Thursday, February 03, 2011

"Even Silence Has an End"

To those of you who are actively booking their next holiday already and were considering a virgin forest as number one destination on their list, I would recommend a thorough reading of Paul Theroux's "Mosquito Coast" before doing so. This superb story about a man engaging his entire family to trade their comfortable life in the city for an adventure to produce ice in the midst of the hostile Honduran jungle, is mind-boggling in it's description of the forest as a biotope. Theroux's "main character" is, literally, a green hell where stench and decay are the masters of ceremony.

Ingrid Betancourt, in her latest book "Even Silence Has an End - My Years of Captivity in the Colombian Jungle" (2010), adds another dimension to that picture: it's a world without horizon. A horizon which she had to miss during the six and a half years she was kept as a hostage by the FARC guerilla's.

Controversy almost seems to be Betancourts middle name. She made her mark in Colombian politics by running a campaign, handing out condoms on the streets, to symbolically protect the people from the endemic corruption in the country. That campaign didn't go exactly unremarked. And now again, she is being booed, despised, even hated by her fellow Colombians, while polls showed that at the time of her release Ingrid Betancourt, a presidential candidate at the time of her kidnapping, held an approval rate between seventy-one to eighty-three percent and she reached almost saint-hood in Europe, not in the least due to the welcomes she received on the Elysee in Paris and by the Pope in the Vatican. So where did it go wrong ? Main reason is her request for arbitration, in September 2010, of a six million dollar claim for moral compensation and loss of revenue during her years in captivity. Though Betancourt -clearly taken by surprise by the outpouring of negative, even vitriolic, reactions- explained herself in the media that the claim (and the enormous amount) had more of a symbolic meaning and that she had never nurtured the intention to actively sue the Colombian State or the Army, which were responsible for her successful rescue in 2008, the damage had been done. Ingrid Betancourt became persona-non-grata for large parts of the Colombian population. Though in interviews she has stated herself that, after all her trials and tribulations, she has no further political ambitions, I'm personally convinced, judging from her past political and personal record, we haven't seen the last thing of her yet.

The duality of this complex person is just as well intricately woven into her book. On the one hand, in "Even Silence Has an End" she talks about a life that was no longer under her own control and the constant struggle to maintain one's dignity, which she ranks more important than life itself, under such dire circumstances. On the other hand, the reader should be aware that quite a few of her fellow captives had already published their memoirs before her: Clara Rojas, her campaign-manager; John Pinchao, a young soldier who managed to escape; Luis Eladio Perez, a colleague senator and three American contractors (Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell and Thomas Howes) whose airplane crashed in the jungle. Especially the books of Clara and of the three Americans are less than flattering in their judgment of Betancourt as fellow captive. So "Even Silence has an End" certainly also holds an apologetic meaning: when every-one has had the chance to tell their truth, now it's my chance to tell mine. "Rashomon" revisited, so to speak.

Even holding this caveat in mind (as one should), reading Betancourts' story, spread out over seven-hundred pages in the original edition, nevertheless is a most gripping and upsetting experience. We are faced with a woman who has been digging deep into her inner self, looked at her personality from every angle and as a result produced this amazing "report" on those six years of her life. One can only imagine how painful the writing process must have been. While writing the book, Betancourt withdrew from public life into the mountains, such that every night, after finishing writing for the day, she would have ... a horizon to watch.

The layers of the book vaguely remind the structure of Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin", which is built around concentric circles from which the revolution is spreading: in the center, there is the ship "Potemkin"; in the middle ring, there is the city of Odessa and at the very outside of the circle is the Russian society as a whole. Betancourts "Potemkin" at the center holds the different camps where she has spent her time (she herself clearly calls it concentration camps, though not extermination camps); in the middle, like some Alcatraz prison, there is the Amazon forest while the outside world, with all of it's social and political machinations, constitutes the outer ring. The book, in essence, is the story of her constant struggle to get from the innermost to the outermost circle, through that hostile "green hell" that is the Amazon forest right in the middle. She sets the tone right from the start, by telling (a-chronologically) the story of one of her five escape attempts. Failed, like all the others, but her inspiration to immediately start planning for her next attempt, for no matter how hard and cruel the punishments may have been every time she got caught again by her perpetrators of the FARC, she knows that forsaking the hope of escape and thus liberty equals the end.

The book remains captivating throughout the narrative because of the multiple layers, first and foremost the one of a woman who is always analyzing herself in the light of constantly changing, but always extreme, circumstances and who mentally thrusts herself forward towards a point in time beyond her captivity and from there is asking herself: will I, once I have arrived at that point, be able to face myself in the mirror without having to turn away my eyes ? Despite the stories of her fellow-captives, Betancourt is very convincing in making us believe that she has succeeded in that feat "con brio". No one will ever really know what happened there in the jungle. She herself has stated at several occasions that "what happened in the jungle, shall remain in the jungle". Personally I'm convinced that Ingrid Betancourt, during her years of captivity, has not been able to avoid all the pitfalls of greed, egoism and the like and she makes no effort to deny it in this book. Yet, I also deem it reasonable to believe that her plight, being one of the very few women among the hostages and with her standing as a trophy-prisoner for the FARC, must have been even harder to bear than it was for the others. Although there have been contacts and friendships that have helped her survive the ordeal, such as with Luis "Lucho" Eladio Perez, or with Marc Gonsalves or John Pinchao, it is just as clear that she has been no exception to Sartre's "L'enfer, c'est les autres" (Hell is the others), whether those others were her fellow hostages or her FARC captors.

Then there's also the narrative of this omni-present jungle, which at scarce moments unfolds it's beauty, but which is above all a formidable enemy, where danger always lurks no further than behind the next tree. Betancourt survives hornet attacks, invasions of giant ants and an encounter with a "tiger"; she survives thunderstorms which she has to brave without shelter, chained by her neck to a tree. Sometimes she manages to turn the "enemy" into an ally, such as when, in yet another escape attempt, she and Lucho let themselves be carried downstream for days by the water of one of the rivers cutting through the jungle ... only to be caught again in the end. The jungle devours head to toe those wo are so unfortunate as to fall into the hands of the guerilla, only to spit them out, worn and torn, on a godforsaken place and time ... . Or not at all.

In her book, Ingrid Betancourt, in her own, personal way, deals with the FARC: they're terrorists, not just in the political sense of the word but also in the very literal meaning of the word. What they do to their captives, is inhuman. Yet, at several points in her narrative, there is a glimpse of compassion for the boys and girls -some almost children still- being part of this army seeping through. In interviews she has declared that the routine would unmistakably always be the same: each time they were transferred to a different camp, the atmosphere among hostages and guards initially would still be tolerable. Their new guards were still quite friendly and accommodating to their requests, but as time went by, their behaviour invariably would worsen to the point of them becoming almost sadistic.

I'd like to take the opportunity to at least insert a word of criticism with respect to this layer of the story. I was surprised that in her book, Betancourt, being a politician pur sang, has not documented better what is motivating this -at least in name- Marxist group of rebels. There is not much more to be found than some short descriptions about meetings where the guerilla's shout some slogans and do some singing. But what is their ideological background and motivation ? What are their political goals ? Do they have any left at all ? I am convinced that Ingrid Betancourt has had this sort of discussions with her guards and captors, and it could go a long way in explaining the political circumstances under which this whole episode of her life is taking place, but you won't find it in this book. Maybe, it doesn't matter after all. The time that FARC, being originally the military wing of the Colombian communist party, still had some ideological credibility left, is long gone since they have engaged at full throttle in the lucrative narco-trafficking.

The layer of the book that stuck to my memory most, however, is Ingrid's description of her relation to her father, Gabriel Betancourt, twofold Minister of Education in Colombia and for long years top diplomat to the UNESCO, on the one side and with her mother, Yolanda Pulecio, former beauty-queen turned social activist turned politician on the other hand.

Betancourt almost literally sets out on her unfortunate trip that will lead to her captivity from the bedside of her sick father. Because of his bad condition, she had almost canceled the trip to San Vicente, but he promises her he will wait for her return, as he always has. So she goes. She learns about his passing away a few short months after being abducted into the jungle through a newspaper (carelessly or purposely) left laying around. It is the first and maybe the deepest moment of despair she has to go through during her forced stay in the Amazon forest.
The hope that gives her strength comes from the voice of her mother, via Caracol Radio which the hostages can listen to on small transistor radio's. Every day that radio-station is broadcasting a program serving the families of the hostages to send messages to their beloved ones and almost daily, for that long six years and a half, Yolanda Pulecio's voice will ride those airwaves, penetrating the deep jungle, to talk to her daughter. If you have ever seen the images of Betancourt's arrival in the airport at the outcome of her rescue, coded "Operation Jaque" ("checkmate'), you may be able to have a certain sense of the magic connecting these two women and which they have been able to maintain all through the ordeal. Making abstraction of every rightful or false accusation to their address, this book brings homage to an unbelievably powerful love between two unbelievably strong women who in their characters, their engagements, their restlessness and even their controversies are almost each others mirror images.

When, at the end, the reader turns the last page of this book, one has passed through a universe that defies the imagination, due to it's brutality but also it's beauty and it's sharp observations of what it means to be "human". The "human" Betancourt makes mistakes and is held accountable for it in her homecountry and beyond, but the portrait of the woman emerging from these pages truly belongs in the gallery of the great.

Sincerely Yours.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

To Leak or Not To Leak, That's The Question !

I suppose George Orwell must be having a blast in his grave. What has dominated the news over the last week, was Little Brother finally standing up to Big Brother and saying: "Now let's see, what have we got here, huh ?"

Julian Assange must have been on the cover of practically any magazine and newspaper from here to the moon and beyond and his "WikiLeaks"-website did what was before deemed impossible: beat Steve Jobs this time around when it came to creating buzz. Consider this figure: the site that is under heavy attack from hackers of all sorts and is now basically roaming the Web from host to host, is mirrored on over 1200 other sites, neatly indexed here. Little Brother is not likely to make it's retreat any time soon, it would seem.

Illustration by Rob Beschizza via boingboing
The leaked cables from the American diplomatic corps induced a few good laughs, a few raised eyebrows and so far a minority of real "wow"s (and even those: are we really - I mean: REALLY - surprised American diplomats are instructed to spy on senior U.N. Staff, Ban Ki Moon included, and if possible gather any biometric data they can get their hands on ?). At least, that's what the mainstream media is feeding us and I haven't gone into much further detail on the exact content of the cables themselves. Maybe there is much more incriminating stuff, maybe there is more that still has to surface from the WikiLeaks document vaults, but so far, I think the late French President François Mitterrand would have taken recourse to his famous little phrase again (when asked by the press to confirm whether he had an extra-marital daughter by the name of Mazarine): "Et quoi alors ... ?" End of the story. (Eat your heart out, Bill Clinton !)

Yet, "Cablegate" is already whipping up a growing storm (I wouldn't want to classify it as a hurricane yet, for we still do not know the complete fall-out or what is to follow still). The US State Department is already reshuffling it's diplomatic personnel, starting with those that are named in the cables. I suspect we'll see more actions coming up as a result, however I don't see a new world order emerging in the wake of the publications as some seem to think or hope. The question we should ask ourselves, is whether "Cablegate" is serving the purpose of making this world a better place, of increasing transparency and of holding stakeholders responsible. For many people, the answer is an unconditional "yes, of course". For Big Brother Government ... well, I think the current witch-hunt for Assange says it all: Big Brother is NOT amused ... at all. Good thing ! But do the pro's outweigh the contra's ? Here's my take.

I personally already get a bit nervous from the starting point. We are indeed talking about leaks, meaning per definition something that isn't meant to exist, to be there. These documents were not meant to be seen by the wide public, at least not in any near future, so someone had to go through a lot of hassle (and personal risk) to get them out of wherever they were stored. Now why is that someone taking such an action against such formidable odds, and now I am not strictly speaking about Cablegate (next release promised by Assange is on a major American Bank, so we'll be in a whole different ballpark then. That is: if the poor guy survives Interpol that suddenly shows interest in sexual assault, Swedish Justice, UK police and the wrath of the Holy American Inquisition) ? I am always inclined to think that human behavior is basically driven by selfish motives. I know the exceptions are numerous and easy to pinpoint, but for a fairly big part of what is called the human race, I think my premise stands. So if someone is coming to me with a set of documents which may contain incriminating evidence against any organisation, my first reaction would be to think: "What is in it for this person, making him do this ?". His reasons may have resulted in him selecting a very particular part of a wider set of documents that serves his particular purposes. Or it may be that he wants to  cast a shadow on one party in order to benefit another one ... that pays more ? I mean: leaks may serve a purpose for the better, but they are never innocent, for often it will be one or few individuals, by means of the leak, silently trying to impose their will or vision on a crowd who's typically not in the know. So if we are seeing the start of a movement that will flatly condone and hail any leak on any big organisation, I'm sceptic whether this is a sound foundation to work from. I'm not overly concerned (yet) with Assange's brainchild, for WikiLeaks in general seems to be doing it's due diligence on the documents before spreading them, but the next kid on the block may be tempted to be less scrupulous already, drooling at the thought of the media coverage and visibility it will get, and I don't even want to think what the next baby on the block might look like.

Then there is the issue of spin. Depending on who gets to read it, a message will often be open to interpretation in different ways. There is no need to put a spin on a message that remains hidden in the back-offices of Big Government in Washington. There is always a need to do so, for any party involved, for any message that finds it's way out of those back-offices. And from the "Cablegate" documents, I am particularly concerned with those on the Middle-East. WikiLeaks has now unmasked some of the heads of state in that region as having secretly insisted with the U.S. Government to retaliate against the nuclear "insubordination" of Iran. Forget Israël, Iran is the threat. So we are lead to think: "Hah, those hypocrites, they fear their own muslim brothers more than the Jews". However, if we had been in the Bush-era still, I suppose the champagne supply to Washington would have noticed a remarkable hausse for finally, here is the perfect excuse to go and bomb those ayatollahs into oblivion: even Iran's neighbours, even if they can't say it out loud, are begging us to do it ! Now suppose those cables had not been leaked, nobody would have been "officially" aware of the stance of those kings and presidents and then of course the U.S. couldn't have attributed any such statements to them since they are considered allies to a certain level. Those cables are a rallying cry for war against Iran and those who want to oppose the idea will now have an even tougher time to counter the arguments, since the support of the hard-line just got so much stronger.

A further related point, to which my attention was drawn in an interview with Noam Chomsky, is that by releasing all this information on the top levels of government, it is, alongside with Big Government, deviating attention away from the reality in the street:

NOAM CHOMSKY: That essentially reinforces what I said before, that the main significance of the cables that are being released so far is what they tell us about Western leadership. So Hillary Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu surely know of the careful polls of Arab public opinion. The Brookings Institute just a few months ago released extensive polls of what Arabs think about Iran. The results are rather striking. They show the Arab opinion holds that the major threat in the region is Israel -- that's 80. The second major threat is the United States -- that's 77. Iran is listed as a threat by 10%.
With regard to nuclear weapons, rather remarkably, a majority -- in fact, 57% say that the region would have a positive effect in the region if Iran had nuclear weapons. Now, these are not small numbers. 80, 77, say the U.S. and Israel are the major threat. 10 say Iran is the major threat. This may not be reported in the newspapers here -- it is in England -- but it's certainly familiar to the Israeli and U.S. governments, and to the ambassadors. But there is not a word about it anywhere. What that reveals is the profound hatred for democracy on the part of our political leadership and the Israeli political leadership. These things aren't even to be mentioned. This seeps its way all through the diplomatic service. The cables do not have any indication of that. 

Okay, I concur with Chomsky that the cables thus uncover the cover-up of this reality by the western leadership, as he calls it, ... but only if you are aware of that reality from other sources. Meaning, the cables do not in themselves give you the right or total view. The cables themselves are putting already a spin on a reality that many at the top would prefer to be kept hidden and it is for us to strip it down again. Not an easy task indeed, if you ask me.

And then there is "Transparency". I bet God Almighty himself is jealous he didn't create that during the seven days he had at his disposal for Creation. What would we be without transparency ? WikiLeaks says it is offering up 250.000 documents for perusal. Hallelujah, Transparency brought to us on four wheels, drawn by a 2 and a 5. However, I think that in itself is an insane number. No-one, however interested he or she may be, is going to read all that, yet, a lot of that stuff will have obvious (or less obvious, but maybe not less important) links to each other in the frenzied folly of world politics. So what will happen ? Big Media will filter it for us so that it's easier to digest, in the process putting THEIR spin on it ... and we're back from where we came. I have my doubts that the release of all those classified documents is really going to represent a major breakthrough in transparency and holding governments accountable for their actions. Governments start wars, so they're good at it. First rule when you come under attack from the enemy: either run for your lives ... or dig yourself in. I suppose we'll be seeing a lot of digging going on in the foreseeable future, thus bringing in effect the exact opposite of what we were after.

So should we get rid of this new sort of "leak-journalism" altogether ? Not by any means.

We in the West pride ourselves on the fact that we have democratic institutions, that we live in democratic countries and yes, it's not me who is complaining about that. But let's look at the facts. After the nice show that is being made of elections, it's still a select group of people at the top who set out the lines. Where I live, with our six governments, it has been very much "en vogue" over the last rounds of elections -and I can assure you, we've had more than of our fair share of them- to put candidates on the lists who were telling us beforehand that, if they were elected, they wouldn't take up that mandate (for instance, because they were already elected in one of the other five governments) but who are simply there because they have the highest visibility within a certain Party and thus are useful for electoral marketing purposes. Have no doubt: some of those, notwithstanding the upfront warning, do get elected so you won't find me among the chorus chanting that the voter is always right. But that means that our electoral process shows the A-side, while the important things are going on on the B-side. That's an oversimplification of sorts, but I guess you know what I am hinting at. Therefore, it is good that some pressure is exerted on those in Big Government, or as Sean Connery put it to Wesley Snipes in "Rising Sun" (Philip Kaufman, 1993): "We're beating the grass to startle the snakes". WikiLeaks may have started to do just that. If "Cablegate", as well as the previous or the still to follow releases, is contributing to creating a mindset with those in command where, before taking action, they start asking themselves :"What if this gets known ?", then we're on the right track.

The Internet, by means of this sort of actions, may be growing into the sort of instrument that becomes the nightmare of corrupt governments worldwide. By virtue of it's easy and ubiquitous access, it is predestined to become just that and WikiLeaks is exploring it's possibilities at full throttle, leaving some of the implicated in uncomfortable positions gasping for breath. And for sure, there is much more work left to be done by this whistleblower, as basically, what we've seen so far is that the one blowing the whistle becomes the hunted while the target walks free. Bradley Manning, the intelligence analyst of the U.S Army in Iraq who leaked this video of a U.S. helicopter attack on a group of Iraqi civilians, killing several among whom two Reuters' journalists and injuring two children, is now being held in a Kuwait prison for leaking this information while the attackers still have to be charged and the Rules of Engagement for U.S soldiers have not been changed in any significant way. So yes, let's keep pushing the buttons, but let's do it in a responsible way.

Because, after all, it's a very thin line we are walking. I'm not with those wolves howling in the woods that every diplomat is a corrupt and treacherous creature. Diplomacy, in my view, is one of the very few instruments we have that can keep this world from sinking down in outright chaos and diplomacy is often what is still saving lives when the big industrial complexes and various lobby groups have decided that it wouldn't be bad for business to start a war. Halliburton, anyone ? The very essence of diplomacy is that it works in the background (for it's the only place where it can work, with too many over-sized ego's monopolizing the foreground) and I wouldn't want to see that entire machinery being destroyed. Also, the job was never meant for sissies, so let's get over it when they call each other a "nutcase" and move on. We've seen far worse things than that. Finally, one last thing to keep in mind: when Mao Zedong kicked off the "Four Pests Campaign" in 1958, he ordained all sparrows to be killed because they eat grain seeds and were considered bad for agricultural production. So the masses were mobilized to turn China's countryside into the noisiest place on earth, such that the sparrows had to constantly remain airborne, leading to them falling dead from the sky by the millions from sheer exhaustion. What followed, however, was an enormous increase in locusts and insects that destroyed the crops, leading to a nationwide famine, as there were no more sparrows to keep them from doing it. So let's be careful what we ask for, let's make sure we are not killing all the sparrows.

The famous "Chinese" curse "May you live in interesting times" is definitely working it's charm again these days. I prefer to keep a cautious attitude on what's going on now, though I do feel a certain sense of excitement that this is happening and that Little Brother is voicing some opposition to Big Brother. I tend to like equal playing fields, so as long as we don't forget to "check the checker", I'll be pleased to side with the underdog.

George, weren't you working on a sequel ?

Sincerely Yours.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Emotional Youtube

I haven't yet been spending that much time on Youtube. I feel it's a little overwhelming: where to start and what to look for? But I do get to make my passages, mostly looking up a song before purchasing it from iTunes, or just because a song happens to be a wandering thought in my mind. And when I did, I do have been running into some things that captured my attention, like this "Where the hell is Matt ?" video, that never fails to make me feel happy, for the sheer joy it oozes from it's images and for the incredibly beautiful "Praan".

But there are two other vids I would like to talk about in this post. They're nothing special, yet I find them extraordinary.

The 41st second

"I heard there was a secret chord, that David played and it pleased the Lord"...
I heard Jeff Buckley's version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" for the first time when I was in my car, on my way to work, and sure enough it came delivered with all the big emotions. Shivers. Tears to my eyes. There will only be a handful of songs in one's lifetime that will have the power to bring that about and "Hallelujah" for me is among that exquisite company. I've been listening to it, heard it so many times in the meantime that the most shiny splendour of the song starts to wear a little thin already, but then all it takes is just to watch this video to restore it to it's simple and glorious beauty. All it takes is to watch that 41st second, where Buckley hits that "secret chord" and to wonder how the Lord could not be pleased ? I've watched several live recordings of the song (there used to be one on Youtube where it had an even more dramatic impact, but it seems not be there anymore). Buckley plays that intro in all sorts of ways, sometimes letting it organically grow out of a disarray of notes, sometimes mumbling some words through the music ... until he gets to this point, where his hand rests for a split second ... and then hits that chord on the strings of his guitar with a strength and a conviction that would make the gods on the Olympus look down to see what's happening. And you know: once he's reached that point, he's ready for the song. From that moment on, the melody converges and he takes you on a journey into that biblical / mystic universe of lovers, saints, prophets ... created by the great Leonard C.

In this live performance in Chicago, it took him 41 seconds to get there, but oh boy, is it worth the wait !!

The Editors

Every year, beginning of July, the young and the beautiful, weary of the exams they just had to sit through in the weeks past, descend "en masse" on this place not too far from Brussels called Werchter to join one of the biggest and best rock-festivals on the continent. Currently a four-day feast, it's almost become a ritual of passage for those youngsters. For quite a few among them, it will be the first time they won't be going home but instead will spend the night in a tent on the camping site adjacent to the festival area, equipped with backpacks full of canned food, cheap beers, rubber boots and plastic bags as cover for the rain that is always a threat around here. Rock Werchter, for four days each year, becomes the center of the world for the mainly adolescent crowd that wants to shirk off the stress of the exams and get high on the music of their heroes.

This year, under some of the best sun this festival has ever seen, the british rockband from Birmingham "The Editors" with lead singer Tom Smith were taking the crowd through their play-list when they got to this magnificent "No Sound But the Wind". Smith, solo on the piano, sets in with this Nick Cave-like voice on the dramatic story of the song and silences the crowd in awe. Hands go up, sixty-thousand people intently listening to  a very fine piece of music. But then the camera, that up till then had randomly been scouring the crowd, picks up on this boy in the middle of that mass of people. Eyes closed, face drawn as if he feels the pain of every word coming from that stage deep into his own soul, he sings along with Smith in absolute sync. Camera pans away, as if to respect the trance of that boy. Pans back ... and the crowd is picking up the image on the large screens next to the stage, starts gently to roar and to applaud. The boy is yet unaware. Hands in the air. Shouting in silence. The world around him does no longer exist. There's only that pain that needs to find a way out. Tom Smith, behind his piano, is now picking up the scene from among the crowd. Smiles. Sings "Help me to carry the fire". The boy is still mesmerized, but finally notices himself being the focal point of all the intention. Shies away ... but not before he has initiated a massive round of applause.

As I was watching that video, I was asking myself: when was the last time you had been so totally "begeisterd", so totally smitten that nothing else seemed to matter anymore ? When was the last time you had so totally let go as this boy among a crowd that dwarfed him like a drop in the sea ?

And I had the answer to that question ... To my great relief, I found it hadn't been too long ago. At age forty-three, I was happy to know that some things were still able to touch me, maybe not as obvious as in this video, but probably as deep as the effect "No Sound but the Wind" had on this boy.

Thank you Youtube and thank you to whoever was behind the camera for picking this up.
Moments and images to cherish.

Sincerely Yours.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Time will tell: the story of Aisha

Sometimes, one gets desperate.

Magazine "Time", August 9th, 2010, on it's front cover:

Where did it go wrong, that this planet harbors human creatures that find it in themselves to be able to do this to fellow humans ? 18-year old Aisha's nose and (not visible) both ears were cut off by her brother-in-law on instruction of a Taliban commander, for she had dared to run away from the house of her husband, where she was often beaten and maltreated by her in-laws and so she had to serve as example, lest other girls in the village where she lived would be inspired to do the same. She was left behind on a hilltop to die, choking in her own blood. For some reason, she survived.

"Time"'s headline going with this coverphoto (taken by Jodi Bieber) is saying "What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan". The statement is, if not entirely, then at least fundamentally irrelevant: Aisha's nose was cut WHILE we (read: the coalition troops) were there. And we couldn't prevent it. Not that it matters. Had we not been there, Aisha's nose would still have been cut. For there's "people" out there who gave up halfway on the human path of civilisation. They dropped out of class, teamed up with some more drop-outs, named themselves -oh, supreme irony- "Students" - Taliban- and started to spread the sort of teachings that would have made any Neanderthal man run away in disgust: "You run, I cut your ears and nose off". You can tell me about any historic condition, about any macro- or micro-economic context, about the support this gang received from the West as opposing force to the Russians: you can tell me all that as the underlying reason why the Taliban became the Taliban of today, and I still won't feel a single pang of pity or compassion for the monsters that are capable of committing this sort of senseless cruelty, all in the name of religion.

Yet, the most relevant part in that picture is not in the nose that is missing, is not in the cruelty it exposes, for there can be found numerous of that kind of pictures. The Taliban have not particularly been lacking in leaving a trace of human destruction and defamation. The relevance is in the existence of the picture itself and the way in which it was taken. Notice that this picture is not taken in a hospital, or in some backroom of a dilapidated building where one is hiding: Aisha has actually been posing for this picture and by doing so, has made one of the strongest, silent accusations that will send shockwaves through the world, but also, more importantly, will send a message to the Taliban that one day people will stand up against this atrocious caricature they've made of islam and will tolerate no more. That day, Aisha is saying in this picture, is coming closer and it won't matter whether we are there or not. Afghanistan is no longer separated from the rest of the world, Afghans are aware that the world outside is moving on, beyond this sort of animalistic behavior, and the day will come when they, and especially the women, will say the word: "Enough !" ... or send a Tweet.

Pictures have been known to be changing the course of history, such as the one from Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the girl that ran towards the lens of Nick Ut from Associated Press, after she had been burned by napalm in Vietnam. Or the footage from "Tankman" on Beijing's Chang'an Boulevard. (In 2006, I wrote an article, "Image-ine" about those two examples on my other, China-related blog "The Crazy Insect"). They changed the perception of how the public thought about the war or conflict they were trapped in and maybe ensured that next time things will take a different course. Aisha's picture on the cover of "Time" may be joining the ranks of those pictures that clearly represented a challenge to the "business-as-usual" sort of strategy continued by those in power. The courage to do so, to have her picture taken in the way she did, is the real story and "we" have very little to do with it.

Sincerely Yours.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Waltz with Bashir

At the time when I was about 15 years old in 1982 - 1983, I remember attending the daily ritual of watching the news with my parents and my brother and seeing these images from a war-stricken zone coming in. They were images of incredible destruction, of rubble and debris everywhere in the streets of what could hardly be called a city anymore and I remember asking myself: "But what is there that anyone would want to fight about ? Why on earth would one want to try and defend that pile of shelled walls and broken down buildings and why would another party want to capture them in the first place ?" I couldn't understand and I must confess that, at that age, I also didn't dive deeper in the origins of that conflict going on, but I do still remember the steady stream of images finding it's way onto our television screen almost like a daily diet.

The country was Lebanon and the city in rubble was Beirut. It was called "Operation Peace for Galilee". It is better known as the "Lebanon War". The increasing presence of Palestinians in Southern-Lebanon had raised the pressure on Israels borders and on the Lebanese Christians living in that area. So, in order to install a security zone of about forty kilometers wide from which the majority of enemy weapons couldn't hit Israeli territory anymore, Israel decided to invade Lebanon and clean it of the terrorists attacking them. Ariel Sharon, then defense minister, had a more elaborate plan in mind though: he wanted to push as far as the capital of Beirut and install a christian regime, friendly to Israel, headed by up-and-coming man Bashir Gemayel. Which is what happened, though Gemayel didn't enjoy his new function for very long: he was murdered, purportedly by a Syrian, Habib Shartouni, on September 14, less than a month after being in office.

Sixteen years after the facts, in which he took part himself as an Israeli soldier during the invasion, director Ari Folman confronted the world and himself again with this (another) dark page in the Middle-East history, releasing the cruelly beautiful animation movie "Waltz with Bashir" onto cinemascreens worldwide. He went on to be nominated for the Academy Award for "best foreign film" in 2008, which he lost, but grabbed the Golden Globe in the same category.

Watching the movie (unfortunately under mediocre conditions on the most ubiquitous screen of all, nowadays, i.e. YouTube) made me remember an article I had read one time in Newsweek and in which the author -I don't remember the name- pointed out the dangers of the big numbers with respect to "memory". For what difference does it make to an unknowing audience whether you say ten thousand or fifteen thousand people died in a war ? It's a difference of five thousand. So what ? People die every day, especially in wars. It becomes different when you say: Joe, Marc, Hendrik and Karl died in that war. And so did Karl's son, Jonathan, and his wife, Elena. And so on ... ten thousand names with ten thousand faces ... and then five thousand more names and faces ... father of ... wife of ... child of ... That's when the numbers stop being mere numbers and the memory has a chance to be carved in the soul, from where it can be erased  no more.

Such is the experience of watching "Waltz with Bashir", a movie about an individual going in search of his names, his faces and, literally, his memories. This movie is not just about "the" Lebanon War, which was just another war among an endless list of wars far too long for anyone to memorize: it's about the people that fought that war, that reported on that war, de- and reconstructing it from their own experience and perspectives and thus, layer after layer, revealing the essence of war, with the terrible culmination at the end. This movie is about creating a memory, such that no one will ever forget again. Therefore, the major part of what one easily could call a documentary, is made up of interviews by the director (Folman himself) with some of his brothers-in-arms at that time, which he goes to find as far as the Netherlands and in that way slowly piecing together his own role in the war.

Nothing in the movie is black and white, except for the video-board that served as basis for the stunning animation. Though the main accusation with respect to the massacres in Sabra and Shatilla committed by christian Phalangists and overseen by Israeli troops in vindication of the murder of Bashir Gemayel is shattering, the underlying tone is not.

We see people struggling with their ghosts, an outstanding example being the very opening scene where a pack of twenty-six bloodthirsty dogs runs along the streets, overhauling anyone and anything that stands in their way, to finally come to a halt under a window of an anonymous building from where a person watches them. It's the daily recurring nightmare of the soldier who, during the war, because anyone knew he wouldn't have been able to kill any human being, was ordered to shoot the dogs that started barking at the arrival of the Israeli troops as soon as they picked up an unknown scent, thus giving upfront warning to whichever enemy it was the soldiers were after.
We see people unexpectedly having to take over command and not knowing what to do. When one of Folman's interviewee's sees his commander being shot dead, he, as second in the line of command, has to take over. From the armored vehicle he is in, he orders his subordinates to shoot while they drive full speed through a field. They ask him what or who to shoot at. He answers "How the hell should I know ?" and when one of the soldiers asks: "Shouldn't we pray ?", the return is, "Ok, shoot and pray !"
We see soldiers being shot at by little boys with rocket-grenade launchers and returning fire full force in fear of their lives.
We see people sounding the alarm bell and being totally ignored.
But just as well, we see people, so many years after the facts, being totally at ease with the world and themselves, as if some things just never happened.

Folman makes one thing very, very clear: war is a strange, multi-headed monster. The strategy and the goal may be clear from the beginning, but underneath it's a shambles and that's what makes it so dangerous. There's no straight line towards that goal. Sabra and Shatilla, where approximately three-thousand people were slaughtered, was one of those detours in that war which maybe wasn't meant to be, but just had to happen because of the underlying chaos. The movie, far beyond the perimeter of this single war, forces anyone to face up to it's own responsibility when evil comes knocking at the door.

Supported by a great score, "Waltz with Bashir" has managed to translate the dreadful face of war in stunning animated scenes. The single most important flaw I find is exactly the choice to switch in the very last minute from animation to real footage exposing the cruelty of what happened in those Palestinian refugee camps in its' full bloody detail. In my opinion, there was no need for it. Without those images, the film would have been just as strong a statement. Oppositely, what we see are piles of bodies, of people with no names, with almost no faces. After telling about the mechanics of war, the atrocities, the hallucinations through the people who lived it and were there (the people being interviewed in the movie are real characters and all except two, also dubbed their own voices), this for me goes counter the rest of the movie. Yet let it not be me to condemn the choice of a director who, in this film, has given proof of an enormous integrity and therefore deserves our utmost respect.

Bashir may be dead, but this waltz is sure to linger in your mind for quite a while. As it should be ...

Sincerely Yours,

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Case of World vs. Betancourt

It tends to get lonely at the top. Ask Ingrid Betancourt.

Just a mere two years ago, then probably the highest-profile hostage worldwide roughly at par with house-arrested Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar, Betancourt was embraced and lauded as a hero by the world when, as a result of "Operation Jaque" , she and fourteen others were rescued from the hands of her kidnappers of the FARC; now, two years later, that same world is coming down full force on her for having the audacity to require the Colombian State to pay roughly six million euro in damages to her and her family for the time she was held in captivity and for failing to protect her as a presidential candidate in 2002.

Let's get it over with: we all make some miscalculations in life and this is one truly seems epic in it's dimension, unless the implicit aim of Mrs. Betancourts' action was to commit political suicide in her homecountry, where in fact there was some speculation that after her release she might have another go at the presidency. I also find it hard to blame the Colombians that are now spitting her out because of her perceived ingratitude and hostility towards the government and army that saved her. Colombians have seen a lot of bad things happening in their scarred country and pity on a person of her standing, asking for money, is in rare supply. It's hard to judge her otherwise ... or is it ?

From a personal perspective, I wouldn't want to be in a position where I would have to judge someone who has been robbed of her liberty and dignity for a full six years, who has been tied to trees, humiliated and beaten. I invite anyone who has not gone through such an ordeal to step forward and explain how it feels and what it does to a person. Good luck to you and may the sound of my scorn be with you forever after. Therefore, more than by her claim, I am shocked by the mass of comments on newsreports that have been posted on the internet (such as here) and that are screaming murder, calling her a villain, suggesting she be returned into the hands of her FARC captors or worse ... by people who probably show signs of nervous breakdown when their computer is not responding within ten milliseconds after pushing a button.

Very revealing in many of the reports is also what is not being said, often more than what is being said and in which most of  the reports just echo each other.

I see two fundamental questions in this whole debate. First is whether Ingrid Betancourt, yes or no, as a Colombian citizen has the right to seek damage repair for what she suffered. Second is whether her claim that she was not sufficiently protected by the government when she was kidnapped makes sense or not. It needs to be said that I have never been any closer to Colombia than at a five-thousand miles distance, that I neither speak nor read Spanish, that I haven't studied the history and developed only very recently an interest in this amazingly disturbing country. Yet I still would like to voice my opinion based on the reports I have read and the reactions I have seen.

Let's start with the second issue. What happened on that 23rd of February 2002 ? Ingrid was running for president (admittedly as one of the lesser candidates for the "Oxygen Green"-Party) and had decided she wanted to visit San Vicente del Caguan  . This village was in the middle of what had been, till a few days before her arrival in the area, a so-called Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where the Colombian government, then headed by president Andres Pastrana, was meeting with the leaders of the marxist FARC rebels to try to negotiate a peace agreement. Officially, in the DMZ there was a truce (reality seems to have sometimes been quite different). These negotiations, which had been going on at intervals over a period of almost three years, in the end didn't go anywhere and made president Pastrana decide to re-militarize the DMZ. This was what was happening when Ingrid Betancourt's campaign trail crossed the area, and as a result of the president's initiative, fighting in the area was flaring up again.

Several people in the military have laid down witness to the fact that several attempts were made to warn Ingrid to not enter the area because it was too dangerous. Strangely, what is missing in most of the articles that I have seen on the Web, is that the Mayor of San Vicente del Caguan, where most of the peace talks between the government and the FARC had taken place, was a member of the "Oxygen Green"-Party and, according to Wikipedia (the only source I found sofar that is mentioning this), at the time the only elected official of that Party in the entire country. So let me try to picture this: there is this town where for a prolonged period of time people from the highest government levels have been trying, through talks with the rebel factions, to make Colombia as a whole a safer place; this town, which has been the centerpoint of these discussions (to which Ingrid Betancourt at occasions had been part), is presided over by a fellow partymember of Ingrid ... and people would question why, on a campaign where she's aiming for the presidency of Colombia, she would want to go there ??? Either my information is not correct, or someone must be kidding me ...

The story could be even more interesting, though also this fact is only hinted at in very few of the articles I have read. It seems that at the time Pastrana himself was flying into San Vicente del Caguan, that Ingrid had asked him to hitch a ride on his plane and that the president refused because he had refused two other requests of other candidates before her. From a Pastrana perspective, I am not saying I can not understand that decision. For him, it might have been a matter of fair-play: either everybody or no-one. I have absolutely no view so far on the personal relation between these two politicians, and whether that might have played a role in denying Betancourt's request. What I do know is that for me Ingrid Betancourt had a legitimate reason to want to go to that place. One of the commenters, under the name Juancho Colmenares, on the excellent blog "Colombia Reports" (to which I am much indebted for writing this article) voices what I was thinking when digging into this story in a pretty accurate and colourful way:

If a man would do the same thing Ingrid did, it would be said that he is “macho” that he has “cojones” that he has his pants “well belted” that he is strong that he is an example of firm will

I think he is right. Let's compare for a moment to the previous US presidential election . What was McCain doing in Iraq during the campaign ? Had the GPS system on his bus gone bust ? Had he any voters over there to convince ? Could he have any impact on the situation there ? Don't think so. I bet the official explanation was that, as a candidate running for president, it was necessary to get in touch with the issues he would be facing as a president if he ever were to be elected and that it had to be done on the ground, instead of having a video-conference from Washington with the generals leading the operations in Iraq at that time. Truth is: seeing a guy walk a (suggested) mine-field without a bullet-proof vest (never mind the one hundred soldiers, the three Blackhawks and 2 Apache gunships that, unfortunately, didn't fit in the frame of the camera) is a great photo-op and is very, very macho. Cojones, yes. I didn't hear too much clamor about McCain's visit and never mind the money that must have been spent to get the guy there in conditions safe enough to make that bulletproof vest obsolete.

I wouldn't want to underestimate Ingrid Betancourt's ego. From what I've been reading in some comments, it seems it would almost require Saint-Peter's cathedral to fit in. I don't know, I haven't met the lady. Yet I believe she had a point in wanting to go and be at San Vicente at that time. She had only one "beacon" of her Party in the entire country to refer to and with the re-militarization of the area, life over there was bound to become much more unpleasant again. She had the right -I'll stop short from saying "the duty"- in my eyes to go and support the Mayor (and the citizens) of San Vicente del Cagaun  and tell them that with her as a president they wouldn't be forgotten and they would be taken care of. Yet the right to do that under as safe conditions as possible (meaning, by plane or helicopter) is her denied. She insists, notwithstanding the multiple warnings, and attempts to drive there by car, accompanied by her campaign manager Clara Rojas and some other people. About thirty miles into the danger zone, she gets stopped at a roadblock set up by the FARC, they recognize her and she and Clara get driven off into the jungle ... from where she won't emerge for another six years, thanks to  a risky operation set up by the government and the army: let me by all means not fail to stress that point again.

Based on this course of events, I think any government could at least take the trouble to do some introspection and consider whether it had done enough to protect the safety of anyone who was in the race to become the next president of Colombia. Sure, Ingrid Betancourt must have been aware of the danger in entering that area, but what I'm wondering is whether the situation there was really so much worse than in the rest of pre-Uribe Colombia (Alvaro Uribe Velez won the elections in 2002 and in the next eight years managed to make the country a much safer place). What is the image you are projecting when you fail to stand by your people who are in the crossfire ? Politics is a hard-ball game and it is played dirty. Ingrid, I have no doubt, had in the first place her own presidential cause in mind when she forged forward with her plan but I am sure any politician, worthy of that name, would have tried the same had he been in her shoes.

And then there is the other side to look at this: if the zone around San Vicente was really dangerous to the extent that no guarantee could be given that one would get out unharmed, wasn't it then the responsibility of those in charge to simply prohibit anyone from entering there? Under such circumstances, anyone, be it commoner or presidential candidate, is just a liability to those who have to manage the conflict on the ground.

No matter where Betancourt's claim might have gone had she not chosen to retract it of her own, it might be good for the government to at least spend a few moments on the question whether there is not some rationale in the claim and what should be done to avoid it from happening again. For this is not just Ingrid Betancourt's problem: it is one person turning into a colossal PR problem for the entire country for years on a row, as the world is watching and scratching it's head about how the hell in country C a presidential candidate can go missing for such a long time. And honey, shall we take the kids and spend our next holiday over there ? Naaah, don't think so, darling ... maybe in twenty years or so.

Now coming back to the first issue, whether Betancourt has the right, in a legal sense, to claim damages for her suffering. Interesting point again is that most of the articles seem to indicate that she had sued the State. Technically she didn't do that: she tried, through conciliation, to settle outside the Court. If her conciliation request would have resulted in a rejection, the next step could have been bringing a lawsuit against the State to Court, but as we know now, matters will never get to that point, as she retracted her claim. Being anything but an expert on Colombia and it's institutions myself, it is hard to judge whether, hypothetically speaking, her claim would have stood any chance. From what I read, the country has in place a victims law, which allows victims of illegal armed groups to claim reparation by the State. The government indeed seems to have paid repairs already in the past to kidnap victims who were considered to have not been adequately protected by the authorities.

The broader question is of course whether the government can be held liable for misdeeds it didn't commit. I would be inclined to answer no, but I certainly would not go as far as to turn down the responsibility towards the victims entirely. On an even broader level, I believe the society as a whole has a responsibility towards these victims, for an army of some ten thousand rebels can not continue to wreak havoc on an entire country of over forty million people -for decades now already- if that society is united in it's will to rid itself of them. I see it as the government's job to guide and steer society in such a direction that it will unconditionally cooperate to smoke out those festering elements, failing of which to reach such a result in the short term, as a stopgap solution it should try to repair as much as possible the harm done to whichever victim seeks it's help. The funds to do that could be organized as are the welfare and pension funds in most developed countries, meaning based on the solidarity-principle: the healthy contribute for the sick, the young for the old and when you get old yourself, you know someone of the new generation is paying to take care of you. That might rid us of this hypocritical cry that echoes from everywhere in those comments I've been reading: "Why should we pay for her with the tax-payers' money ?" Well, for one reason, because in a country like Colombia where the shadow of FARC, paramilitaries and narco-gangs still looms large, you could be next.

So was Betancourt's claim justified ? I think it was. Was it outrageous ? Probably. She admitted readily to that herself. But it would have been in the interest of everyone to have the proper institutions deal with her claim and either bring it down to reasonable proportions (but in this context, what is reasonable ? How much money is six lost years of your life worth ? Just for comparison reasons: I would be very interested to learn how much Brangelina are suing that magazine for that wrote they are discussing divorce. I think saying that we're possibly in the same order of magnitude might not be very far off the mark) or dismiss the request altogether based on such and such reasons strongly funded in the Law and constitutional rights.

By unilaterally retracting her claim when the voices of protest started shouting at her, Ingrid Betancourt may have done her fellow citizens that are still in captivity or will fall into rebel hands in the future, a great disservice, for the message has just gone out now that it is bad, outrageous even, to even dare to ask for compensation. Where the democractic instutions seem to have done a perfect job in preventing outgoing president Uribe to run for a third term (which would have been in violation of the Constitution) and thus allowed a (generally speaking) fair election process to take place, they seem to have failed in this case, silenced by the vox populi.

The morals of Ingrid Betancourt's action towards her saviors in the face of the massive effort and risk undertaken to restore her to freedom, may be questionable, but so is any effort that was taken to prevent this case from taking it's natural legal course through the appropriate institutions.

Pity. Really pity.

Sincerely Yours,

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Don't you know, they're talkin 'bout a revolution, it sounds like a ... tweet *

It used to be like this: you would start in a far-away place, in exile from your own country, gather 80 something people in a boat which was so old it's name was "Granma", sail back to your country, where your group almost immediately got decimated upon arrival till there were only a couple of you left and then start a guerrilla fight from the mountains, as result of which, a couple of years after your return, the dictator you were after  had to flee the country and you could declare yourself a successful revolutionary hero and continue working on getting famous by smoking big cigars.

Or you could go for the scenario where you set up a Party that is not especially popular with those in command, get squeezed into an area where you're about to get smoked out like rabbits and from which you manage an escape by means of a long march which costs the life of thousands of your followers, only to settle in the end with the survivors in a place where you live in grottoes dug out from the mountains and from where you start to charm the peasants in the neighborhood, pick a small fight with the reigning nationalists, pick some more fights, a bit further away from your grottoes and helped by those peasants which you charmed by not taking their food and not raping their women, after which you join those nationalists because they need you to help them fight some japanese scum but once you've "been there, done that", you just beat those same old nationalists and finally march victorious on the capital ... where you declare yourself a successful revolutionary hero and continue working on creating one disaster after another from there onwards.

Today, things move a bit different. The starting point is basically still the same: at the top, there's someone you don't like and who you want to go, or there's a cause who you think will go nowhere without your support. The means to reach your goal, however, are slightly different from the past practices. Since it doesn't help your cause to get your head chopped off the moment you set foot on enemy land, and walking for thousands of miles to get out of jeopardy is neither high on your agenda, so you take out your cellphone and you send ... a tweet. Viva La Revolucion !

The last couple of weeks have brought another example of this new revolutionary model. One of the major topics on Twitter was the hashtag #freevenezuela, pointing to an outpouring of dissatisfaction in the country with Hugo Chavez' closing down of several television- and radiostations, critical of his government, and his reigning in of freedom of expression in general. With the Venezuelan economy still in dire straits and not likely to recover significantly anytime soon, El Presidente is trying to turn attention away from the real problems, for instance by picking yet another fight with neighbour Colombia, but it seems many of his compatriots don't like to be fooled no longer and they are massively engaging in twittering their frustration. One could say: well let them, if that takes the steam off the kettle, there's worse things to have to deal with, but Chavez sure didn't see it that way: he saw fit to condemn Twitter as a "tool of terror" and saw the need of "eliminating terrorist threats posed by social networks".

He's not the only one freaking out over messages of maximum 140 characters. When elections were held last year in Iran, re-elected president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad felt the tweeting heat coming right at him, with massive street protests as a consequence and when the Uighurs in China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region started to vent their frustration over the treatment of their (islamic) minority by the majority of Han Chinese, one of the first sites to not survive the voracious appetite of the Great Chinese Firewall sure enough was Twitter (followed by an almost complete shutdown of the internet in the restive province).

Throughout history we have seen the power of words being used by the literate, sometimes in name of the oppressed, sometimes in their own name and being dreaded by the ones in power. But as is explained in this video, what we had in the past was a one-to-one sort of conversation, or, in the case of broadcast, a one-to-many type of conversation. What Twitter and the other social media are bringing us at the beginning of this new century is the many-to-many conversation that is no longer mainly driven by professionals but by amateurs, that is ubiquitous and that is fast. Examples from the same TED-talk: last time China had an earthquake the size of the one we saw last year ravaging part of Sichuan Province (i.e. the earthquake that swept away the town of Tangshan in 1976), it took the government three months to admit to the scope of the disaster. Now there were people taking pictures of buildings collapsing, sending tweets as things were happening and it was via Twitter that the BBC became aware of the quake, quite before the US Geological Survey website had anything online.

It's the speed and the ubiquity of these media that gets world-leaders with a less than clear conscience going berserk over it. It's the rallying power of these media that now starts off revolutions: the technology resembles the guerrila tactics of the past -an individual engaging in an act of "insubordination" against the organisation he's fighting by sending a message opposing that organization and making others aware- but when you look at the turn-out of the masses in Iran, in Xinjiang, Tibet, the convening of the forces progresses at such a speed that not to take heed when it is directed against you, would be ... well ... unwise, to say the least.

It's too early to tell where this new evolution may lead us, whether the obvious benefits it may have in bringing to the surface the abuses of power that happen worldwide will outweigh the dangers of having a whole mass of amateurs taking the driver's seat, but at least for now, it may bring a new voice to those that have remained unheard. 

Sincerely Yours.

* Free adaptation from Tracy Chapman's "Talkin' about a Revolution"