“… and if you gaze long in to an abyss …”
“We are told that the ‘enemy’ is not human, and therefore, exempted from our otherwise high standards in ensuring the protection of ‘human’ rights.”
On November 21st 2016, Jiang Tianyong – a prominent human rights activist in China – disappeared without a trace.
This is our story, as well as everyone else’s.
Jiang was a 45-year old Christian lawyer known for his vociferous protests against the “709 crackdown” – a sweeping operation carried out by the Chinese police against civil rights lawyers. He was also renowned for his work defending Tibetan nationalists, human rights activists, as well as the minority practitioners of Falun Gong.
In November last year, Tianyong went missing while on a trip to visit the family of a fellow attorney, who had been detained in the 709 crackdown. The office of the UN High Commissioner in Geneva released a statement that it “cannot rule out the possibility that Jiang may have been disappeared by state agents because of his human rights work”. A month later, Chinese authorities confirmed that they had detained Tianyong under suspicion of subversion.
Tianyong is far from the only anti-state activist that has gone missing in China. Exiled Uighur activist, Rabiya Kadeer, called for an international investigation into the disappearance of thousands of protestors from Urmuqi. Similar claims have been made by other activists, which the Chinese government usually denies.
We may be politically unmotivated to concern ourselves with the internal matters of our esteemed benefactor in the north. So pick another location; any location.
Consider the walling up of Palestine, widespread detention of Palestinian rights activists, and even right-wing campaigning against Israeli leftists that decry the ongoing treatment Palestinians. Or take into account the horrors demonstrated in Indian-occupied Kashmir; a region whose name more readily brings to mind the portrait of a young person disfigured by pellet guns, than it does the lush green valleys it’s renowned for.
Once we’ve understood oppression as no regional occurrence, but an international phenomenon that follows the same patterns and principles everywhere, it’s easier to study ‘oppression-ology’ as a science.
And this science is simple.
“The mantra of ‘Support Our Troops’ in response to accusations of war crimes against the US army, misguides the ordinary citizen into believing that the leftist outrage is directed at the brave solitary “troop”, and not at the system he takes orders from.”
Oppression is not possible without the compliance of a silent majority, attained by the systematic dehumanisation of the opponent.
We are told that the ‘enemy’ is not human, and therefore, exempted from our otherwise high standards in ensuring the protection of ‘human’ rights. Among the Israeli and the American right, this rule is demonstrated by the nonsensical narrative that Palestinian mothers want their children to be attacked by Israeli forces; just so they can upload videos of this brutality on the internet as political ammunition against Israel.
Ruth Weiss, a professor of Yiddish literature, once wrote, “Palestinian Arabs are people who breed and bleed, and advertise their misery”. The suffering of the victim is thus primarily the result of his/her own inhuman idiocy and eagerness to suffer, and only secondarily the responsibility of the offender who actually pulls the trigger.
Such narratives are fortified by parallel campaigns to exalt the ‘soldier’. In the United States, every liberal outcry against US military expeditions has been countered with allegations that critics are ‘unpatriotic’ at best, if not outright ‘traitors’. The mantra of ‘Support Our Troops’ in response to accusations of war crimes against the US army, misguides the ordinary citizen into believing that the leftist outrage is directed at the brave solitary “troop”, and not at the system he takes orders from.
Lest the assumed inhumanity of the oppressed – and the infallibility of the oppressor – fail to keep the masses from exchanging seditious whispers, we resort to the most effective excuse to validate oppression: ‘security’.
We are conditioned to believe that our world perpetually exists on the precipice of all-out war and chaos. The one thread holding us back from the abyss is the oppressor’s courage to defy morality for the sake of a greater good. What good is that? That is classified. But rest assured, there are valid reasons for this apparent breach of law and ethics.
“Israel has a right to defend herself”, said Hillary Clinton, echoing every right-wing Israeli politician who has ever been forced to justify the state’s hawkish policies. India has made similar claims over global outrage of civil and human rights violations in Kashmir, particularly those following the application of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in 1990. These are accompanied by the usual nationalist rhetoric about India’s need to do whatever it takes to ensure the “security” of its borders, and its people. The threat posed to Kashmiri Hindus – presently or in the past – by the separatists, is specifically highlighted to bait the hardliners of the dominant religious faction in the country.
These are not regional quirks. Like an internationally-approved surgical procedure, there’s a method to oppression that the powerful have perfected over centuries of practice. Once you strip away the names, and study cases of oppression simply in terms of the actions and reactions of the powerful and the marginalised factions, the stories start to feel interchangeable.
We realize that we’re Kashmir.
But we’re also Rohingya.
We are the same story – of oppression and injustice, of resistance and defiance – that can be retraced to the singularity of inequality itself.