Thursday, July 08, 2010

Gandhi and 'Terrorism and Espionage'

I wrote just a short while ago about how media coverage in the lead-up to the G20 had likened protesters to animals, non-Torontonians, and, just generally, the Other. I didn't write about it on my blog, but I also noted on Facebook that CTV news used the descriptor "known activist" in a clearly pejorative way, as if it meant the same thing as "terrorist".

But this isn't exactly new or unique and news media is just reflecting wider-held attitudes. Case in point: my friend Sue was at a bookstore - Chapters, at Richmond and John in Toronto - and was looking at their 'Terrorism and Espionage' section. She found Che there, which is unsurprising given his violent opposition to American-backed dictatorships - he fits, and is maybe even a model for, Western images of what a terrorist looks and acts like.

A bit more surprising was Frantz Fanon, who is implicated, I guess, because of his writing on decolonization and his association with the revolution in Algeria. (But Fanon is still primarily a theorist, a thinker and writer - not a revolutionary leader or guerilla-figher like Che. One wonders why Marx doesn't somehow make it into this section, too.) Clearly, though, there's evidence here of a major slippage between a particular sort of revolutionary and terrorism. And to the extent that a difference exists at all, then these guys end up in this section because they're not white and their interests are opposed to those of capitalism.

Because, certainly, the grounds for making it into this section had nothing to do with the advocacy and/or exercise of violence - how else to explain why and how Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi were included in the 'Terrorism and Espionage' section? Seriously. Are there any more famous activists than these two? And they're catalogued under the heading of 'terrorism'? And do we need any further evidence that activism - especially non-white activists - and terrorism are being effectively collapsed into a single entity?

It's no wonder that the casual public has so little sympathy for activists who take their cause to the streets, and for the hundreds of activists who were beat up and jailed by police during G20, only to be released without charge. They were terrorists, after all, weren't they?


Erin O'Brien said...

I won't touch MLK----a terrorist only to Hoover, but Bapuji (Gandhi) was in his own strange way a very dangerous figure. He did a lot to snatch the jewel from England's crown. And he has been the model for so many anti-authoritarian movements to come (for example, protest of Vietnam War, protest of occupation of Tibet) that he is incredibly dangerous. Particularly when he had India mind-bendingly huge population at his disposal. If that isn't power, power has no meaning. General Dyer's attack on thousands of Indians still had no effect on the total population, except to enrage it.

But yeah, you have to wonder what side is the bookstore on. Perhaps rather than "terrorists" they should say "revolutionaries".

neilshyminsky said...

'Terrorism' is slippery, yeah - and there is certainly a good argument to be made the Gandhi was a terrorist. But so, too, can one easily be made for George Washington.

So the fact that one qualifies and the other doesn't is what I was really getting at. And the choice of 'terrorism' over 'revolutionary', and all the connotations that the former carries...