Street protests are in. From Bangkok to Caracas, and Madrid to Moscow, these days not a week goes by without news that a massive crowd has amassed in the streets of another of the world’s big cities. The reasons for the protests vary (bad and too-costly public transport or education, the plan to raze a park, police abuse, etc.). Often, the grievance quickly expands to include a repudiation of the government, or its head, or more general denunciations of corruption and economic inequality.
Aerial photos of the anti-government marches routinely show an intimidating sea of people furiously demanding change. And yet, it is surprising how little these crowds achieve. The fervent political energy on the ground is hugely disproportionate to the practical results of these demonstrations.
Notable exceptions of course exist: In Egypt, Tunisia, and Ukraine, street protests actually contributed to the overthrow of the government. But most massive rallies fail to create significant changes in politics or public policies. Occupy Wall Street is a great example. Born in the summer of 2011 (not in Wall Street but in Kuala Lumpur’s Dataran Merdeka), the Occupy movement spread quickly and was soon roaring in the central squares of nearly 2,600 cities around the world.
Read more. [Image: Joshua Lott/Reuters]
For all the damage that mobs and armed groups have done in majority-Muslim nations in the past week, there is one target that they missed. The mobs in Cairo, one of many cities where protests followed the Innocence of Muslims video ridiculing the Prophet Muhammed, overlooked the Egyptian TV station that had actually broadcast it, Al Nas TV. Egyptian prosecutors have now issued arrest warrants for eight people in the United States with connections to the film — but they, too, overlooked the TV station.
While the film’s creators have received the attention they craved, it’s more illuminating to focus on Al Nas TV, which made them famous. The station’s story even suggests one possible answer to the problem of offensive speech in a number of volatile majority-Muslim societies.
Read more. [Image: YouTube]
In August 1857, a century before the United Nations would declare the Israeli state in what had been Palestine, before British and French diplomats would formally carve up the Middle East, before the U.S. would back a coup in Iran, before political Islamism would emerge, and before the U.S. would arm unmanned airplanes to kill Islamism’s most violent and radical adherents, the British empire found itself besieged by Muslim protesters.
Officers at Fort William, in the Indian city of Calcutta, were the first to require colonial troops to grease their rifles with a compound that included cow and pig fat, a mixture guaranteed to offend both Hindus and Muslims. Many of the troops, known as sepoys, protested. The protests spread and turned violent, growing into an uprising that effected much of the British Raj at a time long before it was unified by roads or telephones, much less cell phones or the Internet. […]
As the Western world once again endeavors to understand the roots of apparently anti-Western rage that have again surfaced in large parts of the Muslim world, it’s worth remembering the history of offense and backlash that has been a recurring theme of their intersections.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Protests against the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims have erupted in cities from Morocco to Somalia and Pakistan to Indonesia, an agglomeration of otherwise disparate societies that we sometimes refer to as “the Muslim world.” That phrase appears today in headlines at, for example, CBS News, the U.K. Telegraph, Radio Free Europe, and many others. […]
But, looking into the severity and frequency of the protests, their occurrence doesn’t seem to correlate as directly with the presence of Muslims as the phrase “protests erupt across the Muslim world” might lead you to believe. Even if that’s generally true, we might learn a bit more by looking also at who is protesting violently and who isn’t.
In a map above, I’ve charted the violent protests in red and the protests that did not produce violence in yellow. It’s an imperfect distinction; I’ve counted the stone-throwers in Jerusalem as a violent protest but the flag-burners in Lahore as non-violent. But it gives you a somewhat more nuanced view into who is expressing anger and how they’re doing it than to just say that the “Muslim world” is protesting. To help show what “Muslim world” means, I’ve used a map (via Wikimedia) that shows countries by their share of the world Muslim population. The darker blue a country, the more Muslim individuals live there.
Read more. [Image: Wikimedia/The Atlantic]
A masked demonstrator attends a demonstration in support of Pussy Riot, whose members face two years in prison for a stunt against President Vladimir Putin, outside Russia’s embassy in Berlin, on August 17, 2012.[Image: AP]
Top: A Chinese man stands alone to block a line of tanks heading east on Beijing’s Cangan Boulevard in Tiananmen Square, on on June 5, 1989. The man, calling for an end to violence and bloodshed against pro-democracy demonstrators, was pulled away by bystanders, and the tanks continued on their way.
Center-left: Workmen try to drape the portrait of Mao Tse-tung in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square after it was pelted with paint, on May 23, 1989.
Center-right: Bodies of dead civilians lie among crushed bicycles near Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, on June 4, 1989.
Bottom: Three unidentified men flee as a Chinese man, background left, stands alone to block a line of approaching tanks, in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, on June 5, 1989. The man in the background stood his ground and blocked the column of tanks when they came closer, an image captured on film by numerous other photographers and one that ultimately became a widely reproduced symbol of events there.
See more. [Images: AP, Reuters]
23 years ago today, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army violently cleared Beijing’s Tiananmen Square of protesters, ending a six-week demonstration that had called for democracy and widespread political reform. The protests began in April of 1989, gaining support as initial government reactions included concessions. Martial law was declared on May 20, troops were mobilized, and from the night of June 3 through the early morning of June 4, the PLA pushed into Tiananmen Square, crushing some protesters and firing on many others.
The exact number killed may never be known, but estimates range from several hundred to several thousand. Today, China’s censors are blocking Internet access to the terms “six four,” “23,” “candle,” and “never forget,” broadening extensive efforts to silence talk about the 23rd anniversary of China’s bloody June 4 crackdown. Here is that story, in images and words. Please share it widely.
When Farah said goodnight to her boyfriend one evening in January 2007, she had every reason to expect to see him the next day. Though she’d only been dating Omar for a month, the two students at Syria’s Damascus University already shared a special connection. Their first date had been over coffee. Soon, they were wearing matching clothes. “See you tomorrow,” they told each other that evening. But that “tomorrow” would not come for five turbulent years.
When Farah called him the next day, Omar did not answer. She looked for him in the dormitory and asked his friends, but no one would tell her where he was. She began to suspect that Omar, who was several years older and claimed to occasionally “travel,” had been playing games with their relationship. “I was angry, hated him a lot, and did not forgive him,” she recalled.
What she only learned later was that, in the early hours of the morning, eight Kalashnikov-wielding mukhabarat state police had arrested Omar in an Internet café where he had been chatting on MSN with a Syrian opposition member outside the country and e-mailing reports on detained students to international human rights organizations and Western embassies. At the time, Farah didn’t know he was involved in opposition activities, which had gotten him arrested before. Omar had so internalized his awareness of the regime’s reach that he’d kept this part of his life even from her. […]
Five years later, peaceful protests calling for Assad’s ouster turned to an armed uprising, with at least nine thousand killed so far, according to United Nations estimates, and opposition leaders calling for international intervention. For better or worse, Syria’s uprising may never have become what it is without the dedication of activists like Omar, and later Farah, who sacrificed for years, putting everything on the line to resist one of the world’s cruelest regimes. But their story also shows the perseverance of common human bonds even in the most trying circumstances, and the ability of Farah and Omar to rediscover their love, despite the turmoil that has permeated every layer of Syrian society, in one small but symbolic victory over the regime that would keep them apart.
Read more. [Image: AFP/Getty]
This is a beautiful, excellent story: ”And yet, for all the force of their love, it had taken an uprising to bring them together.”
An endless cycle of peaceful protest and violent crackdown has endured for now 15 months in Bahrain, the tiny Arab island nation where a U.S.-backed Sunni minority rules over a Shia-majority population. Less visible than the geopolitics (Saudi Arabia has sent troops in support of the monarchy, which it sees as a bulwark against Shia Iran), the complicated dilemma for the Obama administration, or the lives and struggles of the democracy activists who refuse to give up, are the children of Bahrain.
Human Rights First, a U.S.-based NGO that has worked heavily in Bahrain since the Arab Spring began over a year ago, recently launched a project called Through Children’s Eyes to check in with Bahrain’s children and attempt to understand how the country’s conflict is affecting them. Two local activists who work with Human Rights First — and who are now both in prison on political charges — “asked some children who had been directly affected by the crackdown to draw whatever was in their minds.”
[Image: Maryam, age 7, told activists that the drawing portrayed her and her sister running to help their uncle, who was shot in the head by security forces. Graphic images of his body were broadcast widely in Bahrain after the incident. The Pearl Monument again appears, frowning.]
A week after the attempted comeback of the most significant political movement of the new century, a triptych by photographer Richard Avedon now on display in New York gets a person thinking about the clues radicals have used over the years to signal their political beliefs. The ”photo mural” in question, part of an exhibit that opened over the weekend at the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea, features the Chicago Seven—the activists, Abbie Hoffman among them, charged with conspiracy after protesting the Vietnam War at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Though taken in 1969, as the Seven were awaiting trial, the three-part image looks as though it could have been shot in today’s Williamsburg. Many of the men are wearing high-waisted jeans; a couple are in whimsically striped shirts; two wear funky glasses; one has a woven belt, tied in a big knot. There’s also plenty of facial hair to go around. As a group, they come off as more goofily disdainful than revolutionary.
At the same time, they look quite different from their bourgeois contemporaries pictured on the other side of the gallery: the members of Allen Ginsberg’s extended family. Those photos feature men in crisp suits and requisite ties, ladies in polite cocktail dresses and kitten heels. No one would’ve mistaken the Ginsbergs for Yippies—members of the countercultural 60’s youth movement that Hoffman helped to found—just as no one would’ve mistaken Hoffman for a banker or any other kind of office worker. […]
But these days, differentiating the activists from the bourgeoisie on the basis of their attire can be much harder than it was in the past—perhaps in part because of the speed with which the fashion world is able to transfer looks from city trendsetters to malls across America.
Read more. [Image: The Richard Avedon Foundation]