Both Mohamed Bouazizi and Anders Breivik did not like the society they were living in and wanted to change it. The similarities between the two men stop there. otherwise they are each other’s exact opposite.

Suffering chronic unemployment the young Tunisian tried to make a living as a street vendor. This wasn’t easy either, due to the regular harassment from the much hated Tunisian police for failing to pay bribes. One day he had enough. After being slapped in the face by a police officer and having his scales confiscated, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire. His act was a catalyst for the Arab Spring.

What Anders Brevik didn’t like in his society was neither chronic unemployment nor harassment by the police but Middle Eastern looking people walking down the street. He despised the Labour Party for being “culturally Marxist” as well as his own parents for supporting it. On the 22nd July of 2011 Breivik shocked the whole of Europe when he killed 77 Labour supporters and injuring 151 by a car-bomb in a government building and a shoot out at Utoya island at a Labour Party camp.

Unlike Mohamed Bouazizi whose desperate act was triggered by the savagery of the Ben Ali regime, Anders Breivik enjoyed every right granted in a democracy. In fact, one reason why his acts of terror were so shocking is due to the fact that they took place in Norway, the country voted as most democratic in the world for consecutive years. Unlike Bouazizi, Breivik could have worked to change society by supporting a political party, or even form his own if none of the available parties supported his ideology.

Yet, the most striking difference between these two men is the result of their actions. Bouazizi probably knew his actions would have some kind of political impact, but I’m more than sure that he wouldn’t have predicted the whole of North Africa rising up against it’s tyrants following his self-immolation. On the other hand, Breivik’s utter failure resulted in a more united Norway instead of the one based on the apartheid and segregation he dreamt of.

My concern is that Europe has thousands of Breiviks. People who not only hate other human beings on the basis of race, culture or religion but also the very foundations of democracy.

The same democratic foundations that Mohemed Bouazizi and millions of North Africans are craving and spilling their own blood for.

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The American people are angry. Their anger is directed mainly at the super rich 1% whose net worth is the equivalent of a third of the whole US. They’re asking for more affordable healthcare, housing and education. They are fed up of bearing the burnt of a recession caused by other people, while those same people are barely affected. Hence, the Occupy movement.

One of their slogans says, “Is this what democracy looks like?”

They are right. They have been fooled and betrayed. And if the betrayal had a name, it would be Barak Hussein Obama.

Before becoming President, Obama promised change. Not a superficial one, like the skin colour of the President, but change where it really matters, namely foreign policy.

The Iraqi invasion and the following occupation were based on a lie: There were no Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) and Saddam Hussein, disgusting as he was, wasn’t a threat to the US. Many acknowledge the fact that the main aim of the invasion was getting hold of Iraq’s resources, especially oil.

What many non-Americans fail to realize is that the US average Joe, who pumped billions of dollars on this senseless war through his taxes, has gained nothing. All the spoils of war went to the same elite – the CEOs, bankers and politicians who are part of the 1%, or even a portion of it.

Public sentiment towards interfering in foreign countries has changed a lot since 2003. American citizens are fed up of financing these wars and prefer that their money is spent on them, in healthcare, housing and education.

Obama promised change. As Senator he used to ask the most relevant questions about the invasion/occupation of Iraq. Questions about its expenses, the use of mercenaries and the accountability of US troops. He gave clear indications that he was less interested in overthrowing regimes hostile to the US and more concerned about the health of American citizens.

Yet, three years later, while thousands of Americans are protesting and occupying public space, they are seeing a déjà-vu. Not only didn’t the US troops get out of Iraq, but it’s very likely that Iran will be invaded. The threat this time is nuclear weapons. The public is sceptic. They have been fooled too many times. They refuse to finance another war for the benefit of the 1% and their priorities are paying their bills, continuing education and feeling safe that the state will take care of them if they get ill.

They are also angry, very angry. This is not democracy; this is a farce. They voted for a Democrat who became a Republican once he got elected. Their protests were met with police brutality with the excuse of protecting the “general public”.

The similarities between their “democracy” and a totalitarian state are increasing by the minute. And they definitely don’t want this. How can one blame them?

Second only to the lack of concrete reason for the senseless violence, what was most striking about the riots in Britain was the extreme restraint the police used with the rioters and looters. Even myself, a strong believer in civil liberties and a hardliner against police brutality felt like screaming “what the hell are you doing, protect the people, they’re burning everything down and all you do is just watch

 

The lack of action by the police has also lead to the formation of vigilante groups of people trying to protect their areas. Once again, I’m generally against vigilantism, but how could I not approve otherwise peaceful people protecting their locality from burning?

This is all very strange, since the British police aren’t usually known for their softness. The most notorious tactic used by Britain’s police is known as kettling, used for the first time against people with a disability fighting for their rights in 1995.

Kettling involves a large number of police officers forming a cordon among the protesters and then tightening them up, many times for long hours without access for food, water, and fresh air.

https://i0.wp.com/previous.presstv.ir/photo/20110321/lotfi_morteza20110321171002793.jpg

 

This tactic, which has become closely associated with Britain’s police is a serious violation of Human Rights for many reasons. It is a type of collective punishment because if only a small section of the protesters are turning rowdy, all the rest have to suffer being in the cordon. There have also been many cases of passer bys being caught inside the kettle.

 

It has also been criticized for the fact that it is sometimes used pre-emptively with peaceful protesters and that rather than contain violence, the intention is mainly to deter people from going out to protest in the first place.

 

Some high profile cases where this was used in the UK, include the Mayday protests of 2001, the G8 summit of 2005, G20 of 2009 as well as last March during the anti-austerity protests.

 

While none of these protests was a full blown riot – at times there was no violence at all – by the time of writing (5th day of the London riots) not only kettling has not been used, but as everyone can see the rioters and looters are many times being allowed to do what they want.

 

Why have Britain’s police moved from excessive brutality practiced for the last 15 years, to this soft handedness in a matter of months? I don’t want to get into some conspiracy theory, but in face of such contradictions one starts thinking the absurd.

 

Is it possible that kettling and brutality have been used because all the other occasions, involved organized people demanding rights, while in this case this is just senseless violence? Since kettling usually provokes a backlash, is it possible that the police were instructed to turn non-violent people violent deliberately so that people justifiably demanding their rights come to be seen as violent thugs in front of the media?

“bahnan wiehed iwaddab gebla”

As the world recession – caused by corporate greed – takes its toll over the people of Europe, one of the most noticeable things on the rise is protest. As people see their income being reduced and massive layoffs taking place while social benefits are being reduced, they are getting angrier. And rightly so. The problem is not anger but what one does with it.

Many times this is taking place in the form of violence, most notably but definitely not exclusively in Greece. Be it over students stipends, pensions or unemployment, more and more Europeans are taking the streets and having protests escalating to violence is becoming all the more frequent. Many times this is controlled by police who end up abusing their power. (For example the use of “kettling” is on the increase despite the controversy it caused since many peaceful protesters as well as passer-bys end up harmed).

From the law enforcement side, the only ethical solution is curbing the violence without the brutality. However, what I want to talk about is preventing the violence, rather than dealing with it. As much as I disagree with their violent stance, I also understand these people are not throwing Molotov bombs, breaking windows and burning cars just for kicks.

All hell breaks loose whenever the phrase “austerity measures” is mentioned. Obviously no one likes having his wage, stipend or pension reduces, or worse still ending up unemployed. However, it is not only that what is driving people towards violence. It’s the injustice.

While the “austerity measures” are taking place, the elite are not taking their share (which should be the major part) of the responsibility. Unfortunately for them, most Western European countries are democracies and even though attempts of media control sometimes not only take place but also succeed (Italy being most notable example), people are realizing this. Corruption is rife, and most CEO’s, bankers and politicians are immune from austerity. Knowledge of this, coupled with losing his job, turns an otherwise law abiding citizen into a human time bomb.

What about here in Malta? We haven’t seen political violence for decades and that is a positive thing. However, rather than protest what most Maltese are resorting to is grumbling and complaining – on newspapers, social media, schools and university and their place of work, even on bus stops. This seems to be giving politicians the impression that they can keep controlling and alienating the masses for ever. Thankfully we are not that stupid. Yes, thankfully, however there is a downside to this. The more and more we suppress the anger, the more it builds inside and the unexpected might easily take place at the most unpredictable moment.

We are still in time though. All that is needed is political will – loads of it actually. Politicians should first and foremost start by declaring a war on corruption. Not the usual farce, strong with the weak, but a real crackdown. This in itself will ease the financial burden on the Maltese people, but even more than that, it will also instill trust in politicians because weather they are realizing it or not, they are losing it (amongst other things, the number of non-voters in elections is on the increase). This will in turn have a soothing effect on the people as they start to realize something is being done. That at least, they are not paying for the mess created by the elite on their own.

People should also start taking the streets – non-violently of course. Venting one’s anger is not only healthy, but gives a timely warning to politicians that enough is enough.

Otherwise if the pressure on the human time bomb is too much for people to handle, it will detonate in a matter of minutes. In the wise words of a police officer, “bahnan wiehed iwaddab gebla” (it just takes one fool throwing a stone), before the elite wake up from their denial with visions of smashed windows and cars burning, coupled by the smell of blood.

1,2,3
Arriva Pinochet
4,5,6
A morte gli Ebrei
789
Il negro non commuove
Seig Heil
Apartheid

What makes this ‘slogan’ worrying is the fact that it wasn’t sung by a couple of disoriented teenagers. It was sung by police, the ‘forze del ordine’ of what many consider a democratic country – Italy. These words were chanted while the Police were beating people (the absolute majority of whom were non-violent) who protested against the G8 summit in Italy, July 2001.

More than 300,000 people turned up to protest against the way eight countries were deciding the fate of the world between the 20th and 22nh July 2001 in Genova. They came from various groups and organisations, Catholics, Greens, pacifists, leftists and human rights activists. None of them had any violent intentions except for a small group of 500, the black bloc. With whom the latter were affiliated is still a mistery. The reason for this is chilling in itself, since after the riots, after the police brutality and murder of Carlo Guiliani, out of the 250 people arrested there was not a single ‘black bloc’ member.

Different movements demonstrated in different streets. The 500 black bloc divided themselves and infiltrated all the groups. They went, created a riot and vanished in a couple of minutes. Yet, after they left the violence continued, In many circumstances, especially regarding Catholic movements, the protestors did not offer any resistance, yet they were savagely beaten by the Italian police.

Some other movements retaliated to this abuse. One of them was Carlo Giuliani’s movement, Carlo being the only fatality in the whole episode (towards which two police officers were intercepted saying ‘uno a zero per noi’). Giuliani’s group believed in passive resistance. They were considered as ‘disobedient’ but not violent. At least not before the police started assaulting them with tear gas, beating them and chanting slogans like the one mentioned above.

Yet, there was more to come. Groups of demonstrators rested (with permission) in schools, most notably Scuola Diaz. The police infiltrated the schools and beat the shit out of them, not only the demonstrators but also journalists and medics who happened to be there. Not a single person of them was black bloc.

There is still speculation who the black bloc really were. Some think they were infiltrated within the police, others claim they are neo-fascists with the deliberate intention of disrupting the protests. Others believe they were just hooligans. Whoever they were is not really important now. What is very significant though, is the fact, that when these people committed illegalities, even before the riots started (including destroying the pavement and collecting large stones as ammunition) the ‘forze dell ordine’ did absolutely nothing.

Such repression is expected (though never justified) in countries where there is a dictatorship or a brutal regime in power such as Iran, China or Myanmar. However it is extremely disturbing that all this happened in a so called democratic European country only nine years ago. It is also worth mentioning that Italy is under the same Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, in the present day.

The attacks on democracy on July 2001 should never be forgotten, definitely not in the near future. They are a reminder that even in a European democracy a government can use an iron fist on civilians just exercising their fundamental rights of assembly and expression.

The only good thing that could come out of this tragedy is learning from it.