I often refer to the planet as a system, but right now it feels more like a cauldron. I wrote this sentence last night but was too tired to continue. This morning the news is about another shooting and another protest, near Ferguson, the presenter suggesting the US could be headed for another period similar to the nineteen sixties race war.
The comparison is inaccurate: not only because much has changed since the 1960’s, but because today’s protests have a different kind of energy behind them. They are less violent than in the past, and more focused, the marching and the chanting grounded in an awareness of the wider world that no American community possessed in the nineteen-sixties. Critics have chided the now three year old Occupy Movement for having lacked a leader and an agenda, but we are witnessing its fruits: Occupy was about rejecting a system of government that disdains the needs of the many, but its participants were convinced that before you can propose something new you have to possess a detailed knowledge of what is wrong with the old. That knowledge was elaborated and disseminated via ‘mike checks’.
Three years on, shouting “I can’t breathe” is not a one-off, superficial reaction to a specific death - or even a plethora of assassinations. It expresses a deep awareness of the flaws of the American system of government. Although Americans are not presented with a lot of news about the rest of the world - Opednews being a significant exception even among on-line journals - the limited information they receive, focusing on the ‘need’ to intervene in an ever longer list of locations across the globe, lets filter popular reactions to our aggressions. Starting with the 2003 invasion of Iraq, those who today are in their 20’s and 30’s are increasingly aware that the injustices they face are mirrored across the world. Just as the French Revolution divided American colonial politicians, today’s American protesters are beginning to insert their struggle against police killings into the worldwide uprising against capitalism and globalization. Just as importantly, they know that because they are ‘in the belly of the beast’, they are a key element in that struggle, as the ‘forces of law and order’ become increasingly brutal in their determination to preserve the 1%’s advantages.
The cauldron is not one pot on a small fire, but a gigantic receptacle that gathers the determination of an expanding universal ‘umma’, a community of peoples who subscribe to different religions - or none - who live under a variety of political systems, and whose vision of the good life rejects modern behavioral models.
As I write this, France 24 reports on the latest conflict between secularism and religious tradition. One of the pillars of the French Revolution was a commitment to secular government, and probably no other country has stuck to that principle as has Catholic France for over two centuries. But reacting to the presence of the largest Muslim population in Europe, traditiona-lists have installed creches in municipal buildings, only to see them challenged by the courts in the name of secularism. The growing reaction to these decisions is in large part enabled by the National Front Party of Marine Le Pen, which has moved from the far-right, anti-Semitic stance it embodied under her father (Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder), to a mainly pro-tradition party which, together with similar parties in other European countries, salutes Vladimir Putin’s efforts to reclaim religious and family values.
What makes the present situation so frightening is that the cauldron contains fundamentalists determined to impose a barbaric version of Islam. Today ISIS shot down a Jordanian plane, capturing its pilot, while yesterday France reported on ISIS atrocities against Yazidi women in Northern Iraq. The struggle for equity between the global 1% and the 99% is accompanied by a growing realization that the traditional values lost in modernity’s pursuit of ever more ‘stuff’, are more important than was once believed. Peaceful but determined struggles to achieve a more equitable world must avoid being derailed by calls for war against militant Islam, which represents a brutal campaign to recapture those lost values. Fundamentalism will dissolve as the world restores some of the values it seeks to impose by force, side by side with governments committed to equity. The crucial question today is whether the 1% will allow this to happen. Protesters chanting ‘I can’t breathe’ or equally mild accusations will increasingly be met with militarized force, thea cauldron a ready-made laboratory for the perfection of its use.