At the height of the Arab Spring, there was bipartisan American support for an uprising against tyrannical government. Islamophobia took a backseat to “liberty” and “democracy” — two talking points that fit nicely into Democrat and Republican narratives alike. Grassroots public support also echoed these sentiments, with gun-toting Bible thumpers and MacBook-armed baristas alike proudly endorsing popular, youth-led demonstrations as both a valid reaction to socioeconomic upheaval and a staple in democratic health.
Across the political stratosphere, opposing factions found common ground in supporting pro-democracy movements led by disenfranchised, victimized, and exasperated Arab youth.
The support extended to armed insurgents — especially those in Libya and Syria. Support looked like government-backed weaponry, militaristic intelligence, and money (usually buffered through local nongovernmental entities) used to finance their sociopolitical objectives.
The critical nuances of “violence” rarely entered into the grassroots public discussion. “Violence” was confined to the actions of aggressive unaccountable governments. Insurgents weren’t seen as “violent” but strategic freedom-fighters whose response to oppressive regimes was best considered “self-defense.”
The Arab Spring was a feel-good story in the 24/7 news bubble. A dramatic epic of good versus evil told with the flashiness of an increasingly sophisticated social media element, the Arab Spring was a revolutionary awakening of what resistance looks like in the 21st century.
Less than three years later, everyone seems to have forgotten the Arab Spring. The same people who tweeted their support for insurgents and protestors, are now expressing their malaise towards Baltimore “riots” resulting from the murder of Freddie Gray.
The response from Baltimore-area protestors is not critically viewed as a product of disenfranchisement, victimization, and exasperation … it’s viewed as something less political, more visceral, and lacking any sociopolitical objective.
Why? Because the romanticized pursuit of “liberty” and “democracy” is no longer confined to a sector of a world we don’t know. It’s in our backyards, planted on our soil, and a direct threat to the society we do know.
If Baltimore was located on someone else’s soil America would’ve sent troops and aid by now .. To help the “people” free themselves
— TheSubject (@TefPoe) April 28, 2015
The society we know is an ironic one, in which our routine proximity to “violence” is marred in denial and ignorance. A nation LITERALLY founded on “violence,” and steadily uses “violence” to reinforce and expand its hegemonic grip, is populated by an under-educated mass who is unable to critically place American privilege within the scope of the violence American institutions cause.
What is “violence?”
“Violence” is an act of physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, or cultural aggression towards a person or people. Rape is violent. Murder is violent. Breaking a person’s spine is violent. Mia McKenzie profoundly writes “Violence is something that living beings experience.”
But we disagree on our respective analyses of property damage in the realm of violence. For me, property is an extension of personhood as it’s a materialistic result of labor. As such, violence can be done to property in that the true target is the person who owns it. When lynch mobs vaporized brick-and-mortar Black-owned businesses in Oklahoma (1921), the ultimate target was the self-sustaining commune of Black individuals — not the buildings themselves.
With “violence” to property, power plays a key role. When a powerful person destroys the property of the powerless, such is a substantial act of violence. But when a powerless person destroys the property of the powerful, the violence is NOT remarkably traumatizing, brutal, or long-lasting…and is thus unworthy of widespread empathy.
Altogether, when we place violence to property over violence to physical personhood, our moral compass doesn’t need readjustment — it needs to be rebuilt.
That’s why it doesn’t disturb me that a CVS and some police vehicles were destroyed. What disturbs me is the rampant mongrelization of righteous protests — both violent and nonviolent — that are smeared by mega media, and are besmirched by a political system that’s literally powered by violence.
Violence is not simple, nor is it even. Violence exists on a social spectrum; it’s weight determined by power, influence, and clout. The “violence” found in Black rage is minimal because it’s directed towards a mega-system that remains relentlessly unaccountable in its genocidal pursuits.
The “violence” plastered on TV screens is nothing compared to the violence of white supremacy.
*Featured Image Credit: www.wsj.com