Emancipate your enemy

IssueSeptember - November 2001
Comment by Ippy D

This is not to ignore or condone the sometimes random and violent actions of some activists and police infiltrators. The expressions on the faces of the police who witnessed Carlo Giuliani's death should remind us of their intrinsic humanity, and that no-one should be on the receiving end of a rock, a petrol bomb, or a fist. However, this “violent 'anarchist' thuggery” – as it has been described – shouldn't divert us from the massive, overwhelming violence that millions of people experience as a consequence of modern capitalism, hand in hand with militarism. It was the issue the majority of protesters travelled to Genoa to protest about. 

Brutality for the majority

Only a few months back, activists were shot with live rounds in protests in Gotheburg, Sweden, and over the past three years thousands of protesters have experienced violence at the hands of the police. Reports of ill-treatment while in custody have been particularly horrific in Italy, but are a common feature of the detention experiences of many activists. In a public statement, one British-based activist has given a chilling account of his four days in custody, detailing beatings, sleep-deprivation, verbal abuse, ritual humiliation and intimidation: “Later on I heard this woman shouting 'please help me, please help me' over and over. This was torture, it was psychological and physical warfare. “I was hit in the face when the police were strip searching me, it was an open-handed blow. Dan [his seriously injured friend] said it was important to scream when the police hit you in order to deflect them from beating you further.” The death of Carlo Giuliani is tragic, he was a human being – and all life is precious. But he is, in the end, just one person. His death may be symbolic, but he is no more a martyr than everyone else who experiences violence or is killed at the hands of a state.

What exists for us?

If the death of one western protester upsets you, think of the hundreds of thousands standing behind him, often living in misery and usually dying quietly – a consequence of the outright theft and exploitation of their physical and human resources. The contrast between the coverage of Carlo's death and the regularity of deaths, disappearances and torture of activists around the world is stark. Just weeks before the G8 meeting in Genoa three activists were killed, and thirteen injured, by police at an anti-IMF student protest in Papua New Guinea; the public response to their deaths has been negligible in comparison. Are their lives of less value just because their deaths were not beamed into the homes of millions across the world? Is it because white skin is valued more? Or, on a more philosophical level, is it just that what we fail to see fails to exist for us?

Hope in humanity

One aspect of the Papua protests that has been reported even less than the killings, is the response of some soldiers from the Papua New Guinea Defence Force. Australia's grassroots socialist campaigning magazine, Green Left Weekly, reports that the student activists received some support from the Papua military after protesters marched on military barracks, asking soldiers to join them. According to GLW, army commanders were unable to “prevent a group of at least 60 soldiers marching in uniform in sympathy with the dead students” adding that “if protests continue and the army are mobilised to put them down, major defections could be likely”. It is in reports like these that we should see hope: hope that “our enemy” really can become our ally. Soldiers in Papua, like the Carabinieri in Italy, and like all those people who either choose or are forced into occupying roles where they become the functionaries of a violent state, have, like the rest of us, the capacity to change their values and their behaviour. It is in all of our interests to help them on that journey towards emancipation and to enable them to join us in working towards nonviolent revolution.

Creating our future

Each day in the so-called “developing” world, 30,500 children alone, die from preventable diseases such as diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections or malaria. Malnutrition is associated with over half of those deaths. And that's besides deaths resulting from HIV infection or conflict. If we had the courage to create a different world, that wouldn't be a daily fact. If you do pause to think about Carlo Giuliani, in him, see the rest.