Welcome to Kashmir! It is deep winter. The mountains are covered with snow and the naked trees above the lakes at sunset, look melancholic and magnificent, precisely like a completed Chinese brush painting.
Welcome to a nation overrun by the 700,000-strong security forces of the occupying power – India. Welcome to the continuous presence of barbed wire, of military columns, and ‘security checks’. Welcome to a brutality unimaginable almost anywhere else on earth!
Welcome to a land of joint military exercises conducted by the United States, Israel and India.
Kashmir! Still beautiful but scarred. Still proud but bleeding and thoroughly exhausted… Still standing, still resisting, still free and independent, at least in its heart!
A day before leaving Srinagar, in the ‘Indian administered Kashmir’, my comrades asked me to address a small gathering of local as well as progressive visiting Indian intellectuals. They mainly wanted to hear about the state of the resistance against Western imperialism. And Western imperialism is what India is now trying to join so eagerly and shamelessly.
It was dark outside, literally and metaphorically. Kashmir has been bleeding horrifically. At least 80,000 people have died, most of them from the terror spread by the fascist Indian state. The victims have been mainly civilians. At least 8,000 people have been “disappeared”. There have been countless, predominantly unreported, rapes and cases of beastly, unimaginable torture. Much of it has happened in just the last two decades.
I am going to write about this, soon, next week. But before I do, let me tell this story.
During that dark night, several men and women were gathered in a cramped room, asking me one simple and essential question: “Could the brutality of the Empire be prevented, and if not prevented, could it be stopped?”
The Dude did it to me again! As my scheduled Air India flight from Kochi, Kerala, was attempting to make its final approach to Indira Gandhi International Airport, his much bigger horse, Air Force 1, was heading towards the nearby base.
It was exactly 10 o’clock in the morning. My eyes were infected after catching some mysterious bug, as I was told, a common Kerala disease. I was exhausted after writing countless essays (some directly related to the Dude), and what was ahead of me was yet another flight, this time to battered Srinagar in Kashmir.
But the Dude’s flying horse had priority. It always has!
In ancient times, even the greatest bandits such as kings and conquerors, deranged knights and simple arch-brigands, used to lead their armies into battle. It would be unthinkable for them to hide behind; it would be so shameful!
The Queen or a lady of his heart would embrace the warrior, or throw her scarf at his feet, or collapse in real or staged grief. And the warrior, often a nitwit and idiot, but a warrior nevertheless, would saddle his horse, salute his wife and his people, and go to battle, proudly leading his troops. And the chances were he would die during the battle. Therefore, he would think twice before leading his country to a war.
There used to be great pathos in all this, and also, great unpronounced rule: you want to murder, rape and steal, then be prepared to spill your own blood and brains!
Of course the priests and preachers hardly went to battles. While Christianity was behind most of the outrageous conquests and crimes against humanity, its leaders were living a safe life in tremendous palaces and villas. Only those who enjoyed the actual acts of torture and rape went to the field. But the Christian clergy almost always consisted of liars and cowards, and torture was done in safety, far from the trenches.
It was 30th May, deep autumn in Argentina. The streetlights had been turned on an hour earlier, just as I was entering the house/museum. Now inside, it was dark, silent, warm and cozy.
Magda Konopacka de Bruzzone brought two cups of tea upstairs, after locking the gate. For a while, we sat in silence.
“Now tell me about the world outside,” she whispered, after I took my first sip.
“People are freezing to death,” I said. “Argentinean people are dying.”
She looked at me and then her eyes moved somewhere behind, way beyond me.
She was the love of his life.
To me he was one of the greatest artists of 20th century Latin America. His name was Alberto Bruzzone. Magdalena was his last wife, his muse, his model, and his companion – his everything for the last 3 decades of his life. They met when he was in his late 50’s and she was still a very young woman. They never separated. He died in 1994, here, in Mar del Plata, at the age of 87. She turned their entire house into a stunning museum and cultural center: into “Casa Bruzzone”.
A hundred years ago, it would have been unimaginable to have a pair of Muslim men enter a cafe or a public transportation vehicle, and then blow themselves up, killing dozens. Or to massacre the staff of a satirical magazine in Paris! Things like that were simply not done.
When you read the memoirs of Edward Said, or talk to old men and women in East Jerusalem, it becomes clear that the great part of Palestinian society used to be absolutely secular and moderate. It cared about life, culture, and even fashion, more than about religious dogmas.
The same could be said about many other Muslim societies, including those of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and Indonesia. Old photos speak for themselves. That is why it is so important to study old images again and again, carefully.
Islam is not only a religion; it is also an enormous culture, one of the greatest on Earth, which has enriched our humanity with some of the paramount scientific and architectural achievements, and with countless discoveries in the field of medicine. Muslims have written stunning poetry, and composed beautiful music. But above all, they developed some of the earliest social structures in the world, including enormous public hospitals and the first universities on earth, like The University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco.
The idea of ‘social’ was natural to many Muslim politicians, and had the West not brutally interfered, by overthrowing left-wing governments and putting on the throne fascist allies of London, Washington and Paris; almost all Muslim countries, including Iran, Egypt and Indonesia, would now most likely be socialist, under a group of very moderate and mostly secular leaders.
January 03, 2015 “ICH” – “Counterpunch” – – One more step, one more explosion of insanity, and all that humanity fought for, what it labored for and has been aiming at for years, centuries and millennia, may disappear in a monstrous series of blasts. Our planet might break into pieces, or it may get poisoned and become uninhabitable, forever.
Hyperbolic? Not at all, given the track record of the Empire: war after war, invasion after invasion, with hundreds of destabilized countries, murdered leaders, and overthrown governments.
The storyline may be similar to that of the famous novella by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: “Chronicle of a Death Foretold”. We can foresee what may soon happen, we are warning that carnage is likely to take place in a very near future and on a grand scale, but our warnings, while registering, are not propelling almost anyone to action. But this may soon change.
Those who are now pushing the world to an irreversible disaster are clearly identifiable: they are market fundamentalists, conservative Christian dogmatists who believe in the superiority of their doctrine and of the ‘chosen nature’ of the Western people and culture, as well as the millions of their lackeys and minor cohorts: thousands of CEO’s and deranged ‘military strategists’.
Last night, in Beijing, I sat in a historic Szechuan restaurant with a friend who happens to be a Chinese diplomat. We exchanged some stories, ordered food, and then, suddenly, my throat felt dry and my eyes got misty.
I bowed and thanked her for the heartfelt offer China made to rescue Russia.
Just before leaving my hotel, I read the news on the RT:
“China’s foreign minister has pledged support to Russia as it faces an economic downturn due to sanctions and a drop in oil prices. Boosting trade in Yuan is a solution proposed by Beijing’s commerce minister.
‘Russia has the capability and the wisdom to overcome the existing hardship in the economic situation,’ Foreign Minister Wang Yi told journalists. China Daily reported Monday: ‘If the Russian side needs it, we will provide necessary assistance within our capacity.’”
By no means was I representing the Russian Federation here, in Beijing, nor was my friend representing China that night, at the dining table. It was an informal meeting attended by just a few friends, nothing more.
Not to mention that I am not really, ‘technically’ a Russian. Yes, I was born in Leningrad but almost my entire life I spent elsewhere… all over the world, to be precise. And in my veins, not that it really matters; it is also all confused… there circulates an explosive mixture of Russian, Chinese and European blood.
But lately, to be Russian, to me and to many others, is much more than just about blood. ‘I am a rebel; therefore I am Russian’, to paraphrase Albert Camus. Or: ‘I am Russian because I refuse to abandon the struggle.’
‘Ya Russkii!’ or ‘Cubano soy!’ It simply feels good, and makes one proud, and stronger.
This year as in every other year, Christianity and fundamentalist capitalism, two great allies, are joining their forces to extract billions of dollars, all over the world, mainly from the poor.
As money flies towards the coffers of the church and into corporate accounts, over-sugary, kitschy Christmas carols and gospels are soaring out from the audio systems of department stores and malls all over the Empire and in almost all of its colonies (Saudi Arabia being an exception).
‘White Christmas’ is re-enacted and faked in the steaming-hot tropical ‘client states’, into where Christianity with all its nomenclature was forcefully injected decades and centuries ago.
Christmas trees, colorful balls and stars camouflage the sharp teeth, swords, torture instruments and propaganda tools. This faith was built on all conquered continents, on fear, never on love! Righteousness, aggressiveness and intimidation have been some of the trademarks of Christianity, for centuries. The faith which murdered hundreds of millions of people worldwide, reducing hundreds of great civilizations to ashes, is, until now, unapologetic and self-assured.
It is no wonder, as the greatest pillars of the modern-day oppression support it: the Empire itself as well as its unchallengeable fundamentalist capitalist doctrines.
Qohaito is a mysterious, ancient, pre-Aksumite settlement in the Eritrean highlands, with several impressive monolithic columns rising towards the sky. It is said that right there, under the surface, exists another entire lost city. As you walk, the earth shakes, and somewhere deep below; you can hear the echo of your footsteps.
Just a few minutes drive from the columns, the plateau suddenly ends. There is a cliff and a breathtaking view into the deep valley. This place is called Ishka. And this is where thousands of Eritrean freedom fighters and civilians used to hide from the brutal Ethiopian occupation forces.
I set up my cameras right near the cliff, asks my local cameraman to roll, and then put the first question to a local mountaineer, Mr. Ibrahim Omar: “How was life here, for you, before and after the independence?”
“There were two separate lives”, he explained. “The first one, before independence – that was harsh, brutal. And then came the other life, a totally different one, after we won. This is when our basic human rights got recognized and respected. The schools, health posts and roads were built. Everything was suddenly transformed.”
I ask Mr. Omar for an example and he readily replies:
“Before, a pregnant woman would have to ride on a camel, for long hours, to reach some medical post, in order to give birth. Many women would die during the journey. Now medical posts are readily available in this area…”
He thinks for a few seconds, then adds: “And this is what I call life.”
As we drive back to the capital city – Asmara – we can see new roads, some paved, some not yet, cutting through the rugged, mountainous terrain. And parallel to them, new electric wires are stretching out towards the horizon.
In the car, I am thinking about what Mr. Omar defined as ‘human rights’. Here, it is in direct contrast to what the expression stands for in the West. In the United States and in Europe, ‘human rights’ were created as an ideological tool, a weapon in the Cold War period. In Eritrea, it has a very simple meaning: feeding the people, giving them free education and medical care, building new roads, supplying them with electric power.
To understand Eritrea is not easy. But outside Asmara, everything is exposed; nothing can be hidden. Both poverty and the heroic attempts to eradicate it are right here, in my face. Farmers are working hard; many roads and electric grids are under construction.