by BAR editor and columnist Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, PhD
The messengers of truth are silenced in ever increasing numbers, with more journalists imprisoned this year, worldwide, than at any time since 1996 – a majority detained by their own governments. “If history provides a guide, the brutality of the oppression against the Occupy movement will only incite more rebellion perhaps laying the seeds for a second American revolution.” As Malcolm X predicted, “There will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation."
Shooting the Messenger and Discovering Again the Power in Faith and Activism
by BAR editor and columnist Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, PhD
“Malcolm’s message, wisdom and guidance is more relevant than ever considering government attacks against peaceful students and Occupy activists.”
Everyone loves to shoot the messenger, because although we talk of truth-telling as a virtue, we all hate it.
No-one wants to hear that their beloved is unfaithful, or that the child we believe is gifted has a learning problem, or even that the project we have slaved over is not good enough. We want the truth to be palatable and accommodating, but most often it is uncomfortable. It provokes anxiety or sorrow. It demands that we change.
This week the government continued its violent closure of Occupy encampments around the country. Unfortunately, although predictably, Americans of all persuasions continued to move through the bell jar known as American life as though the crackdowns were inevitable, rendering notions of democracy and freedom of speech mere questions that immigrants are required to answer on citizenship tests. However, if history provides a guide, the brutality of the oppression against the Occupy movement will only incite more rebellion perhaps laying the seeds for a second American revolution.
A new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists said that the number of imprisoned journalists in 2011 was the most since 1996. As of December 1, there were 179 writers, editors, reporters and photographers behind bars, a 34 percent jump from last year.
Not surprisingly, the Middle East and North Africa accounted for almost 50 percent of the yearly total. Iran put 45 journalists behind bars, making it the worst region in the world for imprisonments. The report also noted that 78 freelance journalists were jailed, which was the biggest year-to-year jump in the survey in ten years. A majority of jailed journalists were detained by their own governments.
“As of December 1, there were 179 writers, editors, reporters and photographers behind bars, a 34 percent jump from last year.”
And so, because of this sacred season I meditated on truth-telling. Jesus told us that the truth would set us free, or rather, that is the rather literal translation we have accepted. What John 8:31-32 actually records is: “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” There are lots of beautiful nuances in that; we can take it to mean that “abiding in [Jesus’] word” will set us free, or that knowing the truth creates freedom. Jesus: the whistleblower, who overturned the tables of the Pharisees in the temple and condemned their hypocrisy.
The Reverend Martin Luther King gave us a similar example of whistle-blowing in Strength to Love: “Nowhere is the tragic tendency to conform more evident than in the church, an institution which has often served to crystallize, conserve, and even bless the patterns of majority opinion… Called to be the moral guardian of the community, the church at times has preserved that which is immoral and unethical… Called to lead men on the highway of brotherhood and to summon them to rise above the narrow confines of race and class, it has enunciated and practiced racial exclusiveness.”
Ponder carefully too what Saint Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica II-II says. He writes about tyrannical government as one that works to protect private interests. I wonder what he would have thought of the Republicans refusing to reach accord on the Super Committee because they refuse to raise taxes on the rich. Or a president who refuses to take necessary measures to stop climate change because he fears wealthy donors will not contribute to his re-election. What are we to say of rulers who put their own narrow interests first and ignore the well-being of the majority of the citizenry?
“Nowhere is the tragic tendency to conform more evident than in the church.”
Aquinas discusses rebellion against unjust governance and says, “A tyrannical government is not just, because it is directed not to the common good, but to the private good of the ruler… It is the tyrant rather that is guilty of sedition, since he encourages discord and sedition among his subjects that he may lord over them more securely; for this is tyranny, being conducive to the private good of the ruler and to the injury of the multitude.”
And that is worth remembering too, that in societies that are divided, and where citizens battle each other, tyranny and bad laws can emerge or be strengthened because we are so focused on small skirmishes that we forget the real battle is against rulers who seem incapable of ethical leadership.
In this season I will do more reflecting on the demands faith makes of us, the activism that is required to fight for social justice and on the wisdom of old sages.
Malcolm X is not usually quoted during this season. However, Malcolm’s message, wisdom and guidance is more relevant than ever considering government attacks against peaceful students and Occupy activists, the 1% determined to maintain power, and for the first time in decades the 99% waking up from blurred class allegiances, their love affair with consumerism and celebrity-induced intoxication. Malcolm said:
"It is impossible for capitalism to survive, primarily because the system of capitalism needs some blood to suck. Capitalism used to be like an eagle, but now it's more like a vulture. It used to be strong enough to go and suck anybody's blood whether they were strong or not. But now it has become more cowardly, like the vulture, and it can only suck the blood of the helpless. As the nations of the world free themselves, the capitalism has less victims, less to suck, and it becomes weaker and weaker. It's only a matter of time in my opinion before it will collapse completely.
“This international power structure is used to suppress the masses of dark-skinned people all over the world and exploit them of their natural resources."
"I might point out here that colonialism or imperialism, as the slave system of the West is called, is not something that is just confined to England or France or the United States. The interests in this country are in cahoots with the interests in France and the interests in Britain. It's one huge complex or combine, and it creates what's known not as the American power structure or the French power structure, but an international power structure. This international power structure is used to suppress the masses of dark-skinned people all over the world and exploit them of their natural resources.
"I think that an objective analysis of events that are taking place on this earth today points towards some type of ultimate showdown. You can call it political showdown, or even a showdown between the economic systems that exist on this earth which almost boil down along racial lines. I do believe that there will be a clash between East and West. I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation.
"A new world order is in the making, and it is up to us to prepare ourselves that we may take our rightful place in it."
Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo is the author of No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA is available through amazon.com and the National Whistleblower Center. Dr. Coleman-Adebayo worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a US multinational corporation that endangered vanadium mine workers. Marsha's successful lawsuit lead to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 ( No FEAR.)