Posted on February 21, 2011


With two neighbouring countries seeing off their long-entrenched strongmen, the powers that be in two other countries in northern Africa have resorted to the use of brute force to try to hold on to power.

The brute force being applied is in the form of live bullets and even the deployment of mercenaries to infiltrate and cause trouble to the demonstrators. Many demonstrators have lost their lives which means that many families have lost their loved ones and are inconsolable in their grief.

Why are so many risking life to be on the streets? The cynical and the comfortable amongst us of course may have quick answers: “They are trouble-makers”; “They have nothing better to do”; They are religious fanatics”; “They don’t know how to treasure peace and quiet”; “They are impatient”…

Whatever we say or think about such people will of course contain some elements of truth. But at best, such spoutings from us arm-chair critics are just half-truths. And half-truths cannot be advanced in any serious argument as the whole truth. We can score points with our half-truths and win some supporters and even admiration for what we may perceive as our wisdom but we don’t seal let alone triumphantly end any argument with just half a truth.

Beyond the partial truths we may have on the situation are to be found some very serious socio-economic factors and our failure to take these seriously into consideration is the difference between us uninvolved and unaffected critics and those who not only value truth but come face to face with the harsh realities of their daily and long-term prospect of their lives.

Authoritarian rulers count on a majority of the people they rule to stay with partial truths so that they can stay in power. Without half-truths they would not have survived 30 or 42 years in control over large populations of people. The very fact that these authoritarian rulers have overstayed their welcome in different parts of the world is an indication that they have very well succeeded in lulling the greater majority of the people into believing and staying with the half-truths.

Furthermore, in this matter there is a need for us unaffected critics to do a bit more work and thinking to distinguish between mere street presence in protest of authoritarian rule and staging a riot as would have been the case if a multitude of protestors had rushed en masse to cause hurt to policing forces or violently storm the rulers’ offices or residences or using fire arms or other weapons to cause hurt to peace-keepers. But far from this being a case of demonstrators attacking the guardians of peace and order, reports from Bahrain tell of a pre-dawn surprise assault when “police tore down protesters’ tents, beating men and women inside and blasting some with shotgun sprays of bird-shot”. In Libya, the death toll has surpassed two hundred with news reports of thugs and mercenaries loyal to the powers that be “firing high-calibre ammunition at protesters”.

Just as we ask why the protestors are on the streets, we need also to ask why the very long-term rulers involved are fighting tooth and nail even resorting to brute force against their own flesh and blood to stay in power. Thirty years, forty-two years are not quite enough to get their noble objectives done? (“Without me as the country’s ruler there will be utter chaos and the people and the economy will suffer even more”?)

But I stray. The reason I am writing now is to remind my ownself and others that brute force is not just accomplished by live bullets fired from close range at street demonstrators. To inflict harm, an authoritarian state need not be parading their heavy artillery in public places. Rulers the world over have other weapons of mass destruction to use against the people. Like the propagation of mis- or dis-information, the use of sloganeering means to distract from their real purposes, wholesale theft of the people’s resources- monetary and otherwise, discriminatory policies through divide and rule strategies, discriminatory business practices, the use of all sorts of repressive, suppressive, humiliating and fear-instilling tools, even outright killings of opponents.

Such practices are evident in so-called first world as well as third world countries under whatever political guises, whatever the system of government, be it so-called democractic or socialist, monarchic or republican. And yes, whether or not there is a veil of social peace and order or not. In fact, beneath a veneer of so-called peace and calm, there can be injustice, corporate crime, insidious manipulation and misuse of state agencies and mechanisms.

The outcome of such practices are not necessarily to be assessed by means of the number of wounded in hospital emergency rooms or mortuaries but in often untold stories of dispossessions of property, retrenchments from even menial low-paying jobs, too little food on the table, families forced by inadequate funds to take their children off schooling, rising suicide rates or desperate acts to stay alive…

The non-military weapons are in fact even more comprehensive in the tragic harm they inflict on country and people. Ironically, such non-military weapons will not just affect the street protestors, as in the case of military force, but also their arm-chair critics as well. Thus, the damage effected are more devastating on the country and its people especially those who are already disadvantaged in life. Therefore this kind of so-called more peaceful, unspectacular, longer-term, subtle war on country and people are in so many ways even more brutal in its ramifications on human lives.

I have found that in thinking of BRUTE FORCE in this broader sense, I can more readily identify with the reasons why some people, near or far, may take to the streets to indicate their indignation, anger and aspirations. Even in our respective home situations, sometimes the children do something which may seem overly drastic and out of character and when asked why, may say, “How else will we get papa to listen to us?”

Posted in: Perspective