Sunday, August 18, 2013

Ways of Going Home

9781847086266Ways of Going Home
Alejandro Zambra
Granta Books, 2013

Delving into Chile's turbulent past requires a thorough analysis of the country's fragmented society, usually vaguely described and simplified as a split between socialists and Pinochet adherents. In 'Ways of Going Home', Alejandro Zambra portrays a deeper complexity which resonates through a technique of employing different narrators who are an extension of each other, striving to understand the macabre circumstances which altered life and perception.

Commencing with a compelling metaphor - a boy is lost and discovers another way home, the book plunges into the disorientation experienced by the child, whose perceptions are inextricably linked to silence - the silence emanating from a fear of dictatorship and its imposed culture of oblivion. On one hand, Pinochet is depicted as an annoying abstract - an unwanted interlude into a child's life. However, the boy's life is thwarted from innocence an truth by a prevailing mistrust and fear of association which the adults, having experienced the dictatorship and its atrocities, have employed as a possible means of escaping the ruthless regime. Zambra is careful to acknowledge the disorientation on various levels - notably the elders' fears translating into an inconclusive issue for a child whose parents' obsession with neutrality sought to alter, through a possibly unwanted means of protection, the tangible collective memory of Chile's left wing.

For the neutral parents, it is perhaps soothing to portray left-wing militants as having disturbed 'the peace' - an euphemism revealing the challenge for memory frameworks to emerge. As the narrator's parents indulge in neutral rhetoric, ultimately seeking an ephemeral protection against the macabre culture permeating Chile, the narrator reveals an awareness of the alternative, and stronger, collective memory - that of psychological trauma, torture and disappearances, revealing the network of relationships forged across society once distanced from the family home. A discussion of political allegiances raises the ultimate reality of neutral stances, epitomised by "But we were never, your father and I, either for or against Allende, or for or against Pinochet" - an effective method of acquiescing to Pinochet's imposed culture of oblivion.

The refusal to acknowledge passive support for the dictatorship leads to an outburst which pits time against What do you know about those things? You hadn't even been born yet when Allende was in power. You were just a baby during those years." here, knowledge is expected to have been gained solely through experience, despite the fact that an altered narration of memory deconstructs the process of knowledge. The victim's narration remains embroiled in a continuous struggle with the society of spectators, which misconstrues a violent memory for a good story.

Zambra's novel weaves a depth of dimensions and contrasts between the narrating voices, families, political perceptions and memory, depicting a lingering isolation which fails to resolve due to the characters' reticence in reclaiming memory. With the story of the militant deconstructed into that of an abstract terrorist, Pinochet's stronghold over Chile is reflected into the more mundane aspects of the story which deal with the narrator's reflections regarding relationships and society. The absence of tenacity, the lack of solid identification with history possibly elicits a far deeper frustration - the urge to discover resistance is smothered within a series of anti-climaxes which indicate the continuous stifling of excruciating memory in return for a semblance of the neutrality which the narrator so vehemently abhors.

Generation Palestine: Voices from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement

Generation Palestine: Voices from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions This review was first published in Middle East Monitor.

On July 9 2005, more than 170 Palestinian activist organisations endorsed an official call to initiate an internationalist movement intended to challenge Israel's undeserved impunity by implementing an economic, academic and cultural boycott. Recognising the futility of expecting international intervention against Israel's decades of aggressive policies, representatives of Palestinian refugees, Palestinians under occupation and Palestinian citizens of Israel issued a statement which initiated the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) - a non-violent form of activism which seeks to promote and achieve Palestinian self-determination.

With contributions by authors, academics, film producers, musicians, journalists and activists, 'Generation Palestine - voices from the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement' (Pluto Press, 2013) is a comprehensive analysis of the origins, struggles and achievements of the movement, providing a defence of humanity which Israel and its allies so competently ignore. From insights into Palestinian civil disobedience as non-violent resistance, to the inspiration derived from the South African experience in fighting apartheid practices, the book imparts the essence of BDS in a manner which challenges conventional rhetoric with a consistent approach garnered through collective consciousness.
Palestinian activism has been a prominent feature throughout the course of revolts. As Zionist provocation increased through forced displacement, massacres and the open immigration policy in order to maintain a Jewish demographic majority, Palestinian resistance became entrenched within the collective experience, notably marked by the uprisings against colonial rule in 1936 and civil disobedience against the Israeli occupation in 1989 by the residents of Beit Sahour. Israel's undeserved triumphs were based upon superior military activity and allegiances with Western colonial powers, whose interest in the Middle East necessitated an ally which could, in turn, be constructed as the scapegoat of Arab wrath in order to further regional dominance and strategic concerns. Israel's alleged isolation served to alienate the international community from the Palestinians' plight. Apart from being imbued with Orientalist narrative, Palestinian identity was intentionally manipulated to serve the Zionist agenda.

The need to revive identity and thus reverse the enforced isolation process gained momentum after the second intifada, with the BDS movement striving to implement a process through which damage to the Israeli economy would be sufficient enough to deter companies and countries from pursuing economic ties with the occupying power. The necessity and validity of an international boycott targeted Israel's primary excuse of security concern, as the campaign created awareness of constant atrocities as opposed to the occasional international furore caused by selective cases which corporate media decided to highlight, albeit without the necessary condemnation. Thus, the validity of the movement stemmed from the objective of educating a potentially misinformed community, reinforcing the importance of self-determination as a collective right and uniting the geographically fragmented Palestinian population as 'one collective national people'.

The ramifications for Israel and its allies are brought to attention with a glance at the aims of the BDS movement. Its compatibility with international law has fomented practical contexts within the same legislation, as Nidal al Azza highlights in his contribution to the book. A call to end occupation and colonisation as well as the dismantling of the Apartheid Wall, recognition of Palestinian rights and an implementation of the right to return for Palestinians are enshrined within the international law; however, the BDS movement seeks an implementation of the aims rather than an affirmation of official rhetoric devoid of any semblance of progress. As opposed to UN discourse, which is constantly mellowed to appease Israel, concentration upon internationalist activism has allowed the movement to decipher and act upon the principles of solidarity and interdependence, while allowing Palestinian autonomy to remain in control of the movements' aims and objectives.

Through its actions, the BDS movement enacted a combative stance against normalisation. As Rifat Odeh Kassis states, “Politicians are not the only ones who commit normalisation when it comes to the Israeli occupation ... Language does it. Normalisation is the process, the instinct, the narrative that neutralises what can never be neutral, that renders over six decades of meticulously institutionalised Israeli military rule into an eternal and incorrigible spat between two groups of people who 'can't get along'”. The abomination of equality in a process which clearly defines the oppressor and the oppressed only serves to consolidate diplomacy, reduced to a mere reassurance within official circles and deemed sufficient to absolve international leaders of criminal accountability in aiding Israel's illegal occupation.

Conversely, language has also been used by the BDS movement to highlight the contradictions within interpretations of international law. Activists storming offices of businesses related to Israel were accused of violence and destruction - a process necessary to disrupt the violence unleashed upon Palestinians stemming from profits accumulated by Israel. Trials of BDS activists have focused upon the activism which strives to prevent Israeli violence, thus challenging perceptions in the courtroom and beyond, as exploitation of injustices are stripped of the false definition wrought by euphemisms such as 'conflict'.

As Omar Barghouti states in his concluding chapter, the deconstruction of Israel's legitimacy has exposed Israel's insipid cries of 'existential threat'. The disruption of economic profits sustaining the occupation has been affirmed by none other than Ehud Barak in an interview with Haaretz: “There are some pretty powerful elements in the world that are active in the matter - within countries, including friendly countries, in various organisations of workers, academics, consumers, green parties ... And this drive boils down to a large movement called BDS, which is what they did with South Africa. It won't happen at once. It will begin, like an iceberg, to advance on us from all corners”. Apart from acknowledging the BDS momentum, Barak's comparison of Israel to South Africa also affirms the reality which the movement is fighting against - Israel is an apartheid state.

The book stands as testimony of activist internationalist resurgence against imperial detachment from justice - a reminder that accountability and the process which leads to its execution lies within the movement, as governments remain in contempt of legislation unless its safeguards their own impunity. The success of the BDS movement lies in enacting the foundations through which illegality and impunity are legally challenged, within a system already in danger of becoming institutionalised unless language is reinvented into a mobilising tool for education, justice and a dismantling of sanctioned human rights violations. - See more at: