Another day, another anonymous online manifesto, this one from cyber-activists in Gaza. Called by UK’s The Guardian an incendiary document written with courage and furious energy The Gaza Youth’s Manifesto for Change has incited supposed thousands around the world (when I checked, the much gossiped about Facebook page had accumulated 5,815 ‘Likes’) and, more notably, an increasing number of journalists (whatever that dubious word means at this point) eagerly jockeying for Google positioning.
There should be no doubt that the document, as The Guardian said, took courage to pen, or that it’s furious; for instance, it begins: Fuck Hamas. Fuck Israel. Fuck Fatah. Fuck UN. Fuck UNWRA. Fuck USA! We, the youth in Gaza, are so fed up with Israel, Hamas, the occupation, the violations of human rights and the indifference of the international community!” Certainly these kids aren’t making many friends, and men (along with women probably more often) have been murdered, disappeared, or killed for thinking far less. But, I suggest, there is real cause for concern upon reading the document further and analyzing the implications of its apparently arousing rhetoric.
As is implied often throughout, and in the following excerpt stated outright, It is difficult to find words for the pressure we are under, making the document as a whole a symbolic appeal to irrational ecstasies and emotional feelings the same method of argument (or what passes for argument) that has long been used to incite exactly the kinds nationalistic and terroristic violence that the group is so loudly opposing.
The manifesto itself, written by what have been called ‘young students’ continues, saying: We want to scream and break this wall of silence, injustice and indifference like the Israeli F16s breaking the wall of sound; scream with all the power in our souls in order to release this immense frustration that consumes us because of this fucking situation we live in… Repeatedly called and even summarized by group as ‘a scream,’ the document forms a symbol complete in itself, not a message per se but a sound that doesn’t need to carry any discernible semantic information (aside from the noise it makes) to be fully and successfully interpreted. The document is not to be read, but heard, its intense reverberations felt. Which makes the manifesto a piece of writing that can’t be argued for or against rationally, for its rhetoric, but only for its resonance.
If we look more critically at the above explosive outburst of pure emotion, could we not argue that though the group calls their actions breaking the wall of silence they, quite ironically, do so only by constructing their own wall opposite it. The Gaza Youth movement seeks to gain power by invoking precisely the same appeal to the unspeakable, intangible fears, and unquantifiable reactionary feelings as do their oppressors. Is this not the program of propaganda most commonly used by all those groups, listed above, that the students in question are critical of?
Take, for example, both the United States (who use the terrifying rhetoric of immanent war on subjectively defined Terror) and Hamas (who appeal to transcendent religious imperatives and the fear of unknown Otherness, reified by what the Guardian identified as ‘Western decadence’)?
And while, thus far, the group has been promoted by the media – and in their own documents – as ‘an engine of change,’ are they not only enacting what appears to be the only dialectical movement ever possible from inside the apparatus of modernity: that of a status quo always growing more catastrophic, more violent, and more vehemently supported by those most unfortunately oppressed by it?
The text ends with a triple demand: “We want three things. We want to be free. We want to be able to live a normal life. We want peace. Is that too much to ask?”
Knowing the trajectory these things have always traced, I would venture to say that it is; this before forwarding the following notion: The thing that really needs changed is what passes for activism.
And just as the students say that they are unlikely to be persuaded by such symbolic initiatives, likewise am I. Instead I would fear, and often feel, just as they do. Namely, that we are like lice between two nails living a nightmare inside a nightmare, no room for hope, no space for freedom.
So much for peace, and so much for activism. If we’re just going to base our oppositions on unquantifiable emotions, why would we even need information freedom? Is it not a better practice to expose, collate, and rationally present facts and valid arguments in order to sway public opinion? (Once upon a time, I’ve been told, this was the task of journalism.) Still, I can’t help but see their dilemma. Few people care, and – unless there’s just gossip involved – even fewer bother to listen.
Yes, to a certain extent I agree with the GYBO — i.e. everyone is fault here, it’s not only Hamas or the Israelis, but the International community, the situation as a whole — and I very much understand and sympathize their cause itself, as no one should be deprived basic human rights; especially since in my opinion those, at their barest minimum, include much more than freedom from fear, torture, and all types of oppression.
But that’s precisely why I think it’s important for anyone who truly cares about what’s going on here to be both vigilant and critical, as when guarding any kind of freedom, or supporting any group that seeks to gain freedom. It is only if the GYBO can learn from history and fully analyze the situation and their role in it currently — along with what it has the potential to turn into — that they’ll avoid the same mistakes most (if not nearly all) freedom fighters make, and avoid becoming part of the problem, or worse: another party. How many peaceful groups have killed for freedom?
It probably needn’t be noted that there is a long history of just such tragedies happening and, when they do, they only serve to exacerbate all of humanity’s problems. While I wish the GYBO the best, I would also sincerely implore them to be sure the errors of the past don’t (as they are wont to do to) resurface anew and repeat themselves over again even more viciously. Judging from their most recent response, they seem to be on the right track, but I stand by my reading of their manifesto, and encourage them to be wary, as all of us must, of the irrationality lurking inside of them.
It sounds, if anything, equally trite and crazy to say it, but if there’s ever going to be any real change in Gaza (and I use the word ‘real’ as un-ironically as possible) it’s only going to come if everyone involved (and that means the whole world) takes upon themselves the very considerable, perhaps even impossible, task of rationally analyzing, and peacefully addressing the deeper issues in the region both civilly and systematically.
You could certainly say that this is impossible, or at least utterly impractical, but considering the topic who can blame me for being irrational?
Message from the Gaza Youth Breaks Out team via Mona AlSammouni: Dont distort our speech!
“Can it really be ‘true’ that a helplessly quivering scream forms the only human response negativity’s greatest intensities? Why isn’t saying this a cop out of the highest degree?”
Ever heard of Benjamin Fondane? His unquiet ghost is better qualified than you, me or anyone else here to answer your query as it deserves:
A day will come, no doubt, when this poem
will find itself before your eyes. It asks
nothing! Forget it, forget it! It is nothing
but a scream, that cannot fit in a perfect
poem. Have I even time to finish it?
But when you trample on this bunch of nettles
that had been me, in another century,
in a history that you will have canceled,
remember only that I was innocent
and that, like all of you, mortals of this day,
I had, I too had a face marked
by rage, by pity and joy,
an ordinary human face!
(…) A prisoner of war during the fall of France, Fondane was released and spent the occupation years in clandestinity. He was eventually captured and handed to Nazi German authorities, who deported him to Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was sent to the gas chamber during the last wave of the Holocaust.
The above article, most decidedly written in the tradition of rationalist polemics, fully intends to not only critique the subject and situation, but to push its critiques all the way to their logical limits, ideally (for we are always operating on the level of ideals when employing the force of strict rationality) in order to rigorously probe difficult subjects and implore readers to ask what would otherwise be overlooked questions. And what better method could we employ than polemics, when there simply isn’t room for descending into a series of abstract and often pedantic teleological examinations? But the time has unfortunately come, it would seem, to dive – or more appropriately downward spiral – headfirst into them.
While it is undeniably difficult not to sympathize with the Gaza Youth – even if their suffering is for most typical Americans, myself included, almost unfathomable (as those who’ve experienced life in Gaza cannot even describe it) — I do think it would be quite awkward, if not nearly impossible to establish a textual reading of their manifesto successfully arguing that the group in question seeks to a establish the kind of very judicious integration between logic and emotion that was outlined in the response by Jeffrey Anderson.
Whatever the case, to say the Gaza Youth isn’t trying to gain power would be to naively delude oneself as to the intrinsic nature of opposition, war (or info-war), and even the social dynamics of human struggle. I would foremost like to agree with a point David argued: “the situation is NOT a simple binary: Hamas don’t represent the people of Gaza and more than the Israeli government. In fact (and this is my opinion) in some ways the two feed off each other to justify more and more oppressive policies.” No doubt there is a sort of feedback loop going on here, but binaries of rationality and irrationality do no conflate with sides of a conflict (never mind that, at least in the world of electronics where this analogy is pulled from, this would necessitate a positive and negative, an input and output, and sometimes even a ‘master’ and ‘slave’). So what’s stopping the Gaza Youth from entering this abysmal feedback loop of terror and subjugation, what’s stopping them from contributing to its increasingly noisy feedback considering they’re not only already inside of it, but on the front lines of it? And why all this talk of the GY’s attempt to break down these binarisms, to implore us to consider the need for a new kind of integration between facts and perhaps even spiritualism? Aren’t these just traits we’re only ascribing to them?
Besides, doesn’t this beg a far greater question: What is the purpose of speaking out, of even breaking one’s imposed silence, only to express an inability to describe one’s revelatory experience? Why even bother to scream if doing so already means you can’t say anything, expose anything, or even do anything other than appeal to the more sympathetic emotions of those who by chance, or for some other un-analyzable reason, care enough to halfheartedly listen?
Is this not precisely the tactic used by the beggars that so many of us Americans ignore every day within our own country, or even on our very own street, in our very own city? And even if it only means clicking ‘Like’ on Facebook, why are we more inclined to sympathize with the youth in Gaza, before our own homeless youth, to continue using a painfully visible concrete example? Is it because with such a hot button issue supporting the oppressed no matter their rhetoric is simply more politically correct, easier, and fashionable so long as we have the relative comfort knowing that – aside from cheering them on over Twitter – there’s essentially nothing that we can positively do about it?
Or could it be that we feel more inclined to sympathize with those in Gaza precisely because we don’t see them suffer directly – that is, because they suffer abstractly (or at least only on TV)? Sure there’s no stigma attached to being born in a warzone, but one only need only ride on a subway in New York City to see that there’s certainly nothing more deplorable and more necessarily ignorable than being born into American poverty. Yet both are forms of suffering… aren’t they?
Consider this odd contradiction: while we support those less fortunate than us so far abroad as to become essentially invisible, we often cannot bear look at those more unfortunate directly in front of us, huddling around us, screaming beside us, and day after day, earnestly begging us. Couldn’t we say analyzing questions, like this long and trying string of them, is precisely why we need someone in the media to offer sustained, and completely unemotional, rational criticism?
And moreover, despite postmodern protestations to the contrary, have we really gotten to the point where facts and truth are no longer enough, and where it is perhaps not even usable as a practical deterrent for torture, totalitarianism, or even general injustice, since rationally questioning the system of power has time and time again shown itself to be utterly pointless?
To to further stress the point (or lack thereof) to its logico-critical limit: is not this denial of facts the very essence of the absurd as posited by writers like Kafka, and just because we’re plodding way in front of computer screens are we really ready to call into question both the power and nature of objective truth, much less do away with its necessity? Can it really be ‘true’ that a helplessly quivering scream forms the only human response negativity’s greatest intensities? Why isn’t saying this a cop out of the highest degree?
For sake of argument let’s say this is this case and ask accordingly: is it really enough to say that screaming is enough? Does screaming really count as discourse and testifying, or should we push onward for the facts, unfazed, unwavering, somehow still standing even if doing so is itself an even more terrifying and pointless mistake in the making?
I suppose this is to suggest, admittedly at great length, that should examine (and hotly contest) exactly what’s at stake in doing so before we as bloggers, journalists or even oppressed revolutionaries, decide to surrender and give up on any hope for establishing some sort of 21st century rationalism. Or we could simply keep screaming and calling it activism.
Anthony D Poerio… yet another judgemental journalist/blogger whatever he is writing from the comforts of his peaceful and probably lakeside lounge… arse!
“The Gaza Youth movement seeks to gain power by invoking precisely the same appeal to the unspeakable, intangible fears, and unquantifiable reactionary feelings as do their oppressors.”
I’m sorry, what? Gain power? The whole essence of the document is it turns its authors’ very powerlessness into a statement of resistance and hope. They seem to say ‘we have lost so much and been oppressed for so long by forces on every side of us, that we are almost no longer afraid to speak out, for whatever it may be worth’.
This article is offensively condescending. Mr Poerio, you seem to want GYBO to have emerged as a fully formed political movement with policy platforms and negotiating strategies. What planet are you on? Firstly, if you shook off your black & white view of the world, you’d see that the manifesto offers some incredibly astute and rational critiques of the situation, by pointing out precisely that the situation is NOT a simple binary: Hamas don’t represent the people of Gaza and more than the Israeli government. In fact (and this is my opinion) in some ways the two feed off each other to justify more and more oppressive policies.
Secondly, you talk as if emotion and rhetoric are some how alien to activism and politics. I would suggest that this is utter nonsense. If reason and rational debate were the best way to be heard in politics, the world would be a better place. Unfortunately they are not. But emotion and outrage are also absolutely valid responses from within a place like Gaza, where rational argument and reasoning have produced… precisely what, exactly? Conditions that get worse by the year.
Full solidarity to Gaza Youth Breaks Out. Don’t let the armchair critics dishearten you.
Sorry, whoever you are, I couldn’t read your articles until the end, I had to stop to vomit.
Now i can give you a short answer. You obviously never been in this place, me neither, but i’ve been in ramallah, wich is a peacfull and quiet place when you compare it with gaza. I’ve seen the effect of Israely occupation, not only the material, physical effect, but the psychological effect on people. People who can’t seen themselves as free, dominated by forces they can’t push back, they can’t fight. Think about what could feel being handcuff for no reason, think about feeling that each days of your life and being reminded of it each day of your life.
Those kids, as far as i know are not yet a political movement, they are just kids claiming for space to live. There is no hate in their manifesto, no propaganda, no fatouah or discrimination. There is just few words saying, “we are humans, we want life, love, dignity, we can’t do nothing, you can so it is your responsability to help us because you are human too.”
Infortunatly you don’t know what you are talking about and you don’t understand what they are talking about. A voice is a voice, the responsability for the effect of the words said is both on the one saying and the one listening. You are talking about power, about extremism, why not just listening the voice instead of trying to crush it with well oiled rhetorical vision of how it should be?
get you’re head out of your screen, get out and talk to real people if you want to speak about real politic…
What they are asking is NOT about power, they’re NOT angling to become yet-another power-hungry splinter group, doh. They’re kids, they’re fed up with politics, what they’re doing is appeal to the world – ahhhh the so-called “international community”, get it? – to pressure their No. 1 Tormentor to put an end to the seige of Gaza: that way they can be free to move, live, hope: i.e. to travel OUTSIDE that SHAMEFUL CONCENTRATION CAMP in which they have been enclosed by Israel with the assistance and complicity of the socalled “International Community” – i.e. be free – which means free to visit relatives in the occupied territories and elsewhere in the ME, free to go to university outside Gaza, free to find work wherever they can… hoping the other freedoms – that of Gaza and Palestine together … will follow, by same means. But as they don’t trust Israel any more than they trust Hamas or the USA any more than they trust the 5+1 etc they want a chance to live like human beings in the meantime… = END OF THE BLOCKADE. Clear now?
This article has a valid point and important point – that revolutionary attempts to change oppressive systems never really change anything if they are based only on “irrational ecstasies and emotional feelings”. But the intellectual analysis also misses the real point of the manifesto’s “scream” – that religious ideology, the politics of fear and difference, the international institutions of nation states and the UN, and the cold, rational indifference of the world’s corporate media, are all failing to meet or even voice the basic desire of a new generation of the world’s youth to be free, equal and empowered global citizens. And no-one has more right to scream than the youth of Gaza, in their “nightmare within a nightmare”.
The article then, in my opinion, takes its interesting analysis a step too far when it claims the manifesto’s “explosive outburst of pure emotion… seeks to gain power by invoking precisely the same appeal to the unspeakable, intangible fears, and unquantifiable reactionary feelings as do their oppressors”. Yes, the manifesto is steeped in anger and frustration, but releasing it to the world is essentially a step of courage, not of fear. Yes, the thousands of people worldwide who have already stated their support for the manifesto have been aroused on an emotional level, and their response requires no more intellegence than the ability to click ‘Like’ on Facebook, but the emotion invoked is one of empathy, not of hatred; a feeling of deep empathy with young humans who just want the same as all other young humans, a feeling quite contrary to the reactionary feelings of fear for “otherness” and hatred for the “enemy” race/class/religion/political ideology. Yes, the young Gazans who authored the manifesto are gaining a certain power from the wave of emotional resonance spreading across the globe in reaction to its publication, and they may even be quite overwhelmed with the questions of what to do with that power. But that power has the potential to actually change something in this world for the better; it’s a power whose time is ripe, a power to which we all have the collective responsibilty to support each other in channelling and utilising for good.
Yes, the manifesto does not outline a “rational” plan of action to change the situation in Gaza – and that is surely also needed – but the manifesto is born of the countless “rational” plans of action, peace processes, multi-lateral initiatives and interventions, which have all so far failed to change anything for the people of Gaza. We certainly need rationality to change the world for the better, but we also need heart, and this is the vital resonant quality that the Gaza Youth Manifesto carries – the heart quality of courage to speak out – to scream out – the truth of one’s experience even when that truth clashes with the prevailing ideologies and established power structures.
This is where the real trap within the “apparatus of modernity” and its ever-more violent status quo lies: the predictable downward spiral of fact versus fact and argument versus counter-argument, self-interest versus self-interest, and the failure to dare to strive for a more encompassing truth that speaks to people of all identities and integrates all aspects of our selves, rational, emotional, and (dare I say?) spiritual.
Is this not the big issue for the activist of our times? The above article’s author leaves us with a hint of his sympathy for the dilemma faced by the authors of the Gaza Youth Manifesto, but he doesn’t elaborate its deeper meaning and significance. The whole youth of this world who care enough to want to really change something are faced with this same dilemma: What powers can we rely on when it’s clearly no longer enough to merely “expose, collate, and rationally present facts and valid arguments in order to sway public opinion”? How can heart and head work together to really change something in this world? How can life energies currently suppressed and feared by the enforcers of the status quo be channeled, so that their deeper truth, beauty and creativity can be revealed?
How can the Gaza Youth ask for anything less than freedom, the ability to live a normal life, and peace? How can anyone, for that matter, ask for anything less? I wish them success in navigating their way through this great dilemma, their liberation will be ours too. May the force be with them!
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