Monday, September 20, 2010

re-emerging apartheid

You know the old chestnut: if you don't know who the sucker at the poker table is, it's you. A corollary: if you're at a table with Germany and they're not the biggest xenophobic asshole in the room? It's you.
France and Germany are embroiled in a diplomatic row after German Chancellor Angela Merkel flatly contradicted President Nicolas Sarkozy over Roma (Gypsy) camps.

The issue of Roma deportations from France dominated an EU summit.

Mr Sarkozy told a news conference that Chancellor Merkel had said to him that she intended to follow France's example in dismantling Roma camps.

Mrs Merkel's spokesman denied she had discussed the issue with Mr Sarkozy.
The issue here is not that in times of economic crisis, governments look for scapegoats while they finger their rosary beads and wait for jobs and complacency to magically return -- that happens all the time, and can be chalked up to simple human stupidity, and ignored. The problem is when those scapegoats are found (or created) within more permanent social subgroups, the discrimination against which will outlast any economic crisis.

When, instead of blaming equal-status outsiders for your own misfortune, you start to see groups that were already marginalized and suffering before your current crisis as the source of your misfortune, that trouble (and by "trouble" I mean institutionalized discrimination, hate speech, internment camps) begins. If you live in Tucson, Miami, Las Vegas, or Marseilles and blame recent arrivals from other regions (fellow citizens) for soaking up the few jobs to be had, you're safely within the former. If you blame undocumented immigrants (Mexican, Roma) for somehow eliminating jobs -- jobs for which your groups  never going to compete in the first place -- (a) you're an idiot, and (b) you're on your way to internment camps.

[This is exactly what EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding was talking about, and she was absolutely right.]

The insidious language of inequality continues on these shores. The Daily Beast has a pretty good rundown of The New Republic editor Martin Peretz's comments on his blog that Muslim life is "cheap," and the firestorm it has sparked:
In the article in question, Peretz criticized a New York Times editorial for defending Muslim-Americans against prejudice during the debate over whether to build an Islamic community center blocks from ground zero.

Citing violence in Muslim countries, Peretz wrote on his blog that “frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf, there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.”
The refutation of his specific idiocy can be left to others who have already -- and creditably -- done so.

However, his premise is still troubling -- and is one that theater artists should see as not only morally repugnant, but a threat to our ability to create. It is a relatively recent commonplace that there is no such thing as a "cheap" life. Enormous diplomatic effort has gone into cementing this very assertion. It is not anywhere close to being universally accepted. And it's all to easy to give credence to voices which will argue that "our" lives are worth more than "theirs."

As theater artists, as storytellers, we cannot allow these such an assertion to stand unchallenged. From an amoral standpoint, it would simply negate our ability -- our right -- to mine any and all human experiences for instances of the sublime. From a self-aggrandizing one, we alone have the ability to discover and highlight the epic qualities of humanity's significance of history's well-known chapters, not to mention the deeper resonance of the mundane everyday -- not putzes like Peretz. From an ethical one, our voices have been at the forefront of the battle against this very ignorance for so, so long: the fact that his words are not immediately dismissed as insane show just how vital our work remains.

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