I woke up on Tuesday morning, like so many mornings before, to a disturbing video of civilians in pursuit of extrajudicial violence. But this one wasn’t from Egypt, or Palestine, or Syria — it was from London.
Racism is on the rise again across Europe, and in the United Kingdom, the specter of immigration is giving closet imperialists the cover — and the platform — to air their toxic views. Their figurehead is Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP). Over the weekend, a group of leftist activists threw a surprise conga line party for him in his local pub, featuring representatives of the various minorities that he incites against dressed in a diverse array of costumes, ranging in intensity from gold hot pants to scarves with slogans extoling the virtues of potatoes over fascism.
But Monday night, a group calling themselves Britain First vowed that they would “give these leftwing bigots a taste of their own medicine.” So six big fucking bruisers headed to the offices of Stand Up Against UKIP to make their anger known. Inside the office, they pushed a man around. He was blocking their way into the room where the activists were having their meeting.
“Bullies!” they shouted, “Bullies!”
The leader of Britain First, Paul Golding, turned to the camera: “We found out that the same people that harassed Nigel Farage and his family and frightened his children are meeting in here tonight. And as you can see, look at them, barricading themselves in the room rather than face the righteous anger of British patriots.”
Righteous anger? Sweet Jesus.
And then it’s 2012 again, and I’m watching that first morning of the Ettehadiya battle and the men rampaging over the activists’ tents, ripping the rods out from inside them, digging through the bags left behind.
“Hamdeen Sabbahi and ElBaradei! Ha! ElBaradei the dog traitor! America! Him and America! Nesto cheese, you filth!”
The civilian enforcers of bigoted politicians always burn with righteous anger.
Nesto cheese. Case closed.
The moment when social rules don’t apply, and you are left standing in front of men who are angry and violent and searching with their fists for a place in the world. There are few moments scarier.
What the Muslim Brotherhood did that day is no different to what state powers have always done. But, as with so much of their one year in power, they were foolish enough to make it obvious, to make their intimidation transparent.
Everyone follows the same playbook. There is no difference, for example, between Britain First’s night visit and this recent video of the Israeli Army in Hebron. The occupying soldiers routinely march into Palestinians’ homes at night. They photograph children to keep their database of potential rock-throwers up to date.
And what about Egypt? The Egyptian state is more than happy to deploy both civilian thugs and uniformed aggressors. In the famous video of the arrest of Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed — the Al Jazeera English journalists — we see the same psychological tactics repeated again. The night call, the invasion of your own space, the evaporation of the law, the possibility of extreme violence from one side, the unblinking watch of the aggressor’s camera.
In the Ettehadiya video, the victims have already got away. But in the other three, you can see a moment in the victim’s eyes, a moment of preparation for a potentially violent new reality. These people arrive in your life and the world can suddenly change very quickly.
Is it only the violent that have the power to impact on others’ realities?
In the Egyptian video, the director has scored the action with the soundtrack to the sequel of the unwatchable Thor. Britain First’s cinematic offering is galvanized by a piece of film music so generic that Shazam can’t even identify it. Just as some unknown gravitas must be applied to Nesto cheese, so the grandiose music ennobles the motivations of the street thug. The music is a bridge between fantasy and the reality they seek to manufacture.
The recent Egypt Economic Development Conference was presented to the world as the symbol of Egypt’s new reality. Or its triumphant return to the old world of before the revolution. A poster advertizing it hung limply over the remains of the National Democratic Party headquarters. It was trumpeted as a triumph, as Egypt’s return to the world stage, an affirmation that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime belongs in that world of high finance, where the only metric of value is short-term economic growth, private investment and the satisfaction of corporations. A world where the poor essentially do not exist, because they do not matter. A manufactured reality.
Again and again, we find ourselves looking down at this ever-widening gulf between what we know to be real, and what the state and its media trumpet.
An investigation has been opened into the witnesses of Shaimaa al-Sabbagh’s killing. This is a move the state threatened to make the night she was killed, but then backed away from when the outcry was so loud. But that outcry has calmed, as it always does, and now they are back to work.
The state does not deal in facts, but in confusion. Everything is debatable, everything is a lie, everything is obscured, staged, denied, forgotten. There are no facts. Shaimaa is dead because she was too thin. Shaimaa is dead because people protested without a permit. Shaimaa is dead because the Brotherhood killed her. Shaimaa is dead because there are infiltrators in the police. The state kills you and denies it killed you, and memorializes your death while casting doubt on your character and tarring your associates and questioning if you’ve really been killed at all.
There is no logic, no reason, no truth. Questions are only asked of you, the viewer, the reader, the public. Never of the powerful. Austerity measures for all. You’re at war but you’re safe, we’re strong but we’re threatened, we’re rich but we’re bankrupt. Nothing makes sense, nothing is consistent. Less lethal. Minister of Defense. Israeli Defense Forces. Coke life. Protective Edge. These are ideas of the criminally insane. Those that govern us now simply push the violence of their reality out onto the world again and again, until every madness has traction and every grain of sand has been sold and the only truth left is in a movie soundtrack.
A world without a Great War is a world of this endless war. War against the people, against history, memory, intellect and reason. It hasn’t always been like this. It can’t have. We would have all gone mad long ago.
Shaimaa, I didn’t know you, but I can’t stop looking at your pictures. The smiling mother with the short hair and happy son, Bilal. The man kneeling to pick you up, your hands half-resting on his shoulders, the policeman and his shotgun casual in the background, the old people walking past unlooking and unhelping, your face wet with blood, your eyes already half-closed and looking up at the world beyond and asking if it has to be now, if you can’t be given a little longer, a little longer with your son. Who will tell him? Will he understand what they’re saying? How can I leave him in this world where death is less remarkable than love?
There are things we know. We know Shaimaa’s killers will not be brought to justice under this regime. We know that Israel’s forces do not defend anyone. We know that the law is in the service of those who uphold the most conservative parts of any state. We know that the world we are being presented with is not real.
One of the reasons the revolution was so powerful was because we knew for certain, for those few months, that what we were doing was real. As we drift further away from 2011 it becomes harder to hold on to that — it becomes harder to even engage with the world at all. And that, of course, is their design.