Free Zone: Effective action [Archives:2005/885/Community]

October 13 2005


Writing this I have a hundred and one thoughts struggling to acquire my undivided attention. The proliferating election-depression syndrome, the death of prominent Arab leaders, the beheadings committed under the flag of Islam and liberation, the massacres in the name of freedom and anti-terrorism, the chaotic nature of Arab Muslims ok I'm out of breath! Submerged in the swamp of writer's block, suddenly, in a dark cold corner of my intricate brain I finally feel the information flow.

There are many people with a purpose, but few are able to organize themselves to a common goal and make a difference without stepping on others to achieve their mission. Today, our world shares a global culture that promotes violence as a solution to all our problems, whether in reality or even in surreal world that feeds our extreme libidos. Anyone check out Halo 2 lately? Is violence the only means for opposing violence and injustice? Can we possibly use our limitations to oppose violent and oppressive factions in our society? In order to assess the injustices in our world today, it is essential to analyze the underlying systems involved and look at how these systems integrate with each other to strengthen the cause of injustice. I found out about such a system a few days ago when I attended a session about the School of the Americans (SOA), also known as the School of the Assassins.

The School of the Americas was founded in 1946 in Panama. Thirty years later it shifted base to Fort Benning, Georgia after the resistance of Panamanian President, Jorge Illueca, who dubbed the base as the “biggest base for destabilization in Latin American”. Their curriculum is simple: train people to kill. Their mission is to protect “the supply of strategic natural resources and access to the markets”. In other words, create a new breed of humans that are modelled to kill and destroy anyone and anything that can be detrimental to the cause of U.S. and Latin American corporations, which is maximizing profit. Accordingly one in every three trained in the SOA is from Latin America who serves as a security guard for the economic and political systems in their respective countries.

Employment is almost guaranteed for these graduates whose resumes will prompt a reaction. Some of the highlights of their resumes include: Dictatorship positions in Latin American countries such as Manuel Noriega and Hugo Suarez; certificates in human rights violations and massacres; the acknowledgement of the UN Truth Commission Report on EL Salvador in 1993, which declared that two thirds of those responsible for the most horrific atrocities are graduates of SOA, for instance the El Mozote Massacre.

The brutality of these soldiers and their outbursts in Latin America are not far from those committed in other parts of the world to which the Arab heart clings. While millions can share the cause of the Arab world, there has yet to come an Arab organization capable of efficiently opposing injustice. For decades Palestine has been in the same static stage. For decades oppressive regimes were exchanged with equally oppressive regimes. For decades the systems functioning in the Middle East have been based on values devoid from humanity and Islam, such as lies, bribery and treachery. For decades the situation has been the same regardless of the technological advances, which are not accompanied by the critical progress of humanity. How does the SOA relate to the Arab world? To answer that question, let us look at the organization opposing the SOA.

Margaret Mead engraved into the stone of history a beautiful quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world – Indeed it's the only thing that ever has”. The awareness of a priest was all that was needed to give birth to a movement that has engaged in one of the largest civil disobedience acts after the Vietnam War. SOA Watch begun in 1990 with a focused mission: “to stand in solidarity with the people of Latin America, to close the SOA/WHINSEC and to change oppressive U.S. foreign policy that the SOA represents.” They implement their mission through one firm rule: any form of opposition must be non-violent. Over the pat 14 years, the SOAW's consistency and persistence has been able to exert influence on the SOA as well as the government. In 1996, the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals used at the SOA that advocated the use of torture, execution and extortion. This shed light on the curriculum of the average SOA soldier. For instance, in one course doctors instructed soldiers on the most efficient places of torture in the human body in order to retrieve desired information. In December 2000, Congress authorized the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) to replace SOA in order to diffuse public criticism and disassociate the school from its bloody reputation. In addition, efforts by congress members to pass bills that propose the permanent closure of SOA continue till this day.

At what cost was SOAW able to mark significant achievements? Over the years, reports from SOAW indicate over 170 peaceful protestors who served a startling 78 years in prison due to their protest and civil disobedience acts, which involve crossing the fence of the SOA only to be greeted with handcuffs. Every year protesters gather from all across North America to protest the SOA, last year over 10 000 people gathered for this unified cause.

Let us roll back to the Arab cause. Hundreds of thousands and even millions participate in scattered rallies to oppose injustice by Americans and Israelis and rarely, Arab leaders, in the Arab world, but to think of any achievements, other than the perfection of posters for rallies, might require me a few hours. Generally speaking, Arab rallies are intended to let out steam. The recipe is to scream, demand, scream again, and when it's time to take action, retreat. These passive activists, if you may, yell at the outcome of an act, the image representing the atrocity, without attacking the structure of the underlying system causing injustice. Should we surprised that the recent Arab history highlights decades of nothingness? Not at all.

The SOAW is truly a leader in organization, focus, and consistency. The SOAW holds the magic words to achieving justice. Perhaps these are the voices we should be joining to express our global concerns for humanity and social justice. Want to find out more about the SOAW? Join them in their protest against the SOA this year from November 18th – 22nd. This is definitely a cause worthwhile; after all it was no other but George W. Bush who announced, “Every known terrorist training camp must be shut down.”