The international news has been looking like several action movies rolled into one, in recent weeks. There is so much going on that the BBC News can’t fit everything into one of its tight little news packages (although it still finds a spot for the Queen’s visit to Australia, in shades of pastel, and how they all love her).
Overwhelming all today was the death of Muammar Gadhafi as he tried to escape from the once-luxurious town of Sirte, where his life began and ended. The circumstances of his death remain murky, while video footage of the former Brother Leader being dragged onto a pickup and along a dusty street has been removed from many websites. So after 42 years of hatred and oppression – and tribalism (he was born into an Arab Bedouin tribe and persecuted the Berbers, a non-Arab tribe) – and nine months of rebellion and fighting, we see his blood-soaked image, a frightening mask, in still photos. “We are happy,” Libyans say.
Meanwhile, battles large and small are breaking out all over. The Libyan Civil War has hopefully moved towards a resolution, as the “rebels” (as we still like to call them) – computer technicians, interior designers and others – break down the green walls of Sirte. Elsewhere, the action grinds on inexorably.
In Syria, we see crowds squeezed into narrow streets like a river overflowing its banks, the upraised arms like waves. We see the flow broken up occasionally as gunfire crackles and men drop their placards and scatter (or sometimes stand defiantly). In Yemen, warriors with curved swords stuck into their waistbands mingle with youth in football jerseys and women in black. All is not yet calm in Egypt, and rumblings continue like aftershocks – unresolved, long-standing conflicts and grievances and grudges. Egyptian Coptic Christians, a long-suffering minority, raised their voices and… more fighting, more bitterness.
It’s not only in the Middle East, where the light and optimistic Arab Spring has moved into a seething, dark Fall. I’m moving to our hemisphere now. The Occupy Wall Street movement began on September 17 and will likely continue until the harsh New York winter sets in. Then only the real die-hards will remain. Unlike the above horrors, there has been no major bloodshed apart from bruises and cuts acquired during skirmishes with policemen – but the anger and the hurt is there. People are not running and marching so much as standing, and sitting. Meditating, playing drums, listening to speeches and lecturing each other and anyone else who will listen. Young and old and middle-aged; dreadlocked anarchists and grey-haired intellectuals and homely housewives; a thousand different versions of protest and reasons to protest. A few demonstrations have broken out in the UK; but perhaps people are exhausted by the fiery looting and bitter encounters during the riots that started in Tottenham earlier this year. Their protests have been a little more polite; now there are people camped outside St. Paul’s Cathedral (well, I always had my doubts about St. Paul, ruddy capitalist) in small, neat tents. They weren’t allowed in the Stock Exchange.
And then there are the Petchary’s personal favorite protesters – the indigenous Bolivians from the Isiboro Secure Territory (now not so secure) known by its Spanish acronym, TIPNIS. They have walked for 250 miles – and uphill over 12,000 feet – from the lowlands where they live to the capital of La Paz. Now that is real, serious action. I’m really proud of them.
They were welcomed joyously by rows of round-faced children who gave them flowers. Now they need to deal with President Morales about that highway.
Meanwhile, in Chile things are heating up. This has actually been going on for at least a couple of months now, and the scent of tear gas fills the air as the running battles between students and riot police continue up and down the graceful streets of Santiago. Footage sometimes shows street dogs joining in the rioting, leaping delightedly in the arc of the water cannon.
Oh, and then there are the Greeks.
Meanwhile, what of Jamaica? There was a modest, quiet demonstration outside the Bank of Jamaica today (maybe a dozen people?) But in general, Jamaicans are not taking any action. We are sitting, mostly: on our verandahs, in Parliament, on our couches, at our desks (those who are lucky enough to have jobs). And talking: Yes, we are good at that.
I recall a Report of the West Indian Commission, edited by Sir Sridath Ramphal (his name has always been a tongue-twister for me) and optimistically titled “Time for Action.” That was in 1993.
Eighteen years later, not much action I’m afraid – apart from the growing crime rate and the insane drivers – they believe in action.
And you can’t even read the report online. Sad.
Important footnote: Please don’t think I am making light of all the above protests. All these protesters are brave, determined and believe in their cause. And I believe they have a right to protest and demonstrate. I just hope everyone stays safe, but I suppose that’s not a concern for many of them.
- Gadhafi killed after bombing of convoy in retreat from Sirte (thehill.com)
- Gadhafi is Dead, How Gadhafi’s capture unfolded during siege of Sirte. (ghostinfos.com)
- London Protesters May Close St Paul’s, Cathedral Leaders Say (businessweek.com)
- The language of protest (michcommunication.wordpress.com)
- Protesters of the world beware: remember what happened to Liberty | Michael White (guardian.co.uk)
- Bolivia road march enters La Paz