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Robert Azzi: These are dark days, but we can sleep no more

  • Ahed Tamimi is brought to a courtroom inside Ofer military prison near Jerusalem on Thursday. Tamimi, a 16-year-old girl from the West Bank village of Nebi Saleh, was arrested last week by Israeli troops and faces charges of attacking soldiers. AP



For the Monitor
Tuesday, January 02, 2018

When I woke this morning the temperature was minus-6 degrees, really freezing, yet my home was warm, I was comfortable and safe, and the coffee I freshly brewed was hot and satisfying.

Many Americans aren’t so fortunate. Forty-one million of our brothers and sisters live in poverty. They live in stables, mobile homes, tents, condemned buildings and under bridges, in spaces seen and unseen. They live in Puerto Rico, Portsmouth, Peterborough, Palo Alto.

They live next door. They are our neighbors – and we’ve failed them. They are unseen; their names are known.

There may be many who won’t wake up, who won’t make it to New Year’s Eve.

These are dark days – it’s been a too-long year.

More than a week ago, before Hanukkah ended, a friend wrote to me in response to my holiday greeting, “Lighting a few candles against the darkness of our times is therapeutic,” while another friend answered, “Hanukkah succeeded by men taking their struggle for self-determination into their own hands.”

Their words may be prophetic – the darkness of these days will not be soon lifted unless we struggle to resist those who continue to elevate and celebrate oligarchs and kleptocrats above those living in stables and condemned buildings.

Many Americans, even some who voted for him, knew Trump was a narcissistic “Birther,” a nativist and ignorant man with white-supremacist tendencies. Some supported him because many thought he might grow into the job, learn what awesome responsibilities rested upon his shoulders and embrace a vision of America as conceived by our Founding Fathers.

I was not one of them. I believed, as I do to this day, that he is a faux-Christian, an unrepentant, unreconstructed authoritarian racist with little understanding of the complex, interconnected world he was elected to lead.

And, on Inauguration Day, as Americans listened to his dark and dystopian “American Carnage” speech it dawned on many others that Trump really was who we suspected he was – a vulgar barbarian with no moral or ethical compass – and that we were in real trouble.

The dark days continue.

Trump, who spends hours daily watching cable news, is especially attentive to those who blindly support him, dismissive of those who don’t, a petty tyrant with a vast arsenal at his disposal – an arsenal used to defend only those who look like him.

For Donald Trump, the Other, the stranger, those who don’t look like him, don’t exist.

“And most certainly have We destined for hell many of the invisible beings and men who have hearts with which they fail to grasp the truth, and eyes with which they fail to see, and ears with which they fail to hear. They are like cattle – nay, they are even less conscious of the right way: it is they, they who are the (truly) heedless!” – Quran 7:179

Trump is a president who defended torch-carrying racists in Charlottesville as “very fine people,” who told U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley to “take names” of countries that didn’t support his reckless declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in the General Assembly, who wants to exclude LGBTQ peoples from military service and ban Muslims from America.

Trump hasn’t surrounded himself with the best and brightest but rather with unschooled sycophants and relatives who blindly support him – even the three generals who serve him have failed to bring confidence or discipline to the regime.

Much of Puerto Rico still lacks electricity and water. The genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya continues, a million Yemenis have cholera, civilians in Aleppo remained trapped without food or medical care, Palestinians remain under occupation and 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi remains in an Israeli prison, and around the world refugees struggle to find safety and shelter.

They, too, are our neighbors. They, too, are unseen.

“You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 22:21 (NRSV)

A president who labels news he doesn’t like as “phony” and “fake news,” who believes that the pursuit of truth is a “witch hunt,” who believes that concerns about human rights and social justice are signs of weakness, is a dangerous person.

This is a challenging time.

Recently, a cohort of mostly white rich men celebrated their Ayn Randian-inspired tax plan to reward money-changers, kleptocrats and oligarchs in their gilded towers, temples and tax havens.

One after another triumphant sycophants gathered to sing the praises of their beloved leader. In terms obsequious, orgasmic and effusive they spoke of their love and reverence for a leader whom they seem to adore more than Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.

Without hesitation, packed cheek to jowl, they heaped encomiums upon the small-handed one.

Sen. Orrin Hatch effused, “(A president) who I love and appreciate so much.”

Trump loved it.

It was beyond creepy – and it felt all too true. They were stroking and celebrating a narcissistic, vengeful autocrat who has a nearly insatiable need for reverence and devotion – a man for whom no slight is too minor, no praise too great.

There is no praise too great for their beloved Pharaoh.

On Jan. 21, 2017, the day after Trump’s inauguration, a Women’s March assembled in Washington, a crowd that was not only larger than Trump’s but rivaled the 1963 civil rights demonstrations and the 1967 Vietnam War protests.

It signaled a renewed commitment to social justice – a declaration of resistance.

Today, let us affirm that in 2018 we’ll march in solidarity and oppose the ongoing normalization of a corrupt and selfish oligarchy.

Affirm we’ll support #MeToo and #BLM, that we’ll take a knee with Colin Kaepernick, that we will march with Rev. William Barber, that we will not only shelter and feed the homeless but that we’ll work to reclaim America as a land of life and liberty for all people.

Affirm we’ll embrace the struggle for self-determination and march in resistance to the Pharaoh and his court.

In 2018, let us accept that Trump and those who support him have awakened us and move us to action. Let us challenge their darkness, darkness that compels us to move from privilege to resistance – let us become woke.

New Year woke!

(Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. He can be reached at theother.azzi@gmail.com. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.)