eui.eu/handle/1814/26187> of the Arab Spring – “bread, freedom, dignity” – “I can’t breathe” has the same sense of despair. Twenty-eight per cent of Black American children live in poverty <https://www.aecf.org/resources/children-living-in-high-poverty-low-opportunity-neighborhoods/>, compared with only 4 per cent of white American children. Historically, the median household income for Black Americans is nearly half <https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/visualizations/2018/demo/p60-263/figure1.pdf> that of their white counterparts, and they are incarcerated five times <https://www.naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet/> more than white Americans. In the age of COVID-19, it’s estimated that Black Americans account for nearly a quarter <https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid_weekly/index.htm> of coronavirus deaths, despite representing 13 per cent of the American population.

Images and videos of protesters burning a Minneapolis police precinct, spraying graffiti on Washington landmarks and gathering at the Trump Tower in New York, were reminiscent of Hong Kong protesters who last summer threw bricks at police vans, stormed the city’s legislature and entered the inner chamber, defacing government symbols in the process. Like millions of Black Americans fed up with police brutality, Hong Kong youth have protested in the streets to stop China from targeting their young activists and stifling their right to dignity.

As the U.S. National Guard was deployed onto the streets of dozens of cities with military-grade weapons and assault vehicles, Mr. Trump tweeted <https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1266711221191020544> that if any protesters coming to the White House had breached its fence, they would have been greeted with “the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen."

Hong Kong police have implicitly authorized officers to use any level of force they deem justified. It’s an open call for violence without impunity. The Chinese government-backed police have also deployed military-grade weaponry, including tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds. While the Chinese army has until now stayed tucked in their garrisons on the outskirts of the island city, commanders recently warned they could send 10,000 troops to the city <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/26/chinas-military-says-it-is-prepared-to-protect-security-in-hong-kong-as-protests-grow> to impose new national-security measures.

When Mr. Trump took to Twitter to react to the protesters’ burning of the Minneapolis police precinct with the racially charged phrase <https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1266231100780744704>, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” it was akin to president Moammar Gadhafi’s infamous “zenga” speech in 2011 <https://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/28/world/middleeast/28youtube.html>, when he promised to cleanse the streets of Libya “home by home, alleyway by alleyway,” targeting Benghazi protesters demanding freedom and justice. A few weeks after Mr. Gadhafi’s speech, the UN Security Council passed a resolution <https://www.un.org/press/en/2011/ga11050.doc.htm> to prevent the mass killing of Libyan protesters. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization began enforcing its “Responsibility to Protect” principle <https://www.nato.int/docu/review/articles/2002/12/01/the-responsibility-to-protect/index.html>, to prevent Libyan security forces from committing crimes against humanity. Mr. Trump’s tweet received an unprecedented warning label from Twitter for glorifying violence.

When thousands of Russian protesters took to the streets of Moscow last summer to protest excessive police tactics and the detainment of prominent critics of the state, authorities arrested hundreds of people, including several journalists. In reaction, the European Union condemned Russia’s mass detention and use of force against protesters and reporters. After just a few days of racial-discrimination protests in the U.S., there have been several instances of police shooting at, pepper spraying or arresting American journalists across the country. There has been no global condemnation from democratic leaders, just ironic commentary from the despotic corners of Iran and China.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard." If we listened to the voices of protesters during the Middle East’s Arab Spring, Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement and Russia’s Moscow protests, but refuse to listen to Black Lives Matter, then we need to rethink what it means to live in a democracy.


Jai Sen

Independent researcher, editor; Senior Fellow at the School of International Development and Globalisation Studies at the University of Ottawa

jai.sen at cacim.net <mailto:jai.sen at cacim.net>
Now based in New Delhi, India (+91-98189 11325) and in Ottawa, Canada, on unceded and unsurrendered Anishinaabe territory (+1-613-282 2900) 

CURRENT / RECENT publications :

Jai Sen, ed, 2018a – The Movements of Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance. Ebook and hard copy available at PM Press <http://www.pmpress.org/>
Jai Sen, ed, 2018b – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ? (Indian edition). New Delhi : AuthorsUpfront, in collaboration with OpenWord and PM Press.  Hard copy available at MOM1AmazonIN <https://www.amazon.in/dp/9387280101/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1522884070&sr=8-2&keywords=movements+of+movements+jai+sen>, MOM1Flipkart <https://www.flipkart.com/the-movements-of-movements/p/itmf3zg7h79ecpgj?pid=9789387280106&lid=LSTBOK9789387280106NBA1CH&marketplace=FLIPKART&srno=s_1_1&otracker=search&fm=SEARCH&iid=ff35b702-e6a8-4423-b014-16c84f6f0092.9789387280106.SEARCH&ppt=Search%20Page>, and MOM1AUpFront <http://www.authorsupfront.com/movements.htm>
Jai Sen, ed, 2017 – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?.  New Delhi : OpenWord and Oakland, CA : PM Press.  Ebook and hard copy available at PM Press <http://www.pmpress.org/>
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