How far would you go to stand up for what you believe in? Would you kill for your beliefs? Would you die for your beliefs? Would you, commit suicide, as a means of political protest?
Today, on this day, May 12, 1981, Francis Hughes starved to death in the Maze Prison during the 1981 Irish hunger strike. The Irish prisoners were objecting to the treatment they were receiving by the British prison authorities, and they were wanted political prisoner status to be granted to Provisional IRA prisoners. Following in the footsteps of India Independence leaders -most notably Gandhi, the Irish nationalists organized a Hunger Strike in 1980, and another strike in 1981. Bobby Sands (March 9, 1954 – 5 May 1981) was the leader of that 1981 hunger strike. Now, it should be noted, Gandhi was a pacifist and these IRA members were part of a violent terrorist organization. This narrative is not as an endorsement of the prisoners’ violence either in prison or before, but a recognition of a milestone in “The Troubles” of Northern Ireland’s history.
But how can a person shut down hunger? Hardwired into our being is a sense of self-preservation…
In 1975, Article 6 of the World Medical Association Declaration of Tokyo stated that doctors are not allowed to force-feed hunger strikers. They are supposed to understand the prisoner’s independent wishes, and it is recommended to have a second opinion as to the capability of the prisoner to understand the implication of his decision and be capable of informed consent. Having said that, it is US Federal policy that when “a medical necessity for immediate treatment of a life or health threatening situation exists, the physician may order that treatment be administered without the consent of the inmate.”
Apparently, some things are worth dying for, or at least risking one’s life for. And, respectfully, it seems to me that donning the uniform of our nation-state is relatively easy… After all, with the exception of the Vietnam era, there is a national admiration that goes out to those in uniform… and some perks too: Preferential boarding on Southwest Airlines, preferential hiring in some police departments, GI Bill, VA Housing Loans, etc., etc. Now, I’m not suggesting that soldiers don’t deserve it, nor am I saying that soldiering is not hard work. What I am saying, is that it’s not an incredibly difficult moral decision to wear one’s countries uniform. However, what if one doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of the nation-state, then that’s a harder situation to put on the uniform, and perhaps it is an easier decision to raise weapons against the nation-state.
For example, also on this day, May 12, 1885, the four-day Battle of Batoche ended with a decisive rebel defeat. The rebels were the Métis people who had organized the North-West Rebellion against the Canadian government. The Métis are a people in Canada who trace their descent to First Nations peoples and European settlers, though only 1.7% of the Canadian population. They are now recognized as one of Canada’s aboriginal peoples under the Constitution Act of 1982, along with First Nations and Inuit peoples.
On this day, May 12, 1998, the Trisakti shootings, or the Trisakti Tragedy took place at Trisakti University, Jakarta, Indonesia. A planned non-violent protest against the Suharto government started at the university on the 12th May 1998. By 10:00, over 6,000 students, lecturers, and staff had assembled in the university parking lot; the demonstrators began the protest by lowering the Indonesian flag to half-mast.
While the demonstration was primarily a protest over the declining economy, it is worth noting that the Indonesian government had a history of repression as well. The 1965 Tragedy in which 500,000 Communists were systematically murdered; later declared a genocide by an international tribunal, which also found the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia were all complicit in the crimes.
The Papua Conflict between the Indonesian government and the indigenous populations of Western New Guinea (Papua) since 1962, the East Timor Genocide (1975 to 1999)… Indonesia seems to have a propensity to use military force -with weapons supplied by the US and US allies- on ethnic, religious and ideological populations.
And May 12, 1998, was no different. During a demonstration against President Suharto, Indonesian soldiers opened fire on unarmed protestors. Four of the students (Elang Mulia Lesmana, Heri Hertanto, Hafidin Royan, and Hendriawan Sie) were killed and dozens more were injured. The shootings caused riots to break out throughout Indonesia eventually, in fact, leading to Suharto’s resignation.
What about self-immolation: Remember Thích Quảng Đức, the famous Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk who burned himself to death on June 11, 1963. [Photo Credit: (AP), Malcolm Wilde Browne]. He was protesting the persecution of Buddhists by the American-supported South Vietnamese government of Ngô Đình Diệm. John F. Kennedy said in reference to the Thích Quảng Đức picture, “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.” That photograph of the self-immolation is as powerful today, as it was then…
Even today, we see Tibetan monks and even civilians using self-immolation as a tactic to bring attention to the Hanification of Tibet and the repression of Tibetan culture, religion, and political self-determination…
Even in the US, there have been a series of hunger strikes in the extrajudicial detention in the United States’ Guantanamo Bay detention camps, in Cuba. Apparently as early as 2002, then 2005-2008, and as recently as 2013, there have been hunger strikes by the detainees. Records show more than 80 inmates weight dropped below 100 lbs during the peak of these strikes. The organizer of many of these strikes, Shaker Aamer, was later repatriated to Saudi Arabia when the US Government admitted there was insufficient evidence for trial.
Self-immolation and hunger strikes. How far would you go to stand up for what you believe in? Would you die for your beliefs? Would you, commit suicide, as a means of political protest? Buddhists monks have done it. Today, on this day, May 12, 1981, Francis Hughes starved himself to death in the Maze Prison of Northern Ireland. Those Northern Irish Catholics also killed for their, albeit twisted means, but their belief in the right of the Irish to be independent of the UK, just like the Métis organized the North-West Rebellion against the Canadian government although the rebellion was ultimately defeated on this day, May 12, 1885. And May 12, 1998, was no different. Four students were killed and dozens more were injured while demonstrating against the autocratic rule of President Suharto…
What would you die for? I know many of us would die for our family and friends, but Americans are blessed to live in relative safety compared to the rest of the world. What ideas would you die for, what principals would you sacrifice yourself for. Many of us would also probably defend our own demographic tribes, such as our government, as well as justice for our ethnic, religious and racial communities… would that we stood up as easily for other ethnic, religious, national and racial communities. Today, the Rohingya of Burma are dying, today the civilians of Yemen are dying by American weapons being used by Saudi forces, today the Syrian Civil War continues into its year… civilians that don’t look like many of us, Muslims who don’t pray like many of us, people that don’t live in our neighborhoods… It’s easy to stand up for our community and our beliefs, too bad we can’t stand up for other communities and people with differing political or religious beliefs as readily…
And that’s what happened This Day in Today…
Today’s Tomorrow’s yesterday.
I am, Tom Keefe, the Babbling Professor!
Thank you for listening!
On this day, May 7, 2016, UN Special Representative Ján Kubiš said more than 50 mass graves have so far been found in parts of Iraq that were previously controlled by so-called Islamic State (IS). Ján Kubiš is a Slovak diplomat and was formerly Secretary-General of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the continued killings, kidnapping, rape and torture of Iraqis by ISIL (IS), which may constitute crimes against humanity, war crimes, and even genocide.”
Mass graves and ethnic cleansing is not new in Iraq. After the deposing of Saddam Hussein, International Experts found an estimated 300,000 victims in mass graves of Shia Muslims and ethnic Kurds killed for opposing the regime between 1983 and 1991.
In April 2007, a bus in Mosul was hijacked, Muslims and Christians were told to get off, the remaining 23 Yazidi passengers were driven to an eastern Mosul location and murdered.
Then ISIS/ISIL/IS came to town… Hawija, Kirkuk, Mosul… you name it….
…2014, the peak of the Yazidi Genocide. Civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar… hundred of Yazidi women were taken as slaves and over hundreds more men, women, and children were killed, some beheaded or buried alive in the foothills, as part of an effort to instill fear and to supposedly desecrate the mountain the Yazidis consider sacred.
The mass flight and expulsion of ethnic Assyrians from Iraq… beginning before ISIS, back during the Iraq War in 2003, but continues to this day. Leaders of Iraq’s Assyrian community estimate that over two-thirds of the Iraqi Assyrian population has fled or been internally displaced. Reports suggest that whole neighborhoods of Assyrians have cleared out in the cities of Baghdad and Basra; and that Sunni insurgent groups and militias have threatened Assyrian Christians over the years. Following the campaign of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in northern Iraq in August 2014, one-quarter of the remaining Iraqi Assyrians fled, finding refuge to Iraqi Kurdistan, and, ironically in Turkey…
On February 3, 2016, the European Union recognized the persecution of Christians by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as genocide. The vote was unanimous. The United States followed suit on March 15, 2016, declaring these atrocities as genocide. The vote was unanimous. On April 20, 2016, British Parliament voted unanimously to denounce the actions as genocide. And where are those voices today as the Rohingya are murdered, assaulted, and exiled in Burma?
The ability of the predominantly Christian countries and the mostly Christian members of the US Congress’ to recognize a Christian genocide but not Muslim genocide is almost as self-serving as those perpetrating religious and ethnic violence against civilians around the world. It is a manifestation of the selective indignation, selective application of legal principals, and the inability to see all men and women as sisters and brothers.
If you’ve never read it, read Jeff Stein’s piece from October 17, 2006, in the New York Times. Still, to this day, one of the best and most disturbing journalistic articles. Willie Hulon, chief of the FBI’s national security branch, Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis, Chair of the House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.’s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, Congressman Terry Everett, Vice Chair of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence. The very people who voted to invade Iraq. Don’t know the difference between Sunnis and Shi’as. Do we think they know the difference between an Assyrian-Iraqi, a Kurdish-Iraqi, a Yezidi-Iraqi, and an Arab Iraqi?
It’s easy to blame the crimes against humanity on the sectarian violence in Iraq, but those same pointing fingers seem to avoid asking the question of who destabilized the region and who armed Saddam Hussein with all those weapons in the 1980s. Perhaps it’s time to think more about American national responsibility, than labeling other acts of violence as genocide. After all, those Americans who identified the Assyrian Genocide so correctly are woefully silent on asking what happened to the pre-Columbian Native Americans population of the United States or even, if you want to stick to a more recent century, what happened to the Armenians in 1915. The same Administration that labeled the Assyrian, Yazidi crimes against humanity as a genocide, has not called the 1915 massacres by our Turkish allies a genocide… I mean, sure, they call it a genocide on the campaign trail while pandering for votes, but Trump, Obama, Bush, and Clinton all seem to have genocidal amnesia once entering the Oval Office.
Yes, on this day, May 7, 2016, UN envoy Ján Kubiš condemned the continued killings, kidnapping, rape, and torture of Iraqis which he said might constitute crimes against humanity, war crimes, and even genocide. Would that he was wrong. Would that the ethnic and religious genocides in Iraq and around the world were limited to time and space. Sadly, humanity’s propensity to kill itself, is matched only by our ability to be blind to the blood on our own hands and deny genocide when it’s insignificant. After all, its not 2016 anymore. Its 2018, and genocide has now reared it’s evil in Burma, where are the same clamoring voices speaking out against the Rohingya Genocide now?
That’s all for today’s segment of This Day in Today, and remember,
Today’s Tomorrow’s yesterday.
Thank you for listening!
Welcome to This Day in Today, a collection of thoughts from my series of books, This Day in… There are currently five books in the series, This Day in Genocide, This Day in Peace, This Day in Trump, This Day in Black and Blue, and This Day in Rhode Island history.
My name is Tom Keefe, and I’m the Babbling Professor!
On this day, April 24, 1916, the Easter Rising, began in Dublin, Ireland. Members of the Irish Volunteers — led by schoolmaster and Irish language activist Patrick Pearse, joined by the smaller Irish Citizen Army of James Connolly seized key locations in Dublin and proclaimed the Irish Republic to be independent of the United Kingdom. More than 3,430 men and 79 women were arrested, although most were subsequently released. In a series of courts martial, 90 people were sentenced to death. Those fifteen included all seven signatories of the Proclamation of 1916 and were executed by firing squad (among them the seriously wounded James Connolly who was shot, while tied to a chair due to his shattered ankle). Irish nationalism, crushed by an Imperial Military, concurrently fighting in WWI…on the other side of Europe, Turkish forces in the Ottoman Empire crushed more than nascent nationalism.
April 24th is the 102th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. It’s as simple as that. One word: genocide. Once again, the President of the United States will not refer to the mass killings of Armenians as genocide. At least President Trump never promised to call it a genocide. Obama was the third presidential candidate to campaign on the promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide, and then fail to live up to that promise once elected. Why have President Clinton, President Bush and President Obama switched opinions? The argument is well-known: pandering candidates with limited foreign policy experience promise big, then the complexity of the situation causes policy reversal. Turkey is a strategic NATO ally; the White House needs the positive public relations image that comes with having good relations with Turkey since it is a Muslim democracy; Turkey is an ally in the war against ISIS, etc., etc., etc.
That is one truth, but there are also other truths. The truth is, that while Turkey was a strategic ally for the Cold War, so the US could monitor the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, such monitoring is no longer necessary by sea. While relations between the US and Russia are not warm and fuzzy, Russia does not have the economic, political, or social resources to threaten the United States as it did during the Cold War. Additionally, Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia, and even Iran; all are Muslim countries trying to reconcile Islam and democracy. Though the others may not be perfect, Turkey is far from the only Muslim democracy. And let’s face it, Erdoğan is no true defender of democracy. Nor is Turkey the most supportive ally against ISIS. Turkey had to be cajoled and cajoled to even allow Kurdish forces through Turkey who have sought to engage ISIS forces in Syria. So, to recap: Turkey’s control of the Dardanelles and Bosporus Straits is no longer a key US interest, Turkey is no longer a unique example of Muslim experiments in democracy, and Turkey has not actively supported joint operations against ISIS.
At the same time, the United States of America has the third largest Armenian population in the world (only Armenia and Russia have a higher Armenian population). The US Presidents have a responsibility to represent survivors and descendants of the Armenian Diaspora. Ironically, US Presidents had no problem referring to the Armenian genocide when Turkey’s government was a military dictatorship. The amnesia of the recent White House administrations is a new phenomenon and it must end. The fact is the genocide happened. Period. That’s it.
The United Nations defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
Even the Turkish government admits that Armenians were massacred and that wholesale emigration of the Armenian survivors occurred. Turkey resists the term genocide because it states the massacres were not systematic or premeditated. Even ignoring the evidence to the contrary, if one were to accept the Turkish statement of facts, it still meets the threshold of the UNCPPCG. There was an Armenian Genocide. Every Armenian family knows it. About 30 countries, including Germany and Austria, have recognized the genocide. While the Vatican has already recognized the Armenian Genocide, Pope Francis has raised the profile of the recognition by publicly and unequivocally referring to the massacre as genocide. The Jewish-American Anti-Defamation League and the Central Council of Jews in Germany have called the 1915 events a genocide. As the European Parliament unanimously passed another resolution recognizing the Armenian Genocide recently, German delegate Elmar Brok said, “My own people committed genocides,” he said. “and we know hundreds of thousands of Armenians died at the hands of the Ottoman Empire’s henchmen.” It’s called catharsis; just say the word. The word is genocide.
The Catholic Church has recognized its own responsibility for the Inquisition and the Crusades, including the sacking of Turkey’s own city of Istanbul (then Constantinople) in 1204. Germany, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Serbia have all recognized, to some extent, their role in the other 20th century genocides. In 1997, US President Bill Clinton apologized for the US role in the institutional enslavement of West Africans and African-Americans. Obama signed the apology to Native Americans in 2010. It is time for Turkish President Recep Erdoğan to follow this example and acknowledge his country’s past. Maybe President Trump can help Erdogan by using the word himself. The word is genocide, and, yes, it happened. Let’s not wait another hundred years to say so.
Now to share a little bit of good news:
While it was on this day, April 24, 1957, Maria Elizabeth Hesselblad that died in Rome, Italy, Hesselblad is now recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations.
Hesselblad was a Swedish nurse who had converted to Catholicism and founded a new form of life of the Bridgettines known as the Bridgettine Sisters. During World War II – and after – she performed many charitable works on behalf of the poor and those that suffered due to racial laws and promoted peace between Christians and non-Christians. The war also saw her save the lives of Jewish people who would have otherwise have perished in the Holocaust had it not been for her direct intervention.
Pope John Paul II beatified her on April 9, 2000, and Pope Francis formally approved her canonization in late 2015.
That’s all for today’s segment of This Day in Today, and remember,
Today’s Tomorrow’s yesterday.
Thank you for listening!
- (a) Killing members of the group;
- (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
- Aborigine peoples of Australia (1778-1967/1992/1996)
- The Irish Diaspora and Genocide (1840)
- The Circassian Genocide (1864?-1867)
- The Greek Genocide (1913-1922)
- The Assyrian Genocide (1914-1920)
- The Ukrainian Holodomor (1932-1933)
- Sovietization of the Baltic States (1940-1941; 1944-1991)
- The Creation of India-Pakistan (1947)
- Apartheid (1948-1991)
- Palestine/West Bank/Gaza (1948-)
- Tibet (1950-) and the Hanification of Tibet
- Mayan Guatemalans (1960-1996, especially 1981-1983)
- The Gujarat Riots (2002)
- The Yazidis Genocide (2014)
- The Rohingya Genocide (2017)
Today, in Burma, the Tatmadaw is burning villages and murdering innocent civilian lives. “Tatmadaw” is the official name of the armed forces of Myanmar (Burma). Their armored tanks are manufactured by Russia, China, and India. Their APCs are from Russia, Ukraine, Israel, Brazil, the United Kingdom, France, India, and China. Their artillery is manufactured in Serbia, Russia, China, South Korea, and Israel. The air defense systems and gun systems of the Tatmadaw are of Russian, Chinese, and North Korean origins as well as a British system supplied by Singapore.
The Burmese military also officially lists its firearms as produced by Browning of Belgium, Barrett Firearms Manufacturing of Tennessee USA, FN Manufacturing of South Carolina USA, Franchi of Italy, Galil of Israeli, Sauer of Switzerland/Germany, Heckler & Koch of Germany, Norinco of China, and Rheinmetall of Germany. Some of these weapons are antiquated, but since 1990, China, Russia, India, Israel, and Ukraine have been the major arms suppliers of the Tatmadaw.
In fact, Burma imports more than 1 billion dollars of military equipment annually. When you watch the pictures of burned Rohingya villages, drowning children, and refugee camps inside Bangladesh, ask yourself, “Why does no one care?” The answer is that all five members of the United Nations Security Council have historically sold weapons to Burma. Even today, Israel, created by survivors of the Holocaust, is making money on the Rohingya Genocide. I guess the chance to make a profit, outweighs the moral obligation and promise of “Never Again”?