Wednesday, August 21, 2013

On the true nature of violence

However hard the authorities try to twist reality, we can tell the difference between activism and violence, victims and perpetrators

Hit by waves of protests over the past month against state-sanctioned forced evictions and demolitions, the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration has been very creative in how it characterizes the incidents, defining (for prosecutorial purposes) mere misdemeanor as crimes, and spray-painting, egg-throwing and sit-ins, as “violent.”

It’s obvious that in portraying the activists as “violent,” the government hopes to discredit them and thereby turn public opinion in its favor. It hopes to create the image of a law-abiding, rational government repeatedly assailed by groups of young, irrational and violent individuals — Dostoevsky’s demons, if you will. Reasonable Cabinet ministers offer to sit down and have tea; unreasonable protesters respond with slogans, flash protests, and “raids” on ministry buildings.

Minster of the Interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源) pushed that concept further earlier this week when he likened the incident at the MOI during the night of Aug. 18-19 to attacks on McDonald’s outlets. Silly comparisons aside (for all its ills, McDonald’s isn’t in the business of governance, nor does it tear down people’s homes), Lee should know better than to compare the affixing of “fuck the government” stickers and the spray painting of graffiti to smashed windows. He should also know that for more than three years before the recent incidents, victims, supporters, NGOs and lawyers had exhausted every legal means possible to resolve the matter, all in vain.

The only real violence in the Dapu (大埔) and Huaguang (華光) cases, to name just two, has been perpetrated by the state apparatus against ordinary — and in many cases defenseless — citizens. Besides the demolitions, the state has also levied heavy fines and filed various lawsuits against individuals and families who fought back, a form of economic violence whose impact on the victims’ livelihood is quite severe. In some cases, it is devastating. Violence is tearing down a home with all the occupants’ personal effects still in it, which were subsequently dumped, tattered, dirtied, into a field, creating images reminiscent of cities devastated by a hurricane. It is the psychological damage caused a father who has developed clinical paranoia as a result of the ordeal.

At the Jhunan coffee shop
Violence is the smashing, by an unknown individual, of the windows at the Jhunan (竹南) coffee shop in Miaoli County, where activists involved in the protests against the Dapu demolitions usually gather to discuss their plans. Violence is when Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), a charismatic student activist who has spearheaded the protests in Miaoli, is informed (as he wrote on his Facebook page today) that a certain “government official” has allegedly instructed local gangsters to “take care of him.” There is an abundance of violence in Miaoli, which under the commissionership of Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻), a perfect imitation of the local Chinese despot type, has very fast turned into Taiwan’s version of the “Far West.” It manifests itself in Liu’s turning the local police force into his personal militia, when a police officer walks by a peaceful candlelit vigil near Liu’s home bearing an assault rifle, or when a senior police officer orders media he doesn’t like to be “taken out.” It rears its ugly head when InfraVest, a German wind power firm, relies on the local police force and hired thugs to beat up local villagers in Yuanli (苑裡) who oppose the construction of the wind turbines much too close to their homes.

All these are instances of violence — physical, psychological and economic. However hard the authorities try to twist reality, we can tell the difference between activism and violence, and between victims and perpetrators. (Top photo by the author, second photo by the Defend Miaoli Youth Union)

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