Sunday, October 18, 2015

Oppression and Occupation

The violence in Israel has been escalating to the point that people are calling it a Third Intifada. It's very sad and frustrating to feel so helpless, witnessing this stuff from afar. I don't know what can be done, and if John Kerry can do anything when he goes there. I mean, it's not like Netanyahu is going to agree to stop Israeli settlements and "collective punishment" of Palestinians.

Also depressing is Obama's announcement of keeping troops in Afghanistan. So the war continues both there and in Iraq, even after all these years. How do we get ourselves out of our own unwise occupations? And how do we avoid getting mired in war in Syria too? There's no easy solutions that I can see, especially with fucking Republicans still obsessed about Benghazi for political gain.

Last week I watched the He Named Me Malala documentary, as well as the 1982 movie Gandhi when it aired on TV. They are both good films about the power of nonviolence and making a difference in the world despite the cost.

I was surprised by the lovely animated scenes in the Malala documentary. The young Nobel prize winner is named after Malalai of Maiwand, a heroic woman who inspired the Afghan soldiers to defeat the British at Maiwand, during the 2nd Anglo-Afghan War. (I'm so used to viewing the Battle of Maiwand from the English point of view, since Dr. Watson was wounded at Maiwand, as he writes in Study in Scarlet.) Malala's film starts with her telling the folk story of Malalai as told to her by her father. She has a strong bond with her father, a teacher and activist who often spoke out against the Taliban's oppression (leading some skeptics to claim that Malala's father writes all her books and speeches for her), but it's clear that she's no puppet and speaks from her own experience and feelings.

The documentary is not a chronological biography of Malala; scenes go back and forth from her childhood in Pakistan, to her being shot in the head, to her current travels for peace and girls' education around the world. (There's even mention of her meeting with Obama and trying to convince him that drone strikes are harming civilians.) She speaks compellingly about continuing to strive and have hope for the future. I try to have hope, because of young people like her. However, I get depressed when extremists like Boko Haram still win. Those kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have not been found, and may never be. It's so sad.

As for the Gandhi film starring Ben Kingsley, it was interesting to see him start out as a British-trained lawyer in South Africa. I didn't realize that there was a large population of Indians working the mines there in the early 20th century; I had assumed that they made the native African population do their labor. Anyway, Gandhi organizes nonviolent protest against the British discrimination against Indians. He also tries to promote religious unity among the Indians, and to fight the caste discrimination against untouchables. The movie doesn't really address the treatment of native Africans, nor the Boer War. Eventually Gandhi's resistance movement succeeds enough that he is invited to return to India in 1915, and he is greeted as a hero. Gandhi had been away from India for about 20 years, so when he returned he felt a need to rediscover his homeland and get in touch with the poor, working class. He stopped wearing Western dress, traveled the country, and established an ashram.

The fight for Indian independence is long and hard, including a horrific massacre of over 1,000 Indians. There is delay after delay with two World Wars, and disagreements among Indians about goals and methods of resistance. Gandhi is in and out of prison, while his followers are routinely punished with beatings and death for the civil disobedience and noncooperation. Over the years, Gandhi becomes famous around the world, even attracting a journalist from Life magazine (played by Candice Bergen). Public opinion grows for his side, rather than the stubborn and brutal oppression of the British Raj.

In the 1940s, when the British finally are willing to grant Home Rule, the movement is detoured by conflict between Muslims and Hindus. Gandhi wants India to include both religions and grant equality for all citizens, but instead India is partitioned into India and Pakistan, displacing millions of people. Vicious riots break out all across India, threatening to erupt in civil war. Gandhi fasts to make the violence stop, but after things calm down, he is assassinated. The film ends with his funeral and an inspiring quote from Gandhi about love and justice always winning in the end. I know they wanted to end on hope, but it's hard when you see how much slaughter and abuse people have to suffer though. Well, at least part of his legacy was Martin Luther King's civil rights movement in America. But even here we don't have true freedom and peace, and I don't know if the Palestinians will ever have that either.

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