quinta-feira, 11 de dezembro de 2008

The Real Bill Ayers


Bill Ayers was unwillingly propelled into the media spotlight. Here is his elegant statement on the charges made against him and on his commitment to keep political struggle within the bounds of ethics and justice.

December 6, 2008
Op-Ed Contributor

The Real Bill Ayers

IN the recently concluded presidential race, I was unwillingly thrust upon the stage and asked to play a role in a profoundly dishonest drama. I refused, and here’s why.

Unable to challenge the content of Barack Obama’s campaign, his opponents invented a narrative about a young politician who emerged from nowhere, a man of charm, intelligence and skill, but with an exotic background and a strange name. The refrain was a question: “What do we really know about this man?”

Secondary characters in the narrative included an African-American preacher with a fiery style, a Palestinian scholar and an “unrepentant domestic terrorist.” Linking the candidate with these supposedly shadowy characters, and ferreting out every imagined secret tie and dark affiliation, became big news.

I was cast in the “unrepentant terrorist” role; I felt at times like the enemy projected onto a large screen in the “Two Minutes Hate” scene from George Orwell’s “1984,” when the faithful gathered in a frenzy of fear and loathing.

With the mainstream news media and the blogosphere caught in the pre-election excitement, I saw no viable path to a rational discussion. Rather than step clumsily into the sound-bite culture, I turned away whenever the microphones were thrust into my face. I sat it out.

Now that the election is over, I want to say as plainly as I can that the character invented to serve this drama wasn’t me, not even close. Here are the facts:

I never killed or injured anyone. I did join the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s, and later resisted the draft and was arrested in nonviolent demonstrations. I became a full-time antiwar organizer for Students for a Democratic Society. In 1970, I co-founded the Weather Underground, an organization that was created after an accidental explosion that claimed the lives of three of our comrades in Greenwich Village. The Weather Underground went on to take responsibility for placing several small bombs in empty offices — the ones at the Pentagon and the United States Capitol were the most notorious — as an illegal and unpopular war consumed the nation.

The Weather Underground crossed lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense. Our effectiveness can be — and still is being — debated. We did carry out symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam war.

Peaceful protests had failed to stop the war. So we issued a screaming response. But it was not terrorism; we were not engaged in a campaign to kill and injure people indiscriminately, spreading fear and suffering for political ends.

I cannot imagine engaging in actions of that kind today. And for the past 40 years, I’ve been teaching and writing about the unique value and potential of every human life, and the need to realize that potential through education.

I have regrets, of course — including mistakes of excess and failures of imagination, posturing and posing, inflated and heated rhetoric, blind sectarianism and a lot else. No one can reach my age with their eyes even partly open and not have hundreds of regrets. The responsibility for the risks we posed to others in some of our most extreme actions in those underground years never leaves my thoughts for long.

The antiwar movement in all its commitment, all its sacrifice and determination, could not stop the violence unleashed against Vietnam. And therein lies cause for real regret.

We — the broad “we” — wrote letters, marched, talked to young men at induction centers, surrounded the Pentagon and lay down in front of troop trains. Yet we were inadequate to end the killing of three million Vietnamese and almost 60,000 Americans during a 10-year war.

The dishonesty of the narrative about Mr. Obama during the campaign went a step further with its assumption that if you can place two people in the same room at the same time, or if you can show that they held a conversation, shared a cup of coffee, took the bus downtown together or had any of a thousand other associations, then you have demonstrated that they share ideas, policies, outlook, influences and, especially, responsibility for each other’s behavior. There is a long and sad history of guilt by association in our political culture, and at crucial times we’ve been unable to rise above it.

President-elect Obama and I sat on a board together; we lived in the same diverse and yet close-knit community; we sometimes passed in the bookstore. We didn’t pal around, and I had nothing to do with his positions. I knew him as well as thousands of others did, and like millions of others, I wish I knew him better.

Demonization, guilt by association, and the politics of fear did not triumph, not this time. Let’s hope they never will again. And let’s hope we might now assert that in our wildly diverse society, talking and listening to the widest range of people is not a sin, but a virtue.

William Ayers, a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is the author of “Fugitive Days” and a co-author of the forthcoming “Race Course.”

quinta-feira, 4 de dezembro de 2008

sábado, 29 de novembro de 2008

Behind the Neo-Con Curtain: Plato, Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom

Still looking back... It seems to be the natural attitude to take as we wait for Barack Obama's presidency to unfold, notwithstanding the map of crisis and conflict in this interim period. Neo-conservatism has marked two American presidencies thus far. While Obama's intellectual roots do not lie directly in this stream of practical thought, one's got to be wary about where his compromises with the DNC leadership will take us. The shadow of "no ideology" as obscuring the cluster of roughly neo-con tactics has already started to take shape.

Behind the Neo-Con Curtain
Plato, Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom
Copyright 2003

Much ink has been spilt of late on the role played by philosopher Leo Strauss (d. 1973) on the
education of a number of prominent neoconservative ideologues who now occupy key intelligence and advisory positions in the Bush administration. It is ironic to see the mainstream press and culture be so willing to lodge causal continuity and blame on a foreign intellectual for homegrown extremism. The mainstream outlets are usually far more expressive in the garb worn to downplay any direct influence intellectuals might have on daily life. More typical is the trail of recycling and simplification - features from which the American mainstream press no longer seems able to wean itself. Intellectual influence may not be easy to understand, but when the trace is blurred through sensationalism it merely dissipates into irrelevance.

In the English-speaking world, Seymour Hersh is credited with having ferreted out this distant
connection between the neo-cons and Strauss in a May 5 article on high-level intelligence manufacturing, published in the New Yorker. A day earlier the New York Times published an attack on Strauss's philosophy as it took aim against some of his students, such as Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense. The piece makes only a distant reference to the work done by two French journalists who had covered the subject for Le Monde. In these days of cowardly journalism, it would be far too normal to let credit not lie where it is due.
The fact remains that the most extensive study of the background to the neoconservative Project, their New American Century Project, was indeed published in France's Le Monde on April 15, 2003. It has been pillaged with scarce credit given to its original authors. More important is what has been left out of its findings. The piece not only examines the formative role of Leo Strauss on the Project, but also that of the late Albert Wohlstetter, strategy guru at the RAND Corporation and professor at the University of Chicago, and especially that of Allan Bloom, the late author of The Closing of the American Mind. Like Wolfowitz, Bloom had studied under Leo Strauss. Among his own students was William Kristol. And the view Bloom espoused in his massive best-seller has had a profound impact on the way Americans now view the intellectual contributions of other countries and cultures - with the exception of Israel's.

That this key Le Monde article was not entirely published in translated form by the New York Times or the New Yorker raises perennial questions regarding American arrogance towards the cultural and journalistic productions of other countries. Academia is thirsting through a translation drought of international social science research. The publishing moguls have shifted the market away from political economic criticism toward the child's fantasy world of Harry Potter incorporated in which even adults are begging to enter. Since postmodernism struck hard in the artistic realm, culturally attuned English-speakers seem to have become obsessed with end-points and limits, of the universe curving onto its own content as if outside the English-language there is a desert from which only the void is to be uttered. Angst with the mother tongue has rung in concert with American expansionism.

Time and time again the question is raised abroad as to why Americans show an ever decreasing mastery of foreign languages. The matter here is not that the encroachment of American English threatens the demise of many foreign local cultures. Nor is it the troubling prospect that by the end of this century the vast majority of the world's languages risks disappearing. The scandal is that "native English-speakers are becoming less competent at other languages: only nine students graduated in Arabic from universities in the United States [in 2002], and the British are the most monoglot of all the peoples in the EU," according to a study on the triumph of English published in The Economist, December 22, 2001.

No one is fool enough to overlook how this has everything to do with how world power is concentrated in the USA (the foreign view) or that America is the "business center" of the world (the domestic view). Both lead to the conclusion that a general lack of interest on the part of Americans lies behind this state of things. Its cultural variant is expressed in the self-declared triumph of English.

The fact is that American corporate-controlled media, and its arms extending deep within the university, promotes general simplification of thought to the point of ignorance of all things foreign. In recent months, we've seen that ignorance shift quite naturally to fear, misunderstanding and contempt for things foreign. This is a generalization, of course. But consider this point: every weekend in countless foreign language newspapers there is no end to translated articles from the foreign and especially American press. Needless to say, the very of idea of publishing translated articles in any of America's major dailies, including the New York Times, is enough to trigger a scoff.

What we gain in return are confused sources, fragmented paraphrasing and general ignorance on what the intelligent folk of the world think of the USA in its most recent avatar. Could it be so simple as to slot the whole lot of them into an anti-American straightjacket? Let those be satisfied who zap from Fox News to CNN (domestic or international), believing that al-Jazeera is merely al-Quaeda's propaganda weapon.

Here then is a translation of "The Strategist and the Philosopher" by Alain Franchon and Daniel Vernet as it appeared in Le Monde. It's an insightful study of those un-elected technocrats who have infiltrated Washington DC to steer US policy according to an original plan slowly metabolized over the decades - and drafted well before September 11 ever resounded with dial emergency. But for them dial it did, and this group of a dozen or so intellectuals has profoundly affected the American federal political structure in the most dubious of ways.

What the legacy of Leo Strauss most pertinently poses in terms of problems for American political life is his conviction that democracy is only functional if it is a militant, indeed military democracy. 'Tyranny' is what hovers close to its institutions, literally a specter away, capable of seizing its blood and duplicating its genetic structure imperceptibly. All means necessary should be deployed to fight this fate. The mystery of philosophy itself is shorn of its critical skin in a not unfamiliar attempt, historically speaking, at claiming how in the abstract world of thought opposites tend to meet. Democracy becomes authoritarian, just like progressive philosophies putatively turn into concrete terror...

For the record, and though the pages of CounterPunch are perhaps not the most appropriate place to lead a debate on philosophical texts, Professor Gary Leupp's recent characterization of the neo-cons as "philosopher-kings" throws in the towel far too easily to a Straussian send up of an infamous concept (see Gary Leupp, "Philosopher Kings: Leo Strauss and the Neo-Cons", May 24, 2003.) If Strauss's thought can be legitimately rooted in Plato's philosophy, Leupp's association by namesake amounts to surrendering on one of antiquity's most profound thinkers - and a cornerstone of Islamic, Judaic, Christian and Atheist civilizations. Moreover, in pointing out the tension between Socrates, as supposedly incarnating an individualist freedom, and Plato as the contemptor of democracy, Leupp, in the manner of John Ralston Saul, completely elides mentioning the fact that the little we do actually know about Socrates largely comes from Plato's writings and the mise-en-scene in which his mentor is cast.

When they did not found scientific domains, Plato's contributions touched on beauty, love, ontology, ethics, mathematics, criticism of mythology and state religion, education, transmigration of the soul, and the list goes on. Plato gave philosophy one of its defining forms. It was at once instrumental in ushering in monotheism while also providing all the tools to undermine future dogma in any religion. And prior to becoming the source of 'Western' philosophy, Plato was quite a part of the East and of Islam, though to a lesser degree than was Aristotle. Most papyrus manuscripts of Plato's vast work, including perhaps the enigmatic 'esoteric' texts, would have already been damaged or destroyed when Athens was sacked and Aristotle's library looted by the Romans in 86 B.C. It is said to have been the greatest library of its time in Greece.

One thing Plato was not is a historian. Only a bare minimum of his texts, many of them formally reflecting the dialectical method of philosophical debate, are philosophical tracts. His early writings are a form of thought-theatre. Non-narrative and non-dramatic, they point to an attempt at transmitting what, in all aspects, seems to have been a very active intellectual scene in Athens in the fifth century B.C. Once contemporary readers free themselves from the hegemony of the OxBridge stranglehold on translated classical texts, they will plunge into the banterng world of political conceptual invention.

At the center of that world lives Socrates, the man of night, the obsessive debater, the lover of thought. Socrates may have been condemned to death for corrupting the youth, among other things, but Plato embraced the man he barely knew in an attack against the restored Athenian democracy that forced him to drink hemlock. It was only in the twilight of Plato's life, in The Laws, that he indirectly acknowledged the danger of the Socratic social stimulant. Until then, Socrates was the main actor on Plato's mind stage, whose role was to smash tepid trials in political rhetoric and bind justice to political organization.

As many scholars have pointed out, Athens was a far cry from contemporary democracies. Let the stress be placed on contemporary because it's only in the decades since WWII, and mainly in the decade of the 1960s so despised by Allan Bloom and his proto-neocon students, that full voting rights were finally achieved in Western democracies. Athens was only a semblance of democracy according to contemporary standards. Still, historical knowledge assures us of its complexity. It was a budding experiment: "it is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few" - notwithstanding the fact that citizenship, even under Pericles's so-called reforms, granted voting rights only to men, but by no means to all of them. These fragmentary beginnings of democracy should not leave us resting on our laurels in our own sense of superiority. After all, European and American civilizations grew ever so slowly in their democratic evolution given the historical knowledge its thinkers had already acquired on freer political systems.

Bringing democracy to the state we now know it as came about through people's militias - not
foreign invading armies.
Was Plato profoundly anti-democratic or even totalitarian? A cursory reading of Karl Popper's extremely influential The Open Society and its Enemies would certainly suggest that. But one of the great failures of Anglo-American scholarship has been the historical omissions involved in not making sense of Plato's attention to the political collectivities from which our individualist passions repel us as if from what is most contrary to our essence. To put it bluntly, if Plato diminished democracy as a valid form of government, he was rejecting the failure of Athenian democracy as based on its real history, and the irreparable damage it wrought on the city.

Recall that Athens, despite its political experimentation, was an expansionist, imperialist citystate, almost permanently at war. It had colonies along the modern-day Turkish coast of the
Aegean. It strove to gain hegemony over the Greek city states. And it drove itself into economic collapse through a fratricidal war against Sparta. Before its fall, pestilence had filled the city to claim hundreds of lives, including that of Pericles who was at once the spirit of greater democracy and a relentless wager of war. The belligerent democracy then went belly up with a coup d'etat led by oligarchic families. Democracy did indeed lead to tyranny, but from its own internal undoing.

Plato came from one of the stakeholding families in the dictatorship that ensued. There is no evidence he ever legitimized the short rule of the Council of Thirty. From his letters, scholars have been able to speculate that his rejection of democracy in The Republic on the grounds that it only leads to tyranny is precisely a reaction to the belligerence and unending warfare that characterized the short existence of Athen's first democratic experiment in the Classical Age. The construction of the ideal state, governed by the so-called philosopher-kings along an aristocratic model, i.e. rule by the "best" as the Greek word echoes, is a dismantling of the failures of both types of regimes.

The world had not yet known the possibilities of 19th century democracy. Yet we still swim so very far - as the current national security state proves - from the shores of a fuller, nonbelligerent version of 'rule of the people by the people'. Despite the rights gained by all citizens to vote, many democracies, including that of the US, are faltering. Is it therefore legitimate to keep the term sacrosanct merely for want of having to accept ordinary language philosopher John Austin's verdict that "democracy for instance [is among] a few notorious words the uses of which are always liable to leave us in real doubt about what is meant"?

What the neo-cons are not are philosopher-kings. Had they learnt anything from Plato and ancient Greece it would have been that waging an unending string of wars was a paranoid compulsion whose end is only to destroy democracy. Moreover, prior to the pre-emptive strike doctrine they espouse, many neo-cons were active in establishing dictatorships to crush the 'Marxist-inspired' popular uprisings during the 1970s - a legacy well described in various articles published by CounterPunch, and whose 'defensive' character is highly contestable to say the least.

So before dumping one of our greatest political teachers, Plato, we should realize that it is as important as ever to read his work, and read it in the historical context established by French thinkers such as Paul Veyne, Francois Chatelet and Jacques Ranciere.

It should also be recalled that Allan Bloom in the Closing of the American Mind put special blame for the shift in American ways toward radical popular and democratic civic demands upon an entire generation of German Jewish intellectuals who fled Nazi Germany to finally find their abode at the New School for Social Research and Princeton, among other universities.

These Jews were clearly brought up in reading Kant, Weber, Freud and especially Marx. Many of them were Marxists, or, like Adorno and Marcuse, would soon be redrawing the entire landscape of Marxist thought and radical political philosophy. The crisis depicted by Bloom can of course be seen as one pitting conservatives against Marxists. But given the backdrop of Israeli expansionist policies, the context of a settling of scores within the American Jewish community itself should not be ruled out. The vehemence of Bloom's attack on Arendt and Marcuse is peculiar only to a deep desire to cleanse. He stamps them as foreign to the American way - which in reality was only a more recent form to what his ancestors had embraced as immigrants.

The German Jewish intellectuals were only the latest stream of émigrés to arrive in North America, but few such streams have had as explosive an effect on political and cultural life. The youth Bloom was educating consisted of the young Jewish lions ready to undo the teachings of their forefathers, though not to distance themselves from their explosive method. Whereas grandfather Strauss was their perfect guide, parting a space in thought as intellectuals are prone to do, it appears as though Wolfowitz long ago decided to transfigure him through power politics.

Neoconservatism is the final conquest of the Republican Party movement begun with Barry Goldwater uttering in 1964: "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!" He was the leading light of the Protestant Fundamentalist movement being ushered into political adolescence whose self-righteous ambitions felt no need for euphemisms. They resound like distant thunder when faced with today's newspeak.

Conversely, neoconservatism spells victory against Jewish intellectuals who were instrumental in the movement that shaped the policies of Itzak Rabin and the Oslo peace accord. Since Rabin's assassination, the neo-cons have sealed their dominance over progressive forces in Israel, those inclined to stop and reverse the illegal settling of the Occupied Territories and give Palestinians the right to an independent homeland. It has not been repeated enough how important a role the neo-cons have played in the Israeli rightwing. Their battle against Palestinian self-determination has aimed specifically at Jewish progressives, and Bloom's book performed the archeological re-writing of the importance the German Jewish émigrés had for the greatest period in American art and intellectual culture perhaps since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Due in large part to their contributions, that period was infinitely freer because infinitely more egalitarian than the USA of today. It was a time in which people strove for more democracy and greater equality.

Under fictitious pretexts, we are now living the opposite under the same names. The so-called freedom and democracy Bush's neo-cons are pumping is something that both America and the world can live without.

These are some of the reasons why the Strauss/Bloom background has to be spread about some more both within the university walls and from without. Large parts of the American population have been spruced by religion to listen to the neo-con message in order to soothe their impending nightmares. That its power is a perverted outgrowth from social science theory is given an outstanding portrayal in the following article. Giving proper credit is but a pittance in exchange for deeper knowledge of the advancing plan to redesign the Middle East and reinforce Israeli extremism, as Iraq slides further into confusion.

segunda-feira, 24 de novembro de 2008


para John Lennon

Hoje marca uma data fatídica para alguns… O Vaticano “perdoou” a John Lennon a sua observação, feita em 1966, que “the Beatles are more famous than Jesus Christ”. Neste dia, que marca os 40 anos da publicação do The White Album, o Vaticano reconheceu a contribuição à cultura deste monumento da música pop. Conhecido pelas músicas, “Revolution 1” e “Revolution 9”, a porta-voz do Vaticano esqueceu de mencionar que entre as outras músicas no The White Album, encontra-se “Happiness is a Warm Gun”. Marc David Chapman, um cristão evangélico e assassino de Lennon, que também se lembrou da observação de Lennon, deve ser contente com o reconhecimento que passa na intertextualidade.
Por isso, estou colocando aqui, hoje, um artigo pedido por um brilhante e simpático aluno de direito meu, Diogo, sobre filosofia e laicismo.

O ano 2005 marcou o centenário, na França, da Lei sobre a laicidade. O Estado destacou o acontecimento, mas na sociedade raramente se viu uma comemoração apostando tanto na transformação, e até mesmo na depreciação da Lei. A laicidade de tipo francês é um modelo jurídico para separar as instituições religiosas do Estado, mas sua existência jurídica se confronta à pressão contínua de duas fontes principais. Por um lado, os Estados com maioria católica estão num processo de reavaliação da prática religiosa diante do avanço das outras religiões – isso não é o caso apenas da França. Por outro lado, a transformação demográfica dos países da Europa ocidental, do Canadá e dos EUA, para realizar a integração dos imigrantes de culturas e confissões diferentes, necessita de uma relativização da laicidade, para sua forma jurídica, como na França, não aparecer como uma ameaça às tradiçãos nativas dos imigrantes.

Se se pode criticar uma certa deficiência da laicidade nos países que a têm inscrito na Lei fundamental, é verdade que poucos países e poucas religiões no mundo têm aplicado princípios laicos. Dá para perguntar se o cristianismo, e mais especificamente, o catolicismo, estaria mais inclinado a proteger o laicismo. Por diversas razões, integrantes do corpo eclesiástico da Igreja católica não podem fazer política, uma delas sendo, no Brasil por exemplo, a coerência da condenação da teologia da libertação que levou à excomunicação de Leonardo Boff pelo Cardinal Ratzinger, o atual Papa Bento 16. Contudo, as mesmas restrições, no que diz respeito à prática política, não se aplicam aos pastores e bispos de outras confissões. Com 62 deputados e 4 senadores compondo a chamada “bancada evangélica” no País, pode-se falar de um déficit efetivo de laicidade.

Na França, diante do crescimento da população islâmica no país, a Lei da laicidade foi reforçada com a Lei Debret em 2002, também conhecida como a “lei contra o véu islâmico”. Argumente-se que a Lei funciona na direção das confissões cristãs, pois visa a proibição do uso “ostentatório” de símbolos religiosos nas escolas públicas. Resultado de uma pesquisa política sobre a harmonia ameaçada da coexistência religiosa na França, provocada parcialmente pelas guerras no Oriente médio, a Lei Debret ainda se conforma às bases republicanas da Lei de 1905.
Outro é o conceito de “laicidade positiva”, recentemente avançado pelo atual Presidente Nicolas Sarkozy. Esta valorização da laicidade implica que, até agora, ela tenha sido “negativa”. Considerando que o presidente da República foi nomeado “cônego de honra” da igreja da São João de Latran – título historicamente conferido aos reis franceses desde que Henrique IV, antes protestante, se converteu à igreja romana, mas não aos presidentes do estado laico – a separação entre o Estado francês e o catolicismo parece ter dado um enorme passo para trás.

Pois, como explica Jean-Claude Monod, a laicidade apresentada na Lei de 1905 era “neutra” no que diz respeito às religiões. “Fundada sobre o princípio da igual liberdade de consciência, a Lei garante à todas as religiões o livre exercício de culto, enquanto exclui a possibilidade de um financiamento das religiões pelo Estado ou de uma participação dos cléricos no ensino público, garantindo assim o direito para as consciências atéias ou agnósticas de não sofrerem o proselitismo religioso por parte do Estado, e para os crentes, de não sofrerem a propaganda do Estado em favor do atéismo.”[1] A proposta de Sarkozy vai contra os princípios da Lei.

Quanto ao Brasil, o Decreto 119-A, de 17 de janeiro de 1890, instaurou a laicidade no País, o que foi reforçada na Carta de 1924, e no art. 19 da Constituição de 1988. Quanto ao ensino religioso, a Lei de Diretrizes e Bases estabeleceu, em 1996, que ele não será financiado pelos cofres públicos, situação esta que mudou no ano seguinte, na Lei 9475/97.[2] Na verdade, o grau de separação entre Estado e Igreja não é tão grande para que o Vaticano deixe de crer que seus direitos de colaboração são harmoniosamente conciliáveis como o Estado brasileiro e se abstenha de oferecer ao Governo federal uma forma de parceria, em contrapartida da manutenção da proibição do aborto, ou para que a CNBB não intervenha contra legalização de pesquisas com células-tronco. Graças à visão clara do Ministro da justiça, Tarso Genro, quanto à possibilidade no futuro de emendar a lei do aborto, o Brasil pode ainda reinvindicar seu caráter laico.

Por outro lado, o Governo federal não tem um poder de orientação sobre a laicidade nos estados da União. Durante os oito anos dos governos Garotinho/Mateus, o Estado do Rio de Janeiro instaurou uma política integrista cristã referente ao ensino público, comparável à política dos estados mais conservadores nos Estados-Unidos, como o de Kansas, onde é proibido o ensino da teoria da evolução de Darwin nas escolas públicas. Isso nos informa, quanto ao Brasil, que o resurgimento da oposição à teoria de Darwin, hoje em dia, vem mais das diversas confissões evangélicas do que do catolicismo de antes. A lei definindo um ensino público “confissional” foi promulgada em 2000 (Lei 3459/00). A Lei estipulou que um “credenciamento” da orientação religiosa dos professores deviam ser fornecido por uma “autoridade religiosa”. A tentativa de separar a capacitação dos professores desta definição, na Lei 1840/2000, recebeu o veto, em 3 de novembro de 2003, pela Governadora Rosinha Mateus Garotinho. Seguiu a sua declaração, em maio de 2004 de ser criacionista e a favor do ensino do criacionismo nas escolas públicas ao lado das teorias científicas.[3]

Hoje está mais claro que a separação histórica da Igreja do Estado não acabou com a religião. A laicidade marca uma diretiva específica do Estado, mas na sociedade é a renovação das religiões que se sente com um vigor crescente. A tese de Samuel Huntington, que tem influência na orientação da polítical internacional apesar do seu caráter hiberbólico, aponta para uma re-identificação com as raízes judeo-cristãs do Ocidente.[4] Além disso, há trinta anos, evidenciam-se o surgimento de linhas fundamentalistas em todas as religiões. Elas pregam a necessidade de estratégias e ações belicosas para resolver a sua incapacidade de encontrar o outro.

Se a neutralidade jurídica da Lei sobre a laicidade não tinha a alteridade cultural em vista quando foi aprovada, hoje é imprescendível a teorização desta questão quando discute-se, referente ao direito, a laicidade e a liberdade religiosa. Fora da exploração política e tecnocrática da tensão estado/religões, o lugar mais neutro para se tratar da complexidade da questão é a filosofia política e a filosofia do direito. Posições inovadoras neste assunto estão sendo debatidas por Marcel Gauchet, Jurgen Habermas e Charles Taylor. Contudo, antes de comentá-los, cabe discutir a visão mais controvertida sobre a questão, que é a de Tariq Ramadan.[5]

Musulmano formado em filosofia na Suiça, Ramadan é uma das vozes mais engajadas da integração dos musulmanos no Ocidente, inclusive sobre a cultura distinta que os musulmanos estão desenvolvendo no que diz respeito aos seus países nativos. Ao mesmo tempo, Ramadan é regularmente acusado de ter “um duplo discurso” e de ser um “embaixador do fundamentalismo islâmico” no Ocidente. O que é indubitável é que Ramadan desenvolveu um discurso baseado na tradição filosófica sobre a mediação entre tradição coránica e laicidade ocidental. Os argumentos dele não se distinguem fundamentalmente daqueles de filosofos ocidentais tais que Paul Ricoeur, por exemplo. Há nos escritos dele sobretudo a aceitação de uma laicidade cultural que tem como objetivo a coexistência pluri-religiosa no espaço cívico.

Se a questão por Ramadan é como manter o islam íntegro na coexistência com a laicidade, a questão de Marcel Gauchet é pensar o seguinte: “como fazer democratas com crentes e ao mesmo tempo combater a versão da crença associada à uma política heteronômica”?[6] Pois, para Gauchet a efetividade de um estado realmente laico se coloca a partir da questão de autonomia política, moral e jurídica. Em La Religion dans la démocratie, Gauchet argumenta afirmativamente que a sociedade francesa entrou numa tal autonomia. Neste sentido, ele descreve o cristianismo como a religião da “saída da religião”, o que caraterizaria melhor a situação na França, segundo ele, do que a bandeira da laicidade. Segundo ele, “nem o debate entre morte de Deus e retorno das religiões, nem a interpretação da permanência da fé são sustentáveis. Assistimos simultaneamente aos dois processos, a uma saída da religião, entendida como saída da capacidade do religioso de estruturar a política e a sociedade, e a uma permanência do religioso na ordem da convicção última dos indivíduos, terreno em que, segundo as experiências históricas e nacionais, se apresenta um vasto espectro de variações.”[7] A liberdade das religiões seria acompanhada por um individualismo imposto pelo Estado, que lhe garante que a domínação do mercado se torne não negociável segunda as normas da democrácia popular.

Charles Taylor argumenta que entraremos num período pós-durkheimeano da religião no Ocidente.[8] Ao argumentar em favor da função integrativa das religiões, Taylor enfatisa que nossa epoca é de fragmentação do vínculo sagrado, e isso teria levado diretamente ao enfraquecimento do ser coletivo. O libertarianismo seria uma sintoma da perda deste vínculo.
Por sua vez, J. Habermas, nos seus últimos escritos, exprime sobre a religião um otimismo segundo o qual “a tolerância religiosa é ineluctável”[9]. A religião acharia seu lugar no pensamento pós-metafísico no modo racional, porque já percebemos no Ocidente a emergência de uma sociedade “pós-secular”. Desta forma, “uma secularização que não aniquila, realiza-se no modo da tradução. Isso é o que o Ocidente, enquanto poder secularizador universal, pode aprender a partir de sua própria história.”[10]

Uma boa razão política para se garantir a pluralidade religiosa assim postulada é que “mesmo o direito racional igualitário possui raízes religiosas, raízes essas que inserem modos de pensar nessa revolução, que coincidiu com a ascensão das grandes religiões universais.”[11] A isso acrescentam-se os primeiros passos da passagem do sagrado para o profano. No caso do movimento negro norte-americano pela igualdade racial, por exemplo, encontramos uma clara afirmação da capacidade interna das religiões de efetuar “transformações jurídicas, políticas e sociais”. Esta afirmação é típica da convicção habermasiana da nossa capacidade coletiva de alcançar uma liberdade maior, e uma maior efetividade política, por um compromisso com a democracia constitucional.

Num momento em que o avanço das religiões parece seduzir a população diante da perda, com a globalização, de perspectiva política nacional, Habermas lembra o papel fundamental da religião tanto para a cultura quanto para a política, mas sempre oferecendo os termos segundo os quais devemos reconhecer as verdades diferenciadas em concepções pluralistas da fé religiosa. Como escreve Habermas, “o salto na reflexividade que tem caraterizado a modernização da conciência religiosa nas sociedades liberais fornece um modelo para a mentalidade de grupos seculares nas sociedades multiculturais também.”[12]

[1] Jean-Claude Monod, « L’abandon de la neutralité laique », in Le Monde, 21 de janeiro de 2008.
[2] Emerson Giumbelli, “Religião, Estado, modernidade : notas a propósito de fatos provisórios”, in Estudos Avançados,vol. 18, no. 52, p.
[3] Emerson Giumbelli; Sandra de Sá Carneiro (org.), Ensino Religioso no Estado do Rio de Janeiro. Registros e Controvérsias. (Comunicações do ISER), Número 60, Ano 23, 2004.
[4] Samuel S. Huntington, O Choque das civilizações e a mudança na ordem mundial, Lisboa: Gradiva, 1999.
[5] Tariq Ramadan, Western Muslims and the Future of Islam, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
[6] Marcel Gauchet, La Religion dans la démocratie, Paris : Folio, 1998, p. 28.
[7] Gauchet, M, et Ferry, L., Le Religieux après la religion, Paris : Grasset, 2004, p. 55.
[8] Charles Taylor, Varieties of Religion Today. William James Revisited. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002, pp. 75 ff
[9] Jurgen Habermas, “Um diálogo sobre Deus e o mundo”, in Era das transições, op. cit., p. 202.
[10] Habermas, O Futuro da Natureza humana,trad. Karina Jannini, Revisão por Eurides Avance de Souza, São Paulo, Martins Fonte, p. 152.
[11] Ibid., p. 145.
[12] Habermas, J. “Religious Tolerance – The Pacemaker for Cultural Rights”, in Philosophy, vol. 79, no. 5, 2004, p. 17.

sábado, 22 de novembro de 2008


One of the positive aspects of my profound distaste for Bush's America was the way it led me to look at my own country, Canada. My first article published at CounterPunch was a statement of rejecting any concession of our sovereignty due to the Patriot Act and War on Terror. When I wrote this piece three years later, thanks to a major CBC initiative that just vanished into thin air since then, I was moved by the thanks I received from some members of the Metis community in Canada. The way the Metis story is told in Canada is just a symptom of the moral superiority that unadultered ideology affords to the victor. Benjamin's thesis never held stronger. Canadians, in general, were left clueless as to the article's message. I could never publish the piece in Canada. We're so good, aren't we?


By Norman Madarasz

October 21-23, 2002

No rebel has graced the heights of Canadian history like Louis Riel. Educated in Montreal by the Sulpician Fathers, Riel trained to be a lawyer, while his deep spirituality had destined him to enter into the ecclesiastical order. But Louis Riel was Metis. From 1869 to 1885, he led his people in two separate struggles, striving to have its rights recognized as sovereign by Canada’s nascent federal government. The courage of his leadership cost him his life. Thanks to it, and the way historical time seeks retribution, the Metis people are rising to find the place due to them in Canadian history.

When the Hudson’s Bay Company relinquished ownership of the northwest Rupert’s Land, basically today’s Manitoba and beyond, Riel petitioned John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first prime minister, to grant the Metis rights over their homeland. Settlers were also coveting the territory, and its sale sparked Canada’s first westward venture. The dramatic events to which it led is better known as the 1869-70 Red River Metis rebellion.

The Metis had settled, farmed and dominated a large area of the northern prairies for close to a hundred years. By the mid-eighteenth century, their population numbered about 10,000. The first conflict marked by the events at Fort Gary had Riel flee into exile. Over a decade later, with rebellion in the air again, the wayward rebel was summoned back to lead a last ditch effort at saving the Metis’ sovereign claims. Defeated, captured and put on trial, he was found guilty of high treason and executed in 1885. Ever since, Riel’s name has draped our history like a constitutional ghost.

On October 21-23, the CBC, SRC and Dominion Institute produced an event for television that beckoned the ghost to become a man again. In an unprecedented act of political television, producer Mark Starowicz and his team staged a re-trial for the Metis leader. In his closing testimony, Riel, played by French-Canadian barrister Guy Bertrand, cited the national anthem in French. Francophones can hear its opening line resounding: “Oh Canada, terre de nos aïeux.” Riel hastened to point out that the verse translates differently to the English rendition. Where it intones “Our home and native land”, the French sing “Home of our ancestors”.

“Who are these ancestors?” asked Riel. The answer was to plain to hear: “My native ancestors.” No English Canadian in 1870, very few in 1960, and perhaps only a handful in 2002, could sing this line in French as theirs.

Canada has remained a divided nation. Yet for the Metis, this people of mixed Fanco-, Anglo-, and Indigenous origins --- the ‘half-breeds’ as they were once disparagingly called ---, to be able to claim the line is testimony to their place as one of Canada’s founding peoples, the original Manitobans.


The beauty of the sciences’ obsession with objectivity is that when its object begins to blossom and then wilt, to split in the way the atom once did, its outstretched form shows just how subjective knowledge systems are.

When the atom whispered through the help of the right instrument, were it a microscope or model, what it said was that it could still be divided, as would its offspring so long as humans were its observers. When behaviorism’s ‘black box’ model for the mind began to utter from within its hollow depths, it pointed to being populated with the frictional push and pull of genetic and memetic activity. As evolution riles out, theory shifts from selection to adaptation when it doesn’t hearken back to the distance of creationism.

Until recently, the myth of Canadian nationhood furrowed between two founding peoples, the French and English. The story stretched tautly over an echo chamber, within which resounded Native Indian truth. When the European colonial membrane finally grew holes and began to breathe again in the 1970’s, a triangular reality rearranged it.

Slowly but steadily, Canada’s First Nations returned to engrave their mark on a country that was more willing to be adorned with the idea of multiculturalism than grant them anything beyond their ‘titres de noblesse’, i.e. everything but territorial and political autonomy.

Canada’s pedigree of nationhood now confronts a novel step in this history of the past in the making. Few events demonstrate as clearly how history steps backward. It skates from the future into a dispersed and coagulating past. As far as most Canadians as concerned, I could, or maybe should, be writing in another language. For, from the denial generally cast upon the founding role held by the indigenous peoples, many Canadian ideologues react by embedding the denial of fact into their own nationalism, self-denial framed by a sense of identity seemingly void of patriotism.

Debates to admonish patriotism rage among Anglo-Canadians on the topic of national identity. They portray themselves as having a hard time settling on who exactly they are as a nation. The Anglo-Canadian brew simmers from a dash of the American uplifted by a sprinkle of the British, all fomented with a spice of Ire. Yet the big chunk of actual identity seems to melt into thin speech. Oddly, it vanishes alongside the other flavors that have diluted the true-bred Canadian over the last century, a mention for many of them not worth recalling.

And right when Anglo-Canadians were getting accustomed to the schema of a triangular reality involving the founding peoples, a new omen has arisen. From atom to quark, and now onto cords. The Metis are literally on the way to etching out their rightful place in history. But instead of heading towards four peoples, integers split into fractals. Unlike other numbers, fractals describe the process of shifting from one dimension into another. Their inter-dimensional complexity only does greater justice to the study of history. That’s because once you step outside of the hard and fast and dominant version of history, the sagas of the conquerors and their conquests, a sense of subtlety becomes the master.

Canada’s indigenous peoples are so much more than founders of the country.
They are the soul of the land and its soil, its air and sky. Yet until recently, in terms of the nation’s actual configuration, their heritage and presence have barely inflected key policies since the early nineteenth-century. The reasons for this absence have next to nothing to do with will, desire or abnegation. Tecumseh, Big Bear and Joseph Brant were all natives. All participated and struggled to build the prototype of this nation. When the moment came to commemorating their devotion through recognition of territorial treaties and claims, all were dismissed when they hadn’t already died in battle -- at times in alliance with the British white man against the American, at others against the British themselves.

At this point, the Metis’ role appears as less alienated. Like the First Nations, its people stand at the heart of the country and continent’s indigenous heritage. What differs is how the Metis have directly helped to shape Canada as a nation. With the coupling of Indians and French, and Indians and Scots, and the further intertwining among their descendants, the Metis formed a population stimulated by the political and judicial behavior of the European ancestor. That continent’s political innovation was to have founded nation-states that are bureaucratic, centralized and either democratic or dictatorial in character, divided into jurisdictional entities such as states/provinces and counties in structure.

On the heels of Confederation’s enactment in 1867 through the union of four provinces, the Metis aspired to be bound to the new country. By proxy, they had preserved the autonomy of the northern prairies in their victory against the Plains Indians a decade earlier. More importantly, they built a distinct society. By the very meaning of their name in the French language, the Metis embodied and anticipated Canada’s future multicultural fabric a century before the buzzword was even coined.

As the contour of historical details is drawn over, Anglophone Canadians will probably object that the colonial war they are accused of sponsoring against the Metis was, in fact, fought with a broader objective. The government sought to prevent American settlers from invading the northern Great Plains. Their advocates would ad that the alliance system characteristic of Canadian history, as proven by its ties with the Iroquois especially, would have been pursued in quite different manner were it south of the border.

Decoding the humility, the British North Americans were protecting the Indians from the expansionist Republicans bounding westward and north. After all, the Iroquois paid a heavy price for siding with the British in the 1812-1815 war. Already threatened by the advance of settlements, as the war concluded in a stalemate between the white powers, the Iroquois would be deported from their homeland, right out from the northern US. And so, the pleading ends, the white man’s actions against the Metis were meant to secure for them a homeland – of sorts.

For diplomacy's sake, then, let the Canadian’s objections stand as a memento to their will. In exchange, let them recognize that the means used to achieve continental access to the Pacific only considered the Metis’ welfare as a trickle-down side effect.


The CBC’s objective was to call on Canada’s leading legal minds to try Riel according to today’s laws. The trial would bear in mind the Charter of Rights and Freedoms passed in 1982 when the Constitution was, finally, repatriated from England. In the end, any referral to that Charter merely played a role in lending legitimacy to staging the re-trial. For, as was revealed, the legal point of contention remained then-prime minister John A. Macdonald’s decision to use an old British law of high treason by which to charge the Metis leader. Not only did this law not exist on Canada’s books, its evident purpose was to put Riel to death.

The series opened with a biographical portrayal of the Metis leader. The re-trial took place on the second evening, after which viewers were asked to act as jurors and vote on-line to either convict or acquit Riel beyond reasonable doubt. Poll results were to be broadcast in the course of the third evening when distinguished members of the Metis nation were invited to speak of Riel, the trial and re-trial, their history since the fateful rebellions and what the Metis expect today. Over these three hours, our uncompromising public network has rarely been as ambitious.

So much lay on the agenda that the name of a most prominent political leader was skipped over. Yet in 1990, Elijah Harper had many a Canadian dizzy. For over two hundred years the English and French, Euro-Canadians, had lived in two distant and separate worlds. Two solitudes it was once said to be. But a Siamese twin is what they come closest to resembling. The Constitutional amendments of that time, known as the Meech Lake accords, were meant to harmonize the life of this bickering couple by enshrining French-speaking Quebec as a distinct society to which exceptional collective rights were due. Mr Harper quashed the attempt “silent, with a feather”, in the words of John Ralston Saul.

As a member of the Manitoba assembly, Mr Harper reminded Euro-Canadians that there can be no just constitution without honoring either the ancestral peoples of the land, or the silenced other, the Metis. He managed to block the Manitoba provincial government’s ratification of the accords precisely according to what the Charter of Rights grants to the nation’s founding peoples, now minorities. With Manitoba’s failure to ratify the accords, though, Quebec stared in awe as if suddenly recalling its distant cousin.

Riel was hung in a bloodsucker’s bash in Regina on November 22, 1885. In Montreal, far from its cheering crowds, 50,000 French Canadians stormed onto the Champs de Mars, after “Ils l’ont pendu-They hanged him” was splashed on the front-page of newspapers. There was no god of war trudging this field, but simply a man of rights. Wilfred Laurier, who would become the first French-Canadian Prime Minister and steer the country away from MacDonald’s legacy, spoke out to the demonstrators. “Had I been on the banks of the Saskatchewan”, he declared, “I also would have taken up my rifle.”

In Quebec’s view a century later, history’s kiss was given from smirking lips. And for its latest Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, the promise being repaid to his Quebec constituency had fallen into pieces through the device of the Manitobans. Mulroney would still give it one last chance in 1995. By then, the indigenous renaissance had already grown. Few were able to see eye-to-eye on rights, and even fewer have felt like touching the Constitution since.

So the negotiating table has turned an increment and slid into another venue: public television. The re-trial mustered up two primary pieces of litigation. The prosecution accused Riel of murdering Thomas Scott, an Orangeman from Ontario, imprisoned during the Red River rebellion. That charge was only meant to trigger a list of wrongdoings: establishing a provisional government, setting up a capital, Batoche, establishing a tribunal and killing 90 officers of the Canadian mounted police, dispatched there to enforce order. Riel rebutted that they, as Scott himself, had come to kill him.

The prosecution then emphasized Riel’s religious beliefs as obsessive, quoting him as “the prophet of the new world”. It tainted the wandering that followed his initial defeat as a slide into insanity, therefore explaining Riel’s two-year tenure in a mental asylum in Montreal. Climatically, the prosecution then quoted from the letter Riel sent to the Canadian forces amassed outside of Batoche. In it he vowed to wage “a war of extermination” against the Canadian forces were they not to return to Ottawa.

The defense council sparklingly drew Riel’s devotion to his people. It argued that the fight he led was waged in self-defense. Prime Minister Macdonald was harshly scrutinized in his desire to execute Riel. Yet truer to the fact was that following the Metis surrender in 1885, 76 leaders were charged with treasonous felony. Riel alone received the charge of high treason whose only sentence was death.

The circumstances of a further procedural problem had arisen as well. Riel, a francophone and speaker of ‘Metisian’, had the right to a trial in French before a jury comprised of his peers. But MacDonald chose to shift the trial further west to Regina, ensuring that no Metis would be part of the jury. How could there be due process when only one of the jurors spoke French? It may not be surprising that by acting as his own witness, Riel had a hard time clarifying how “waging a war of extermination” was primarily meant as a message to intimate and scare off the Canadian forces. There was no battle plan, no “rebellion”. Given the British North Americans' military superiority any such strategy would only have been suicidal.

Based on the campaign to deprive Riel of a just hearing, offset by the claim of self-defense faced with the invading Canadian police and military forces, the defense counsel then asked for the jury --- the Canadian viewers of the program --- to decide again on a verdict beyond reasonable doubt.


Out of the roughly 10,000 viewers who phoned in between 9 pm October 22 and
8 pm October 23, nine out of ten voted to acquit Riel. Close to 90% of viewers had found him innocent of the charges laid against him. Announced toward the end of the forum in which representatives of the Metis nation were invited as witnesses and guides, the results left the gathering profoundly moved.

One hour could not be enough to contain their enthusiasm. Nor could any objections to its lack of legal value override the moral legitimacy of the vote and its historical implications. Indeed, one of the barristers participating in the re-trial, Edward Greenspan, vowed to take the case to the Supreme Court. Again, the objection could be raised that only those were watching who had already decided in favor of acquittal. In that event, emphasize the fact that these viewers were the ones giving the controversy closest consideration. Based on research, inquiry and, surely, common legal and moral sense, they chose to alter the historical verdict. In the end, the re-trial managed to raise the factor of reasonable doubt -- in face of which the charge of high treason could not be held up in a court of law.

It isn’t just Riel who has received historical justice here. It’s the Metis themselves who have torn a page out of the history books. What's more, they have included a new one. On that page, they will have emerged from the shadow of shame into which Canadian history had attempted and succeeded to shut them for far too long. Shame of their heritage and shame of the unprecedented and unsurpassed violence of the clash the Canadian federal forces led against them.

What have the Metis wanted since then? The distinguished guests in attendance had to keep recalling that their status as a distinct people, distinct from French-Canadians, English-Canadians as well as the First Nations, had been implicitly recognized by Ottawa. More important, these rights are explicitly enshrined in the UN’s definition of a people.

What the Metis still expect, though, is settlement of the pending land rights claims left unattended since Riel’s execution. In the meantime, the Metis got a chance to speak their pride.

There was nothing happenstance to this implication. Anyone could feel it in the emotions running through the attendance. A young woman pondered: How does one define being Metis? When returning to the history and traditions of her ancestral people, and then especially, she could feel that she was Metis. Rewriting the history of the conquerors into progressive history may proceed by small steps. Its accomplishment is reached when a feeling finally blossoms, confirming that justice has been given its due.


The third part forum discussion cannot pass without being given a modest technical criticism. The CBC/SRC and Newsworld/RDI, like any other of Canada’s publicly built and developed cultural institutions, have also had to resort to the use of commercial advertising due to relentless budget slashing. Thank your federal government’s budget surplus for that. Yet the most annoying management of advertising time, and when to cut for it, prevailed throughout the forum. So much so that participants would be cut off in the middle of a point about their history that was worth more than reading 10 books claiming to tell the real story.

Adding insult to injury, the way the broadcast closed was atrocious. Here we had the first manifestation on a national scale to elevate the Metis to the place of a founding nation. For over a hundred years, they as a people have been subdued, crushed and almost erased from the historical and cultural landscape. And what does the CBC host do when airtime is almost up? She cuts off a participant just minutes into proud elation lauding the public’s vote, only to sign off with barely a closing word --- a quick thank you to all of you for participating, and we’ll be sure to remember your tears.

How smooth is the slide of political television into the reality show format! The CBC must offer a follow-up program to continue the discussion. Otherwise, its interests in Ottawa will simply betray it as misbegotten. In an age of reality shows, the CBC participated in redrawing reality, bringing it a step closer to justice. It cannot, without letting down the Metis, leave without a statement as to the implications of this program.

Save for these flaws, CBC/SRC has to be congratulated for such a powerful lesson on nation forming. Its perspective is not only to inform, but also to right the wrongs of history. Much more modestly, it's to expose Canadians to their complex and neglected stories. This is no small task in a nation that perpetually downgrades its own history as quite simply ‘boring’. Would a country be depressed at not being an empire, carried through time in sealed linguistic oblivion under the country's name, which derives from a Huron word meaning ‘village’? That the most interesting parts of the country’s history are often left out from the curriculum is symptomatically reversed in the continual adulation of the US’s epic representations, be they good or not.

The present author is a first generation Canadian, born and raised in Montreal from Hungarian parents. It took him the chance of studying in Europe, discussing with European intellectuals and reading the history of European contact with the Americas to understand that non-Anglo and non-Franco immigrants to Canada have also shared in the plight of colonizing this land, disenfranchising its native peoples in the same move.

Perhaps I’m slow, distracted and blind. Little around, save for their walking living memory after all, had led me to see our arrival differently. Like others, my parents’ generation strove to fit into a new country whose inhabitants repel every new wave of foreigners, aspiring to be recognized by ‘native’ Canadians. Assimilation in the case of my peers and myself, whether in Quebec or Canada, was successful by the standards that any state can afford to give its newcomers.

Yet the flipside is that living with that need to fit in, and embedding it deeply within the skin, shuts historical space right down, and sometimes bitterly. Often, the end result is that immigrants have little physical space to care deeply about what happened here a hundred-and-thirty years ago. And once this problem of assimilation has been settled for them, the reality of the continued colonization of Canadian land and people at the expense of the rights of the First Nations to their own land and traditions goes streaming in only one direction: back further into the mindscape. Far from the metropolitan hubs, we Canadians know little of the living conditions experienced and suffered by the native populations.

The 1867 confederation brought together four provinces: French-speaking Quebec, English-speaking Ontario, and the former-fourteenth British North American colony of Acadia, split into Nova Scotia and New Brunswick once the majority of its French-speakers had been deported. The fifth to join was Manitoba, the Metis’ homeland, from whose sovereignty they were torn.

Long since a minority, the Metis have begun to find some truth now, a little retribution for times forcefully and forcibly forgotten. The nation's public broadcaster has helped clear the way for them to finally accede to the pantheon of the nation’s founding peoples.


Even were I to accept that eating goulash over a lifetime isn't enough to make one Hungarian, repetition of historical dates eradicates any distance I might have taken from Hungary. October 23, 1956 is a fateful date in my family's history. It's the reason I was born outside of the country. Its revolutionary fervor is what connected me to France 68. And it is a timely coincidence that October 23 became my wedding date. This article is still my main statement on being a Hungarian, a Hungarian intellectual, raised outside of the country. It got me into hot water with some Hungarians, especially my mother. But you'll have to ask her why... Another look at 2004.


Books reviewed in this Review Article:

The Hungarians. A Thousand Years Of Victory In Defeat. By Paul Lendvai (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003).Translated by Ann Major, xii + 572 pp.

A Concise History Of Hungary. By Miklos Molnár, (Cambridge University Press, 2001)
Translated by Anna Magyar, 388 pp.

Requiem Pour un Empire Défunt. Destruction De l’Empire Austro-Hongrois. By François Fejtö (Éditions du Seuil, 1993), 467 pp.


Hungary has moved into yet another phase of its history by becoming a member of the EU. But the relationship between the dominant culture to the historic “nationalities” (i.e. Germans, Slovaks, Croats, Romanians, Jews, and Gypsies) is worthy of a most thorough inquiry. Tackling the challenge of modernizing the country’s history is akin to a delicate act of cleansing the rather fragile “Hungarian earthenware”, to cite Széchenyi, the great 19th century reformer. This is where Paul Lendvai’s The Hungarians splendidly excels over what has historically proved to be a most delicate hurdle.

On September 11, 1989, the Hungarian government opened its Western flood gates to East German refugees fleeing their homeland. A tidal wave ensued thereafter. Since then Hungarian historiography has worked at shedding its shadows of doctrine and dogma. Francois Fejtö, who had revealed the trial of Communist leader Laszlo Rajk in the 1940s, swept history’s stage for Hungary to open onto its post-communist era. In Requiem pour un empire défunt, Fejtö overturned the disdainful history of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy once taught to his compatriots when their country lay battered under the weight of Soviet domination and exploitation.

He was soon followed by Miklós Molnár, a fellow of the Institut universitaire des Hautes Études internationales de Genève, whose major work appears in English translation for the first time. Molnár upped the bar of quality and science in historiography by stripping Hungary’s past from its Romantic pride. Adhering to the parameters of liberal scholarship, his Concise History of Hungary provides a detailed and factual account of the Danubian nation. In the process, he steers clear of the legends and fabrications characteristic of far too many versions Hungarians worldwide hold of their homeland.

Both of these accounts tend to converge onto a common avowal. The rebirth of Hungary in the 19th century would not have been accomplished without the romantic history built upon its fallen heroes, a history compiled during that very century. So has it occurred that the Romanticized epic of the Hungarian saga itself is now part of its history. Aligned with this insight, Molnár and Fejtö both chose to re-evaluate the tale of the country’s victimization under the rule of Austria’s house of Habsburg.

Building upon their revisionist accomplishments, Paul Lendvai has taken the next logical step. As a distinguished journalist and editor-in-chief of the Europäische Rundschau, he understands that neither fact nor ideology alone completely molds a nation’s identity, let alone its history. In Lendvai’s brew, identity arises through the will of its people—or, as the case was for Hungary, its peoples.

Countless pages of The Hungarians describe the popular leaders who once held, and still sway, the nation’s flame in the Magyar imagination. Although nationalism may serve the politician, it fails the scientist. The reader is thus quickly led to understand that from the folk basis out of which Lendvai spins the nation’s history emerges not an ideal Hungary, but the natio Hungarica. For countless great Hungarians, such as Miklós Zrinyi, King Mathias Corvinus, Lajos Kossuth and John von Neumann—from Serb, Romanian, Slovak and Jewish backgrounds, respectively—“belonged to the political nation of Hungary which was not an ethnic but a juridico-political category”. (127)

To citizens of today’s Hungary, this may be but a vision of the past. Where it very much persists is in the minds of its émigrés and offspring. Still, it is the only vision through which current leaders may coherently venture when claiming to speak for the diaspora of 15 million Magyars. Whether this number “has to be revised” (506) or not, Lendvai’s foremost object is to show that the process of ‘Magyarization’ in the 19th century, i.e. establishing Hungarian as the official language and projecting it over its historic territory, consisted of a desperate screening out of its own asymmetrical ethnic dominance. After the cataclysm of the Ottoman invasion and occupation, Magyar was only enacted the country’s official language over Latin in 1844 at a time of great uncertainty regarding its demographic preeminence.

Propelled by a sense of injustice, the 19th century Hungarians successfully and dramatically recreated a new nation. Yet it is important to beware of short temporal cuts when considering history. So it is that Lendvai painstakingly argues that the accomplishment of the Hungarians could not have materialized without the complicity of the nationalities spread throughout their lands. But by obscuring the ties between the nation and the nationalities, a propensity marshalling the thoughts of even such a maverick revolutionary as Lajos Kossuth, the process of Magyarization ended up spelling the territorial demise of historic Magyarorszag, first in 1920 and then, once and for all, in 1947.

Lendvai does not yearn for his readers to shed tears for what could have been. Thanks to his fluid prose, elegantly rendered into English by Ann Major, many readers may even overlook the pivotal nature of chapter 26: “Total Blindness: The Hungarian Sense of Mission and the Nationalities”. His loving renditions of folk tales and inspired quotes from the country’s host of great authors and poets soften the critical stakes waged by his work—as if with a lover’s words of comfort that separation will bring newfound prosperity.

Some Hungarian readers of Christian faith may observe that Lendvai’s natio Hungarica is substantially Jewish. Let there be no illusions: this is where his remarkable book fills a gapping lack. There has been scant discussion, and only suggestive analyses, of the role the Jews played in Hungarian industry and culture since the emancipation act of 1849 had first granted them equal rights.

Regarding István Bibós’s testimonial “On the Jewish Question”, Lendvai writes “it is still the best contribution to this topic, not least because it is not written by a Jew, a Communist or a Socialist, but by a progressive bourgeois thinker.” (416, ft. 18) Taken inversely, this statement powerfully stands for the author of The Hungarians: Lendvai’s book could only have been written by a Jewish Hungarian-Austrian émigré. Despite the myth breaking, his eloquent account files the author comfortably among the great raconteurs of the Hungarian saga.

It is doubtful whether a Hungarian Gentile could have asserted with such transparency that “the ‘demographic revolution’, in favor of Magyars [in the 19th century], would have been impossible without the mass of Jewish assimilants.”(330) Apart from the factual justification for this claim, the author also spends considerable time demonstrating how the “symbiosis” (328) of the Central European Jews with the Magyars surpassed even that forged with the Germans.

Objective history can only exalt the truths enshrined within myths by breaking a few of its own. History’s undercurrents are too fierce, too unconscious, for satisfied self-righteousness to be the lingering residue left in the wake of reading its literary productions. Lendvai goes on to add an article to this law of critical faith: “with myth-making also comes the myth of treason-making. While there may be no lack of traitors in history, there is also no lack of traitor making in history, with the latter not always, and perhaps, seldom, overlapping with historical facts.” (242) Since Trianon and the end of WWII, domestic folk history has too often painted the nationalities with traitor’s tones.

The urgency of myth-breaking applies perhaps most to recent history, resulting in two important corrections. Hungarian communism, a culmination of sorts of the peasantry’s centuries-long squalid servitude under the nation’s feudal lords, cannot be evaluated outside of the loss incurred to national sovereignty by the Soviet occupation. Only a fiercely anti-communist rendition of history can claim that Hungary’s post-1946 version was sui generis. Likewise, Hungarian history has often single-handedly recorded the ire of Christian Hungarians faulting Hungarian Jews for the doings of Mátyás Rákosi, Stalin’s man of Terror in Buda from 1947-1956. Lendvai explains away the idea that ethnic background has any relation to brutal dictatorships, but only by painfully seeking to answer why the freedom fighters among the second generation of Hungarian communists turned to tyranny and terror when they haplessly assumed power.

It is a truism that ethnic resentment cannot be erased merely through the brush of a historical determinist stroke. One must not forget that for a vanquished nation, the aftermath of war invariably overflows with suffering and a yearning for retribution. In turn, the horror of the two 20th century world wars could only have been followed by an aftermath steeped in social terror and collective pathology.

In apposition to his detailed character portrayals, Lendvai’s general method is anchored in pattern identification. He proceeds by the formal excavation of repeated event patterns as a more accurate means to deciphering a nation’s distinctive features. The subtitle to his work, “A Thousand Years of Victory in Defeat”, also projects into the future. The “thousand years” refers to Hungarian statehood as proclaimed by Stephen 1st, the act by which the kingdom was affiliated to Rome’s Catholic tutelage. Until then, from the Caucasus to the Carpathian basin, the Magyars had struggled through shifting political and religious alliances.

As a deeper undercurrent, the historical pattern of “victory in defeat” is the folk song to the nation’s survival. Lendvai’s is not the portrait of a victimized nation, though the plaintiff poignancy of a Rom’s violin may be overhead in the background. In the footsteps of Fejtö, such refusal owes principally to its author’s full-scale revisionism of the Habsburg Compromise: “If the political, economic and financial facts are viewed objectively, it has to be admitted that the Hungarians were less victims than beneficiaries during this period of their history.”(287) Defeat in 1848-1849, led to fusion in 1867. Defeat in 1956, led to the emergence of Goulash Communism in the 1970s.

Indeed, this pattern has solidified into the rational ground from which the modern day Hungarian heroic character strides forward. In the past it had aroused the passion of the nationalities to partake in the Magyars’ struggle. As far as into the ranks of the famous thirteen generals of the 1848 honvéd army, brutally executed in Arad on Feldzeugmeister Haynau’s orders, the nationalities helped make the Nation. Among these would-be martyrs, one could find “a German of Austrian origin, a German-Austrian, two Hungarian-Germans, a Croat, a Serb from the Bánát and two Hungarians of Armenian origin.” (240)

While anyone could become Hungarian in the 19th century even without mastering the language properly —this was the case of composer Franz Liszt—official recognition of one’s own ethnicity was harder to achieve. Lendvai will surely spark many objections by asserting that:

“[in] contrast to the representation of national romanticism, Hungarian historians of our time, such as Domokos Kosáry, emphasize that the radicalization of these nationalities was not the result of Vienna’s policies, Pan-Slavism or rabble-rousing foreign agents. These ethnic groups, in their own social and political development, had reached a similar level of national feeling and national assertion as the Hungarians, but Kossuth and most of the authoritarian Hungarian politicians were unwilling to accept their demands.” (224)

Regardless, it stands that this “blindness”, or rather blindspot, to history’s cunning would eventually solidify into the blow to shatter the Hungarian earthenware.

It is history’s destiny to stare helplessly as the past’s effect on facts have them act no differently on our minds and bodies than do fictions. In his loving rendering of Hungary’s troubled saga, Lendvai has shown us how our knowledge and memory are a tangle of both threads. His demand on readers is to stretch their reasoning powers so as to represent these threads singularly as they intertwine. Therein lies his great achievement: Lendvai is an educator. The only blood and sole battlefield his work condones are set in a classroom of inquiry and debate.

No power, no country and no president may be excused from scorching the earth anew. Vengeance is the only child of such wanton destruction; from it, students never emerge. As Hungary prepares for a new era as a member of the European Union—and not, one would hope, as a disruptive American vassal—Fejtö, Molnár, and Lendvai stand out as our pointers and signals.

Brazil's Bid at a Continental Cinema: Walter Salles Jr.’s Motorcycle Diaries in context

Obama's victory has inspired me to look back at some of the more outstanding moments of the last dreadful seven years, macropolitically speaking. Walter Salles' film was all the more timely in that it helped shift my attention away from the beloved American narrative of "On the Road". In Bush's America, not even the Beats stood out as exceptions. It must be said, though, I would soon be far away from the differences that have allowed the Other America to regain some power. 2004 was the last time I visited the US until this past summer. This was published by the good folk at Islam on Line in 2004 -- it's just a pity I didn't get paid for it (http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?c=Article_C&cid=1158658353681&pagename=Zone-English-ArtCulture%2FACELayout). Apparently, it was picked up by a local Portuguese newspaper in Vancouver.
Brazil's Bid at a Continental Cinema
Walter Salles Jr.’s Motorcycle Diaries in context
By awarding Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 the Palme d’Or, the 2004 Cannes Film Festival jury, presided by Quentin Tarentino, only did what was natural at this moment in time for art. It used the film to denounce the tyranny of Bush and the neocons for having intensified the violence and terror they claim to have been eradicating, and for doing so primarily to seize central Asian natural resources for personal and family gain. France happened to be the ideal place to declare such a message for more reasons than one.

Apart from the country’s opposition to the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, the festival was also
set against the social strife affecting France’s arts industry workers—the “intermittents du spectacle.” In the summer of 2003, they had managed to bring the Avignon Theatre Festival to a halt in protest of the Chirac government’s attempt to rid their status of job security and unemployment benefits. In the end, neither the intermittents nor the American occupation of Iraq made the Cannes dream-machine flicker into a fade out. Nor was there much discussion about the stance that art ought to take on the world’s current flow.
Back in 1968
Instead, the American culture system proved able to deploy irony in the face of opposition and protest. Back in 1968 the Cannes film festival was no less insurgent against the American invasion of South Vietnam and authoritarianism of the French political system. Yet its protests struck out on an international tone in a bid to broaden people’s power of decision-making in Western democracies. What has changed 36 years later is that the United States manages to monopolize the stages of protest as well as those of aggression. Meanwhile, under the cool shade of the Mediterranean palms, the rest of the world was blazing new, separate trails.
Less ironically, only in the United States can the question still be raised seriously as to whether cinema has a political potential. The seventh art has, nonetheless, shifted its stride. With Serguei Eisenstein in the Soviet Union and D. W. Griffith in the United States, cinema provided these countries with modern-day epics by which nations recognize their historical purpose. Decades later, out came a line from World War II with Italian neo-realism in the work of Roberto Rossellini, and the French New Wave of Jean-Luc Godard and Chris Marker. These movements brought documentary techniques to project the real-time struggle against what the world marshaled by the United States and the Soviet Union had become. Image strategies were reorganized to expand public imagination as reality was identified with spectacle.
Brazil: Differences Within Similarities
Nowadays, with a documentary holding the Palme d’Or for the first time in 48 years, it seems that cinema has been compelled to take up the failure of journalism, at least as it is manufactured by the corporate -owned and -run mass media. But journalism and news documentary are not akin to art. It’s even questionable whether journalism manages to come close to telling audiences the truths whose expression distinctly occurs within art’s domain.
Cinema has always offered a glimpse into the imaginary, even in its least escapist form. As worthy as Michael Moore’s struggles might be, the 2004 Cannes film festival only reiterated what was in the Establishment’s shrunken mind. Political cinema can be criticism, but insofar as it becomes a variation on journalism, it ends up evaporating its dream component. Were this component to equate with what drives the cinematic art itself and the criterion by which the Palme is awarded, Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles’s Diarios de motocicleta—also in this year’s official selection—would have been its victor.
Set in Spanish, but conceived by a Brazilian, Motorcycle Diaries is a southern Latin American film. Foreign audiences may not grasp the sense and importance of that implication. General ignorance of South America is draped by a skewed geography. Too many keep forgetting that Spanish is not the language spoken in Brazil, the continent’s largest country. As one of the great veterans of the 1960s’ Cinema Novo movement, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, recently said, “The political divisions invented for Latin America are completely artificial. Our peoples are so close, so similar. Walter Salles’s film shows this dimension.”
Yet there is difference within the similarities. Not only are its cultural and political traditions Portuguese and Italian, but Brazilian culture is steeped in an African and Indian admixture atypical even for the American continent. So while South America sports a common market zone, the Mercosul (in Portuguese) or Mercosur (in Spanish), it’s difficult to speak of the area as sharing a historically linear plight of common struggle.
For a Brazilian to prime his film as Latin American is also a gesture of ambition, hope. It’s precisely the stuff cinema is made of. In that regard, there may be no more perfect a figure from the continent to carry a screenplay on the theme than the Argentine-born Cuban and Latin American revolutionary, Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, a.k.a. “Ché.”
It’s the Venture

Motorcycle Diaries is Ché’s Bildungsroman, his coming-of-age tale. As a precursor of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957), though not translated into English until 1995, Guevara’s memoirs are much closer to an egalitarian version of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. There’s no Dean Moriarty or Sancho Panza in Ernesto’s partner, Alberto Granado—whose own memoirs, With Ché Through Latin America, stands as the complementary basis for José Rivera’s screenplay. Equality between these two “brothers” sets the basis from which their political egalitarianism will arise.
Don Quixote de la Mancha recapitulated the entire tradition of knighthood adventures, turning the sum into a massive delirium in recursivity. As a road novelist, Ernesto was breaking new ground by making healing his primary purpose. Gifted with as much culture as any of North America’s “Beat Generation,” social change for him was not merely cultural euphoria and lifestyle challenges. His art was not the book, but the journey itself.
The film is a venture back to a time prior to the Cuban revolution, the peasant and popular uprisings, and the wars of decolonization in which Ché fulfilled a hero’s purpose, which included his role as Cuba’s Minister of Industry from 1961 to 1965. For decades since, the nation that bankrolled his killers, the United States itself, has tried various ways to demonize him. It seems to have best succeeded simply by dropping him into banality: a freeze-framed image on a t-shirt iron-on or a poster. North American suburban middle-class kids can titillate their clued-out parents by wearing Ché’s icon while his gaze drifts eternally through pop culture trends, as inane as anything produced by the United States’ gift to the world.
For anyone who has witnessed the pictures of Ché after his assassination by a CIA goon squad in the Bolivian jungle in 1967, another image wrenches us out of oblivion. Behind the death mask is a physically vulnerable, saintly figure. An asthmatic from his earliest days, Ernesto was a trained physician, specializing in leprology. Motorcycle Diaries recounts his apprenticeship. In his art’s emergence, his devotion to the disenfranchised would soon become the guiding light to his political radicalism.
The film shows Ernesto (played by Gale Garcia Bernal), 23 and still in medical school, heading off with his best friend, Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna), on the back of a 1939 Norton 500 for a continent-long adventure. It is 1952. The friends leave from the urban upper-middle to rural upper-class comforts in Argentina to encounter nature’s gigantic splendors on the world’s most spectacular continent. From the Argentine pampas to the stark Andean isolation of the country’s border with Chile, the pair encounters a land almost barren of humans.
When their Norton breaks down in the Atacama Desert, the road begins to unfold into a land. Hand in hand, the film’s temporal setting evaporates into contemporaneity. The eternity of post-Inca subsistence and struggle turns the film’s tables into world historical fate. Alberto and Ernesto ascend the heights of Machu Picchu like Moses—here joined by Aaron—receiving the Ten Commandments.
Later, as they wander through the streets of the Inca capital of Cuzco, change has primed them to reawaken the ancestral split history of South America. One line stretches from the descendants of the pure or mixed-blood native Indians, enslaved in one form or another for centuries. Another one condenses the European heritage of those whose barbarity exceeded all limits to make them the continent’s rulers. A young Inca boy, one of a slew of non-professional actors caught throughout the journey for the camera’s pleasure in a match for its free-style hand-held movement, sums up South America’s history as its twists between two strides and two memories. Pointing to ancient masonry, incredible even by our modern standards, the boy utters, “This wall was built by Incas; that one there was built by the useless Spanish.”
Crying Through Wisdom
The film then turns into Ché’s diaries themselves. Cinematographer Eric Gautier’s striking chiaroscuro tones, set against the exploding greenery of the film’s first part, morph into a semblance of El Greco’s grayish hues. From its fissures, black-and-white stills tear away from the film’s narrative surface, left for the memory of viewers to inscribe. The color scheme shift beckons an inflexion in the narrative. In a decisive moment at every great story’s turn, the explorer faces an existential moment over which he has no control but to choose: either he accepts his mentor or slides into quixotic wandering. For “Fuster,” as Ernesto is nicknamed by Alberto, this mentor is one of their own: a physician, Dr. Bresciani.
The first step in Che’s mission takes flight from within the medical profession. Che’s mentor-physician is a struggling author, whose calling is to give him and Alberto his manuscript to comment on. In an atypical act of humility, the master submits to the student’s judgment. While Alberto shies from the responsibility of appraising the work, Ernesto leaps at it as if to underscore that the gift his mentor hands down is a task and a striving: to care for patients in a leper colony on the Amazon. Ernesto and Alberto spend the film’s most stable moments there, perfecting their arts and their sciences.
Motorcycle Diaries is also, and foremost, a Brazilian film. Its release comes on the heels of a series of outstanding works that have renewed the activity of Latin America’s former great film-producing country. What was the cause of film making’s interruption? Singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso unequivocally charged the dictatorial period of 1964–1988 with having destroyed the bossa nova, Tropicalismo and Mineira art movements. After 1968 and Institutional Act 5 (AI-5), civil liberties were suspended and parliament was forced into permanent recess. As successor to President General Arthur da Costa e Silva, President General Em?lio Garrastazu Médici soon implemented an anticommunist national security terror state in Brazil. For ten years, expression became a life-threatening contest.
Scores of artists, intellectuals, and political organizers were forced into exile—when they were famous. Those not as lucky were imprisoned, often tortured, and sometimes killed. Lyndon Johnson supported the 1964 coup, offering American military assistance if anything were to go wrong in the meantime. Throughout Latin America’s darkest period, the United States helped organize intelligence networks, such as the Plano Condor (a.k.a. Operation Condor), to annihilate popular uprisings.
Though hardly comparable in scale to Joseph Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union, Brazil’s military dictatorship wrought similar effects on culture: the creative edge of the nation’s arts drifted into hibernation.
Written for classical guitar, Gustavo Santaolalla’s soundtrack evokes the struggles of the continent. It reminds viewers that South America, and Brazil in particular, is the preeminent space for guitar composition and virtuosity today. Inspiring the soundtrack is the ambitious project of composer and virtuoso multi-instrumentalist Egberto Gismonti. His work on native Amazonian song and rhythm, as well as the cover photo of Zig Zag depicting the majestic Iguaçu Falls—which straddle the border between the three nations of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay—is an ode to the transnational continuity of the land.
Perhaps through ambivalence or embarrassment about the Cuban revolution, some critics have pleaded for viewing the film in suspension from Ché’s later life. Others have denigrated it for not linking the two sufficiently. As much as we might rationally succeed in rejecting historical determinism as the drive through which to consider history—that is, as inevitable if not prewritten in some form—our imagination ends up interfering. Imagination compels us to use historical inevitability as only one among other possibilities that twist various lines together to form our conception of history. How else can we be thrilled by moments of suspense in historical dramas whose outcomes are known well beforehand? As Ché decides to overcome his frail health and the dangers of tropical waters by swimming across the Amazon at night to share his birthday party with the leper colony he has helped care for, we are gripped and yearn for his success.
The Cuban revolution to which Ché did so much to lend its festive features has lasted against sizeable odds. In that regard, Frei Betto, the liberation theologian and current special adviser to Brazilian president Lula da Silva, does well to remind us. He hopes “the panel at Jose Marti Airport in Havana welcoming visitors to the country will remain long into the future. [It declares:] ‘Tonight, millions of children will sleep in the streets of the world. None of them is Cuban.’” Yet Cuba’s successes, as extraordinary as they are when considering the American colossus against which it rose up and has had to defend itself, were drawn toward the bottom from the outset. As a result, political egalitarianism has been identified with poverty.
If American conservatives and Cuban émigrés living in Florida lament that Cuba is not a beach and casino resort arrayed with the finest mulattas of the Caribbean to be subjected to prostitution for the rich, progressives cannot be easily satisfied either with the impoverished state of the project. Motorcycle Diaries ends with words to remind us of Cuba, where Alberto Granado and Ché’s family still reside. But through its images, the film captures something equally difficult to understand: how some persons become world historical figures. Figures like Ché, Franz Fanon, or Gamal Abdel-Nasser concentrated the courage of people living under colonial subjection and worked to bring them toward self-determination and betterment.
Courage is the color of this type of cinema.
As anyone can testify while watching Walter Salles’s film, Ché was someone whom most of us would have adored to have as a best friend. Even with its violence, his revolution was based on love. It’s what made him all the more dangerous to the imperial masters and their CIA and mafia henchmen.
In an emotional portrayal so typical to Latin America, Salles has confronted viewers with the task of feeling in deep emotional hues while they think through rationalized anger. The American Michael Moore can make viewers rage or laugh. The Brazilian Salles has taught us to cry through hope and wisdom while ditching the woes and despondency. In the same stroke, he reminds us about what a film of hope otherwise means.
Motorcycle Diaries is guidance for today’s youth worldwide. Ideas emerge from venturing, journeying. Pick up your bags, learn another language, and explore other cultures. Learn about yourself is its message.