Of the Stoic Citizens and Reactionary Governments

Part of fighting terrorism, the British realize, is refusing to change a way of life, writes Andrew Sullivan, and he calls it the “Quiet Power of the Stoic” in the Time Magazine this week.

Well, one will wonder why I stoop to quote Sullivan on the same page where I quote Neruda. Not quite unreasonable considering that today’s media provide the sort of inspirations like Sullivan’s pieces, for a scribe like me to think as deep as Neruda to ruminate over problems which have only proliferated since. Hence instead of the painstaking love ballads, I have to create the apt rebuttal for the reactionary stoicisms.

How do I react to the reactionaries? To the politically correct? To the timely interventionists? To the anti-terrorism conscience keepers? To the crusaders against illegal aliens? To the wise interpreters of Islam?

To begin with, one of the most popular bloggers of all time, Sullivan sure knows the vulnerabilities of the print media like Time. First, in times of crises like the London Blasts, its easier to express popular sentiments, and two, in places like Time, he cannot expect immediate responses. Its another matter that with all the trumpets being blown by bloggers about the grassroots media being one where there is a scope for the readers to correct the blogger via comments, Sullivan is out of comments on his site!

In any case who expects contrary comments when the bomb blasts in London is the only political incident today in the world and standing by the aggrieved is the only politically correct thing to do. So Sullivan writes:

The English, as Orwell once observed, celebrate their freedom in small ways: gardening, sports, pets, pubs, stamps, crossword puzzles. Part of this is now patriotic mythology. But part is also the enculturated national DNA to see these things not as trivial but as integral to the life of a free people. These things didn’t stop, even during the Blitz, when thousands lived through night after night with the prospect of being incinerated by bombs from the sky. Part of fighting the war, the Brits realized, was military. But part was also a refusal to change a way of life, however small its detail, however petty its peeves.

As long as some maniac wants to kill himself and others in a subway or supermarket, we will not be able to stop him. And so stoicism matters. Getting on with our lives matters. Spelling bees, college football, celebrity gossip, high school proms: the simple continuance of these things is integral to the meaning of freedom.

Or so the British have long proved. Their small-c conservatism can lead to errors of complacency–like appeasing Hitler in the 1930s. But it is also a deep strength, as self-effacing as it is unmovable.

I am rendered speechless and I do not know where to post comments. But here is what I thought Sullivan said and half meant.

Basically, do anything. Support Hitler. Gossip celebrity. Prom high schools. Invade Iraq. Stay conservatives. Let Tony Blair comment on how some Muslims got Islam wrong. Allow him to pass a stricter law now so that illegals can be filtered out. Call people maniacs, systems perfect and the celebrate indifference. Don’t reflect on actions, don’t contextualize. Just get going with life, as usual. Stay stoic. Don’t change yourself.

What Orwell forgot to mention was that the English celebrated their freedom in other small ways too: invaded the natives, raped their women, killed their ables, subjugated their economies, dried their resources, came back home peacefully without any damage, when they needed cheap workforce they got the natives to work as cobblers and slaves, treated them as dogs disallowing them to enter into restaurants, promoted racism, and when the natives forgot their language and became Englicised, refused them equal pay. After keeping them illiterate in their own cultures, got the natives to pay tuitions to study in English traditions, and when the students applied for jobs, asked them to go back home with a debt, and when few natives played by their rules and ran their industries and wrote their stories, they got them knighted so that they became to be known as English, not natives anymore.

If these are not exercise of unbridled freedom on part of the English, then I do not know what these are. And now what again so conveniently was forgotten by Sullivan was that alongwith the college football, the Brit ruling class has been perfectly innocently content about their sense of superior freedom when it comes to the debt trap they lead Africa into (some countries there have paid thrice the original debt only to suffer for the rest of the civilization trying to pay the guilt-ridden interests), about their realization of peace at inflicting deaths by the hundreds to the civilians in the middle east, over the Palestine crisis and the Iraq fiasco. When British personnel were exposed for prison torture, the English were at peace with themselves over such “small issues” too.

Who can afford to stay stoic? I cannot. I am enraged at the bombings. I am enraged at the bombings, yes prime minister, over the same bombings which killed Muslims too. I am enraged at the stoic take on the heinous bombings that killed ordinary lives, the British working class lives which never agreed with the Queen’s stance on Diana and Blair’s stance on Iraq. I am enraged at this whole thing about “Pakistani descent”, when all of the alleged bombers were British citizens. I am enraged at the whole lectures of the PM about Islamic extremism when it is partly a case of British security failure. I am enraged about the way its being dismissed as individual acts of terrorism, whereas the main bomb makers are largely amiss, their motives overtly unknown. Instead of looking at it as a social byproduct of modern capitalism, I am enraged at the way the narrative speaks only of the religious bigotry (itself a product of modern capitalism). I am enraged about the way distinction is being done among people of faiths basing on this incident which has to do more than religious sentiment.
Clearly no religion preaches violence. Why should the Muslims be singled out? When a Christian lobbyist cheats the Congress, does one blame Christianity and tries to dig its textual interpretations? Or when Mandela suffered for 27 years in the islands, was Christianity revisited?

Stoicism, my dear Andrew, is the opium of the British. And the ruling class of Britain wants it to stay. So that they can now tighten the immigrations a little more and claim to have solved the case with four dead men as providing evidence. And in the process the bigger questions will be purged: Who harbored the criminal intents? Who encouraged the situation? Whose education called for social distrust among promising youths? Who were they born and brought up amidst the British neighborhoods?

From nationalists in the 1850s, to being called patriots in the 1920s, to announced radicals in the 1960s, to call terrorists in the Bush era, individuals have been branded. Sullivan dismisses them as maniac individuals this time. The issues have changed, the enemies have changed, the causes have been reversed. Yet the violence persists. When the state machineries have gone violent, we have called them war, when individuals have chosen violence they are now suicide bombers. We do not know why these people have behaved this cowardly as they did now. One thing for sure, we know that many people all over the world have been converted into suicide bombers since at least three decades now. To dismiss their acts as manic acts of random nature would be to stay stoic and fail to bridge the gaps that exist between us humans. For one, going by the massive protests at all the meetings of world leaders (and we do not see many Muslims at all, remember!), we know that the rulers are not very much welcome by the ruled and their principles or lack of them are being vehemently opposed. What we need is a deep appreciation of contrary interests and constructive dialogues to understand the oppositional chords rather than being violent (which is easy for a police state anywhere to cause and generate), being stoic (which is easy for the i-pod generations and Disney theme park visitors in the developed world to enjoy and mock with), being dismissive and accusatory (which is easy considering the might and the wealth of the developed economies which never hears of the bombs in the quarrelling poor nations but goes deafeningly reactionary when any singular incident takes place and attributes religious and international tones to it to vitiate the atmosphere further).

With time, we shall know what circumstances we have created in a world we no more love, which have led many youths astray—from being socially productive, and individually progressive, to emerge as self-obsessed reflections of a warring imperialistic individualistic world divided by flags, religions and countries.

Between the mad people and the scared people (and scared people don’t remain stoic, remember), the situation may not be managed well. But by taking pride in a stoic citizenry instead of encouraging them to become alert international human beings, we are taking steps backwards.

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Author: Saswat Pattanayak

Journalist, Generalist, Atheist, Poet, Lover, Photographer, Communist, Third wave Feminist, LGBT ally, Black power comrade, Peacenik, Anti-capitalist, Critical media theorist, Radical film critic, Academic non-elite…

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