Is the anti-abortion movement truly non-violent?

Last week, my campus was the site of the Genocide Awareness Project, a traveling display of graphic images about abortion. At two stories high, and long as a large bus, it was by far the most elaborate monument to anti-abortion thinking I had ever seen. It occupied prime space on Library Walk, the main artery of UC San Diego campus. Very few people knew it was coming, so the first day it was met by an ad-hoc group of women’s resource center people and activists.

The second day was much more organized, with close to a hundred people at its peak. The number ebbed and flowed over several hours as people left for class and returned. People chanted “My body! My choice!”; one student protested topless, feeling anti-abortion crusades are only one of several movements that want to dictate what women can do with their bodies.

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Pro-choice counter-protest, Library Walk, UC San Diego (1/20/2016)

There are a lot of things wrong with the Genocide Awareness Project, besides the usual shock-value pictures and culture of intimidation. Posters equated abortion to the Holocaust. Another had a picture of Eric Garner captioned “I Can’t Breathe” alongside an aborted fetus. As you can see in the above image, the trope of abortion being ‘black genocide’ was invoked. The entire display rests on problematic (and often offensive) connections being drawn to link abortion (which American society is split on) to the Holocaust, a self-evident mass injustice. In the end, I found last week troubling. In particular, there’s no evidence that the Genocide Awareness Project was invited by a student or student group. Looking through the online space reservation system, the space was allocated to the group behind the Project- the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform.

Traditionally, Library Walk is divided between the central portion, for student groups or canvassers (for Southern Poverty Law Center or Save the Children usually), and the two ends, which are free speech zones for anyone. Non-student anti-abortion protestors last year were allowed to set up on one end of the Walk by the library, but this year had six slots worth of space front-and-center. This, along with a lack of due notice to students- who may have wanted to avoid that part of campus for personal reasons, or allowed time to organize the larger counter-protest, made the whole experience feel uncomfortable.

That said, I would like to dive into a related conversation that came about during the counter-protest. There were sign-making materials on site on Wednesday, so I took advantage and made this sign:

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I felt it necessary to go beyond talk of a right to choose and deal with the most disturbing part of the anti-abortion movement to me. Namely, how militant the rhetoric of groups have become, and how violence against patients, doctors, staff, and security in one form or another is common. Claims that abortion is an ongoing Holocaust, if believed sincerely, justify murder as righteous action. Right-wing hate crimes, including incidents like the 2008 shooting at a Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, Tennessee, show how extreme speech can convince certain kinds of individuals that they have a God-given duty to kill.

At one point, I was told that my poster was unfair to tie these murders by to the movement as a whole. A majority of activists practice non-violent struggle.

To some degree, I agree with that critique. It is unfair to assign an entire movement moral complicity in murder (and more numerous lesser crimes, like assault and vandalism). However, I also think that claiming non-violent methods does not mean a lack of connection to any violent acts automatically. In the modern developed world, almost every civil society groups will espouse non-violence. That does not mean that they are equal  What follows is a few things that should be considered when evaluating the anti-abortion movement as nonviolent.

Activists claiming to be non-violent may condone violent acts done by others. Many individuals against abortion praise killings and assault of doctors and patients. After last year’s shooting that killed 3 and wounded 9 in Colorado, many took to social media in support of the crime. Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue and long-time leader of the movement, stated the following when Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed at his church in 2009:

“George Tiller was a mass-murderer. We grieve for him that he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God. I am more concerned that the Obama Administration will use Tiller’s killing to intimidate pro-lifers into surrendering our most effective rhetoric and actions. Abortion is still murder. And we still must call abortion by its proper name; murder.

“Those men and women who slaughter the unborn are murderers according to the Law of God. We must continue to expose them in our communities and peacefully protest them at their offices and homes, and yes, even their churches.” (source)

I don’t see this as a statement endorsing non-violence. Instead, I see it as using non-violence to deny responsibility, but still support violent action. This strategy devalues peaceful strategy by connecting it to the use of force.

The tactics of the movement are fundamentally violating. Since 1973, the anti-abortion movement has taken two paths. The first is political, including the passage of the Hyde Amendment and restrictions on abortion clinics. The second, which we all think of when picturing the conflict, are attempts to block, intimidate, and trick women from entering clinics.

I don’t see tactics of intimidation, which includes things like the Genocide Awareness Project, as truly non-violent. If we take the narrow definition of violence, which it is the absence of force, then the movement describes itself accurately. However, it’s limiting and inaccurate to exclude actions that are violating by their nature. Yelling at a woman that she’s a murderer and waving a gory picture in her face is not non-violent action. The rhetoric is aggressive enough that those who commit crimes to stop abortions don’t need to do much ideological shifting.

Traditional examples of nonviolence are different from the characteristics of those against abortion. A big issue are ties made between those that oppose abortion and the campaigns of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. Both became known for non-violence, but their struggles were about the powerless against the tyrants. The relationship between activists and the system were inferior-superior. There is no great tyrant in the abortion debate- the principal population attacked are vulnerable women. Well-funded groups and conservative politicians are those with tyrannical power.

Ideologies and movements are never strictly violent or non-violent. They exist in a conversation between physical force and moral force. While the anti-abortion movement may adhere to non-violence at some surface level, it is built on a fundamentally violent premise.

Rohingya now face a different, but familiar hell

The big news in Southeast Asia has been the ejecting of Doctors Without Borders from western Burma. This comes due to a dispute with the government regarding their treatment of the stateless Rohingya people- which the Burmese government views as squatters and parasitic. From the linked story:

The BBC’s Jonah Fisher in Yangon, also known as Rangoon, says MSF is one of the few agencies providing treatment for Rohingya who would otherwise be turned away from clinics and hospitals.

The government says that MSF has prioritised the treatment of the Rohingya community over local Buddhists.

The final straw may well have been MSF’s statement a month ago that they had treated people after an alleged massacre of Muslims by Buddhists near the border with Bangladesh, our correspondent says.

Displaced Rohingya have serious food security issues.
Credit: Andrew Stanbridge/Al Jazeera

The conflict between the Muslim Rohingya and mostly Buddhist surrounding people has gone on for decades, but the humanitarian situation has been especially dire recently.  I wrote a brief piece last year that is still as relevant today. These people also live in Bangladesh but face similar issues- at best, they are ignored. Two weeks ago a huge number of Rohingya fleeing by boat were intercepted by Thai authorities and sent back into the country they were fleeing from.

Honoring the criminal Columbus

October 12th is recognized as Columbus Day in the United States, one of ten federal holidays. Its recognition is one of the great symbolic crimes against indigenous people in the Americas. Christopher Columbus began a horrendous genocide against the Arawak people (I recommend the first chapter of A People’s History of the United States by Zinn for an overview), and by bringing natives back to Europe to be slaves, he inaugurated an Atlantic slave trade that came to affect millions of Africans. Because he was Genoese, he has been triumphed by the Italian-American community. This is why it is currently a holiday, and remains so.

However, celebrating Columbus is to celebrate a great criminal. Would the Italian community like to celebrate Caligula, or Mussolini? The actions of all three are similar. Murder on a mass scale, callous disregard for human life, abuse of power and authority.

This is why a movement exists to reflect on Columbus and ask the key question- do we wish to celebrate him alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Lincoln? A powerful video entitled “Reconsider Columbus Day” puts it simply.

Those that love freedom, value rights and democracy, and consider themselves against prejudice have to voice some kind of opposition. It can just be a Facebook status, or a Twitter hashtag. When the holiday comes and it fills the news, it’s time to get off the sidelines.

Columbus Day celebrates tragedy and triumphs genocide.

Helping the forgotten Rohingya- educating people on the outrage

A common word used to describe the Rohingya- a population of Muslims residing in the Buddhist-majority Rakhine State in southwestern Burma- is “forgotten.” They are a people without a country, unacknowledged by the government of Burma. After fleeing from their homes amid violence and terror,  they are seen as a nuisance to surrounding countries.

Rohingya refugees, three of thousands

I only heard of the Rohingya six months ago, thanks to an al-Jazeera English feature on their terrible plight as refugees in Bangladesh. The media focus on the people, 800,000 strong, is practically nonexistent. Political reform in Burma has often overshadowed the chaos in Rakhine. In a society where people have vowed to prevent another Rwanda, another Cambodia, it seems strange to see a lack of concentrated action against Burma and the surrounding countries to give the Rohingya some kind of political status.

A few weeks ago, I logged onto Twitter and saw that my feed was full of messages marked with the hashtag #RohingyaNOW. Organized by Anonymous, this Twitter offensive was successful in getting the Rohingya onto the global trending topics, peaking at 24,000 messages an hour. At the end of the day, a lot more people knew something about who these people were and what was happening to them.

Now in the aftermath of the Kony 2012 abomination, social media-based campaigns to highlight atrocities should be met with healthy skepticism. But Twitter is good at getting people to at least learn the basics, maybe do a bit of Googling to figure out what the fuss is about. Because one of the first steps to helping a forgotten people is to make them no longer forgotten.