The praise of the protests

Image: Mohammed Abubakr
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By EMILIO CAFASSI*

In the exercise of criticism and protest, one not only gains visibility, but at the same time gives meaning to one's existence.

1.

While the streets of Buenos Aires still whisper something of the warm songs that hundreds of thousands of voices gave in defense of public universities, the fields North American university students are experiencing a historic movement of international solidarity whose extension, particularly to Canada and Mexico, is open, although its definitive violent closure is also open.

In the same week, the arteries of Istanbul and Paris were welcomed by thousands of protesters celebrating Labor Day. The three examples would not have much in common if it were not for the fact that they served as a pretext for a new escalation of the bestial scourge. When protesters tried to break through the siege of the iconic Taksim Square, the air was thick with tear gas as the sting of rubber bullets dispersed those who managed to escape arrest, unlike the 210 unfortunates (Al Jazeera).

In Paris, where tens of thousands of mobilized people expressed their opposition to Emmanuel Macron's pension policies, among other slogans, they encountered the bitterness of the retaliatory response, with 54 arrested (Violence erupts at May Day protests in Paris). Without yet accurately concluding the number of detainees in the United States, it is estimated that more than 2.500 people of dignity have been captured, with possible consequences even for their academic careers. Both the Amnesty as Human Rights Watch They denounced in detail the violations of freedom of expression and the consequent right to protest in these cases.

If the magnitude of the devastating repressive actions were not eloquent, a surprising article by Serge Schmemann in the newspaper The New York Times perhaps it reflects the importance of the university movement that is taking shape. The author, a member of the newspaper's administrative staff, attended his first year of undergraduate studies at Columbia during the anti-Vietnam War movement of 1968, when “the students” – as he puts it – “were divided between the long-haired rebels and the short-haired conservatives, with many undecided people in the middle”, although he believes that today he is opposed to “Jewish students and Arab students” denouncing not only the repressive forces, but also the university administrations (in this system there is no co-government) that summons them .

Although I find the pro-Israel Zionists' assimilation with the Jews, as well as the resistance with the Arabs, naive and mechanistic, I do not fail to value the rare critical liberalism that their pen displays in the influential conservative newspaper. “Student protests, even in their most disturbing version, are ultimately an extension of education by other means, to paraphrase Carl von Clausewitz's famous definition of war” (Student protest is an essential part of education).

The conclusion that Serge Schmemann draws when recounting in detail the formation of that pacifist movement that managed to question his country's warlike foreign policy was that even with the physical injuries of the repressions, the certainty was established that a group of students could do something against the aberrations in the world or at least try. He considered fervor as constitutive of the university essence. That same year – I add – saw the anti-Stalinist spring in Prague or the May in France.

Alert to the possible temptation to magnify the importance of facts that encourage my own convictions and ideological orientations, I believe, however, that I see in the unrest within the American university structure not only a humanist awakening, but also a possible impact on foreign policy, complicit in the ongoing genocide and the transfer of weapons technology from the massacre that the occupations of fields denounce.

2.

Students in Gaza cannot do so because their institutions have been devastated. Universities in Gaza were destroyed. Just to illustrate, Al-Israa University was literally imploded with 315 mines on January 17, 2024. As Julio da Silveira Moreira emphasizes on the excellent Brazilian website “the earth is round”, pedagogical continuity is seriously compromised, not only by physical destruction, but by the forced dispersal of students and teachers.

“As recently as January 2024, the Palestinian Ministry of Education reported that 280 government schools and 65 schools administered by the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) had already been destroyed or damaged by the Israeli assault. Several of them (such as Al Fakhoura, Al-Buraq and Shadia Abu Ghazzala) were attacked while serving as shelters for people who had already lost their homes.”

Why not also consider university camps inspiring for the Argentine university movement, given Javier Milei's policy of automatic alignment with the US and Israel?

Michel Foucault brilliantly analyzes the changes in the penal system, from torture, so widespread until the end of the 18th century, to more modern, sophisticated and diffuse surveillance and discipline, such as in current prisons, understood as more subtle and penetrating mechanisms of social control. . However, I find a certain survival of spectacularization, the domestication of the repressive device and the alarming increase that I seek to highlight here, in the world in general and in Argentina in particular.

Because although the current dynamics do not reach the levels of monstrosity like the widespread example of the execution of Damiens that Michel Foucault described, torture must be understood as the physical punishment of the body together with the exposure that inspires terror in spectators, hence its public character . In fact, discipline not only punishes, but also normalizes, regulating behaviors.

3.

In Buenos Aires, repressive practices have also demonstrated a frightening escalation. Let's take some cases that I believe are illustrative of what I have just summarized. Threats of closing institutions, dismissals of workers and dismantling of cultural institutions have occurred since the first steps of the Javier Milei government. The person who somehow brought together a certain globality of the State's cultural activity was the National Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual Arts (Incaa) convening meetings at Cinema Gaumont, in front of Plaza del Congreso.

At the end of one of these peaceful protests, repressive forces violently advanced on the protesters with a frightening and provocative purpose. As documented by the official news agency Telam (today closed by the government itself), in addition to cinematographic and photographic records of several participants, lawyer Mário de Almeida, who was holding only a flag of the group to which he belongs, was grabbed from behind, thrown to the ground, kept in that position in handcuffs, until arrive at a police station.

Without his rights being read, he was unfairly accused of the crime of serious bodily harm and resisting authority, and was prosecuted in court. In order to carry out the criminal proceedings in freedom, the intervening prosecutor imposed a ridiculous and insane ban on him from circulating in the detention area within a radius of 1 km. How can anyone who suffers such mortification or any observer fail to think about the notorious case of George Floyd, murdered by asphyxiation with a police knee to the neck and back?

Another lawyer, Matías Darabos, curiously a member of “Association against institutional violence”, somewhat upset while taking a breather next to a tree in the square during the deconcentration of the university march, he was approached by three police officers who, after asking him if he was coming from the march and insulting him, threw him to the ground and kicked him until he his face was disfigured. Unlike the first, he was handcuffed to the park bench and stayed there all night. When, as an expert in institutional responsibilities, he described the office where the aggressor police officers Coria, Cantero and Martínez were being prosecuted, they opened his backpack and presented something that the smiling agents called “little flowers”. The case changed from inveterate “resistance to authority” to “possession of narcotics.”

The timely edition by the publisher of the University of Buenos Aires (Eudeba) of the collective book on the judicialization of social conflicts in Argentina, The other fan”, I hope it helps to raise awareness about these aberrations that torment not only the direct victims of these two cases, but society as a whole in its most basic right of expression.

Some time ago, in an interview, I was asked if I believed that the State of Israel had the right to exist. I responded that the only thing that has the right to exist is something more concrete: humanity, and in this way, each of the subjects that make it up. Both the concept of the nation-state and its practical implementation are, on a historical scale, so recent and insignificant, and at the same time so dynamic, that the cartographies that seek to hypostatize them are in permanent tension and redesign.

Far from being natural, perennial or ahistorical, it is the expression of a correlation of forces corresponding to a certain moment in history, that is, necessarily ephemeral, although it survives us. Until borders can be demolished and rendered useless and higher levels of fraternity achieved, we will be crossed by nation-states and their ways of circumscribing habitability, citizenship. But no political-national architecture can be more relevant and, therefore, have more rights than those of the citizens it encompasses. Even if I shout goals from Messi or Cavani, I am not motivated by any patriotic feeling above a human right.

In the exercise of criticism and protest, visibility is not only achieved, but at the same time, existence itself is given meaning.

*Emilio Cafassi is senior professor of sociology at the University of Buenos Aires.

Translation: Arthur Scavone.


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