Ramblings: The beach in September

I love the beach in September. Just after Labour Day the beaches are much quieter, and there is more room to spread out and enjoy the sound of the waves breaking on the shore (as opposed to people shouting and blasting music from every side). September has always been my favourite month in NYC (even though it signifies the end of summer and the beginning of autumn which is always followed on by cold, cold winters…): the air is cleaner and les muggy, the sun is still shining and warm and the nights are cooler. There really is nothing like walking barefoot in the warm sand, relaxing right by the water and soaking up the sun, never knowing if this will be the last time you will make it to the beach before the cold sets in.

The Rockaways have always been my favourite part of NYC. I’ve written many times about my trips to the beach, to Rockaway Park or Fort Tilden (when you could still go there before Sandy). A 45 minute subway ride from my home in Bushwick finds you in the middle of a lovely beach community, with miles of beaches to choose from, a perfect place to get away from the oppressiveness of the city and the humidity that coats everything through-out the summer. There have been years when I have spent at least a day per week on the beach, and then other years when I have struggled to make it out there more than a couple of times a month. I have to say that I have done better this year than I did last year, and mainly because I felt the need to support the place that I love so much after all of the devastation that happened there during Sandy. The first time I walked down the street towards the beach the boarded up places (especially the Sand Bar, a regular stop-off place for my friends and I), made me sad, although the fact that so many businesses were back open and ready for customers surprised me and made me realize how hard people had worked to go on with life even after part of it was destroyed. The beaches themselves were completely different. Smaller, with only partial boardwalks, the rest swept away during the hurricane. Fort Tilden closed for the foreseeable future, but beaches that were still accessible, comfortable with all of the amenities that one would need. I’ve always preferred the Rockaways to Coney Island – it’s more laid-back and less noisy (and there is always Pickles and Pies deli where you can buy sandwiches and fruit, not just places where you can only get fried food like hot dogs and fries). Coney is fun, but the Rockaways are my real place to go to, to relax and swim and be in the sun. 

I realised this week, listening to the Psychedelic Furs and contemplating the future while lying in the sun on Beach 106, that this is probably my last summer in NYC and that my future visits to the Rockaways may just be that – visits. There are oceans and beaches all over the world but this one will always have a very, very special place in my heart. Today some of the beaches are “closed” (although if you listen to the construction workers they will just tell you to walk over the dune and hang out on the beach – that no one is going to stop you from going there), but only because there is still so much work to be done to clean up after Sandy. I just worry that we will get hit by another super storm again this year… Or next year. Hopefully the work done will help avoid the extent of the damage that we all suffered last year. Right now a huge man-made dune has appeared all the way down the beaches, exposing a large pipeline (carrying water?), and the beach is even smaller, especially at high tide. But the same feeling is still there, it will always be the same place, no matter what the natural and man-made changes are… And it will always be a place that represents freedom, happiness and beauty in my heart. Hopefully I will still make it out there a few more times until the end of the month as I still want to finish a photography project I started using film earlier on during the summer. Fingers crossed that the weather will hold out until October. 

Thoughts: Violence/Non-Violence/Terrorism/Revolution

I started writing this years ago, lost what I was writing, and then started again a few months ago based on something I heard on the news. I then left it sitting for a while and picked it up again today to try to wrap it up. That ended up being literally impossible as I just asked myself more questions than I could even answer and realised that I could just go on forever asking the same questions. So I just closed it out with a "To be continued..." and will continue on my musings, probably after I have finished Mark Kurlansky's Non-Violence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, as this may give me further ideas to discuss.

Every day you switch on your television, phone, computer or radio and you hear the word “terrorist” in all types of news flashes. It will be used in connection with any act of violence committed against a government or a country, or on a group of people by another group of people. We hear about demonstrations and protests and tear gas and violence and non-violence and rebellion and oppressing governments and public uprisings. We hear about sit-ins in public squares, of students being arrested and of protestors being shot at. We hear about air strikes in other countries, about dictatorships being brought down from the inside and from the outside, about dictatorships being pandered to and blind eyes being turned. Public uprisings become acts of terrorism and lawful mass murder gets swept under the carpet. Acts of terrorism are stopped in their tracks while others are successful. Successful democratic elections are held in war-torn countries while at the same time in others women are still not allowed to leave the house without a male companion. One day you will hear about the Palestinian terrorist who blew himself up on the bus on the way to Tel Aviv, but the people who in return pounded Gaza with an airstrike are called soldiers. Gaddafi called the rebels seeking to bring him down terrorists, but to the rest of the world they were portrayed as saviours, and were given the help they needed to fight for and win their cause. Where can you even start discussing this topic? Words are open to a different interpretation by each individual. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter; one man’s popular uprising is another man’s violent revolution. The main keyword here is “violence”.
Oxford Dictionary definitions:
- Terrorism: the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.
- Terrorist: a person who uses terrorism in the pursuit of political aims. (Origin: late 18th century: from French terroriste, from Latin terror (see terror). The word was originally applied to supporters of the Jacobins in the French Revolution, who advocated repression and violence in pursuit of the principles of democracy and equality).
- Freedom Fighter: a person who takes part in a violent struggle to achieve a political goal, especially in order to overthrow their government.
- Demonstrator: a person who takes part in a public protest meeting or march.
- Protestor: a person who publicly demonstrates strong objection to something; a demonstrator
- Violence: behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something; the unlawful exercise of physical force or intimidation by the exhibition of such force.
- Non-violence: the use of peaceful means, not force , to bring about political or social change.
I remember having these thoughts going over and over in my brain years ago, through many an occasion. In the past, or more my past, so the late 70’s and the 80’s, even maybe the early 90’s too, it seems that the media had a specific group of terrorists that it had pointed out and referred to: Palestinian (or more specifically, Hamas or Hezbollah), IRA, Libyan. Nobody (in the general public) cared or really knew about anything else – these were the organized groups that blew people up (including themselves in some cases) and spread fear across countries. Small to large acts of violence that were sure to make it to the newsreels as soon as they happened. I’m not saying that this really was all that there was, but this is what we were fed by the media. IRA bad, Palestinians bad, Libyans bad (or were they always bad – I know that the US government supported Gaddafi at some point in time, but then turned around at another point, but that is a little off-topic for now). “Good” was what was called “Democracy” and “Freedom”; “Bad” was anything that we couldn’t fit into the definitions of “Democracy” and “Freedom”. This didn’t always match with the real definitions of these words, but yet again, semantics are the main tool in politics: words take on meaning in the way you choose to interpret them. Social uprisings against totalitarian governments are applauded, and aided in some cases. People fighting for freedom are called rebels, and rebels are considered revolutionaries. But of course revolutionaries can be good or bad, depending on how it is portrayed to you in the media and how you interpret it. If I had stood on CNN or BBC and tell you in a deeply emotional speech how good Saddam Hussein was for Iraq and how much he had done for the US, instead of hearing the words “weapons of mass destruction” and “nuclear war” thrown about, the public opinion on the man himself may have been different. It’s all about what you see and what you read about. Seeing as most people get their news from the most popular channels on television and maybe a newspaper or two, you can only expect most people to believe what they read and see. Not that our media is always wrong, but it’s not always right either. In the end it is just a form of communication, and also a form of propaganda, because communication via the media is the best way to get a message/thought/intent across to the general public. So, in the end, it is up to us to make our own opinions up, and to research alternative viewpoints and ideas.
I myself define freedom as the right to live in the way I want to, within the boundaries of society – meaning that I, as a person, respect the lives and lifestyles of others, and expect the same in return. Freedom means the right to free speech and education, the right to worship any god I want to (or don’t want to) without persecution. Freedom also means the equality of all human beings, no matter where they come from and where they end up. Freedom means that I can portray my thoughts and opinions without worrying about being persecuted. Freedom does not mean that I can kill another human being and/or many human beings because I do not agree with what he/she or they believe in, or just because I don’t like them. But I do rebel against the society I live in, in a non-violent fashion. I disagree with many of the politics of the country I live in, I pretty much always have, no matter what country I have been in. There is always something I will disagree with and want to fight against. But I have mainly lived in countries where I can open my mouth and protest about something that I think is wrong – I don’t know what I would have done if I had grown up in a country where I was openly oppressed and where I could not speak my mind. How would I have rebelled against this? Would I have just tried to live my life within the boundaries set for me or would I have tried to break away and change things, by any means possible?
During WW2 the French Resistance and the Russian partisans blew up buildings and strategic areas that would damage the German advances and army (trains, ammunition dumps, prisons etc), killed traitors who worked with the Germans and basically did anything they could to revolt against the German occupation. I feel that I would have done the same. These days with the technology that we have it would probably be a lot more difficult to actually rebel/revolt in the same fashion and stay in hiding, so if this type of war were ever to occur again, how would the people stand up and fight? How would one fight against an occupation? This al comes back to the same topic I started off with in the beginning… What can be considered an occupation, a revolution, an act of terrorism and an act of rebellion? In the end, where violence is used the result will always be the death of one or multiple people, innocent or guilty, and that is something that those committing acts of violence, those living through them, and those dealing with the aftermath will always have to deal with. Terrorism is always going to hurt the “innocent” first, because the “innocent” are the ones targeted and the ones who will be damaged. While typing this another thought comes to mind… If a group of people planning to blow up a subway station in NYC are considered a group of terrorists then why aren’t a group of government army fighters in Sudan considered terrorists when they destroy a village and kill all of the inhabitants by locking them in a house and setting it on fire? I feel that once I started writing this piece it just opened a bottomless can of worms, as one idea comes up, followed by several contradicting ideas, and more images and questions that anyone can really answer. Words are simple, but once they are used to determine a specific group of people or a specific act become complex. As I have said before… It all comes down to your own interpretation, and how you are then going to portray this interpretation to others.
To be continued…

Inspiration – Ayat Al-Gormezi

A few weeks ago I posted about the uprising in Bahrain and how it was quashed by the Bahraini government and pretty much ignored by the rest of the world. If you watched the Al Jazeera documentary that stemmed my original post you probably shed a few tears in the same way I did and wondered why Bahrain was ignored when other countries weren’t. The answers to those questions are pretty self-explanatory, even to an idealist like myself (cynical idealist is probably a better way of putting it). In any case, out of this uprising came a young woman who should be a source of inspiration to us all. No matter what your religion, skin colour or personal beliefs are, we all have the right to live in freedom, to speak freely and to be able to live our lives without having to constantly check our backs to make sure we are not being followed or spied on.

During the popular uprising of Bahrain in the spring of 2011, Ayat Al-Gormezi, a 20 year old student and poet recited a poem that criticized the Bahraini government and its policies. She was subsequently arrested, subjected to psychological and physical harassment and most possibly torture and sentenced to a year in jail. Her family was also subjected to major harassment before and after her arrest, and they had no idea where she was being held or what had happened to her. With other vocal public figures that had been arrested during the uprising turning up dead, I assume that her family would expect the worst every day. Ayat was eventually tried without any type of representation (not even allowed to represent herself) and charged with a year in prison for "incitement to hatred of the regime", "insulting members of the royal family" and "illegal assembly” – all because she used freedom of speech to express her views on the way the government was treating the Bahraini people.

She was subsequently released, but remains on house arrest, and was forced to make a public apology on television to the king and the prime minister. All for using her creativity and art to express how she, and a whole nation, feels about the way they are being governed. Imprisoning her and subjecting her to abuse just because she spoke her mind is to me a form of extreme censorship and dictatorship. Ayat Al-Gormezi continues to advocate her thoughts through other channels outside of Bahrain and will not be silenced.

I don’t think I need to explain why Ayat Al-Gormezi is an inspiration to me, as well as to many others – without fear she walked on stage and spoke her mind in front of thousands, and consequently was imprisoned and suffered for speaking her mind against governmental injustices. I doubt that she will ever really be silenced, and for this she should be celebrated. I feel that if we all stood up and spoke our minds a little more there would be a little less suffering in this world and a little more activism.

Here is Ayat reading her poem on stage last year, with English subtitles:

Here is a blog about Ayat: http://ayat-algormezi.blogspot.com/

Here is the forced apology on national Bahraini TV (with English translation):