'THe State of Modern Resistance', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on the sociological.
The State of Modern Resistance
Of all the displays or gestures of resistance in modern memory, I can think of none more insipid and embarrassing as ‘taking the knee’. But like that warm, sticky chewing gum on the sole of your shoe, it’s not going away. Just last week, the England football team announced their intention to take the knee at the opening of each of their Euro matches this month. Did I say ‘sticky’ already? But the ‘stickiness’ of the gesture is only the least of my problems with it. It offends me on a whole host of different levels.
Lest you’ve forgotten, the gesture was started by Colin Kaepernick, a pro American footballer. In protest at the state of civil rights in America, he had been sitting through the US national anthem at games. Had he left it there, I’d have respected him all the more. But the gesture evolved into something new when Kaepernick, in response to protests by those who found his actions offensive to current and former members of the US military, decided to take a knee instead of sitting through the anthem in order to ‘show more respect’. Leaving aside the question of why the US military is due any respect at all, given their sole function as a spearhead of mercenary capitalism, just how was this flim-flam gesture conceived of as a symbol of resistance? In the following months, I couldn’t see a picture of large groups of people taking the knee without feeling nauseated.
My feelings about the ‘delicate’ nature of the BLM movement were somewhat vindicated recently when it came out that the leader of the movement used her position at the head of the organisation to create a property portfolio spanning some three or more counties of the US. The self-described ‘Marxist’ had amassed some three million worth of real estate and was reportedly shopping for a beachfront pad in Belize. Marxism for who, we have to ask? The donors, perhaps.
But to get back to ‘taking the knee’. Why am I so repulsed by it? Very simple: in what context can the act of kneeling be considered a symbol of resistance to power? Lying down in front of a tank, I can understand, as idiotic as it seems. At least it shows you’re willing to die for your beliefs. But one knee on the ground? Nah. Unless, of course, you subscribe to the turn-the-other-cheek school of resistance, another insipid fiction. I can say with almost near certainty that, if there was a historical figure called Christ, there is no way that he said, ‘Turn the other cheek’. This is the same guy that went into the temple and overturned the bankers’ tables, and the guy who was murdered for offending Rome, the foremost political power of the time. I’m calling horseshit. It was an invention by some church scribe to manufacture compliance among the poor devotees of the church.
No, there is no context in which getting on your knees can be considered ‘revolutionary’.
Later, a raised fist was added to Kapaernick’s gesture. Fair enough, the clenched fist is a classic and practical symbol of resistance. It traces its modern origins to the Black Panthers but has roots going back to the early day of socialism. The fist, I admire. The fist is a universal symbol of resistance. The fist is, at its most basic, an expression of a person’s willingness to fight, to stand up for oneself, to use violence towards the end of oppression. I can get behind that. But not when it’s carried by some misguided police officer who thinks he or she is showing solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the world by kneeling and raising a useless, clenched hand. I shouldn’t have to delineate the contradictions and insecurities present in this ridiculous combination of gestures.
Lest it’s not already clear, I am not a pacifist. I support the use of violence towards the ending of oppression. I mean, Gandhi’s stand against the British is the oft-quoted example of resistance using peaceful means. I’ll agree it has its merits. But if you look closely at any instance where the state and the populace come into conflict, more often than not, it’s the state that resorts to the use of violence. The sociologist Max Weber described the state as the “human community that claims the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” How often have you seen a peaceful protest met with water cannons and riot police? How are people supposed to respond to that? With violence, of course. Once attacked, the people come back with bricks and sticks and the state breaks out the tear gas and rubber bullets. When the people resort to petrol bombs, that’s when the state starts shooting and maybe rolls in the heavy armour. Escalation dominance is always with the state. That’s why, for me, all means of resistance are legitimate when fighting oppression. I can fully support the goals of Hezbollah, for example, since their very creation was in response to a system of oppression. In the same way, I can get behind the historical war of the IRA in the north of Ireland without agreeing with the massacres that they committed against civilians. Both movements, by the way, which were (and are) branded terrorists, perhaps with good reason. But by whom? By the state, of course. The state, the greatest of all terrorists, because state terrorism is ‘legitimate’ and wears the cloak of something altogether more benign, namely the restoration of ‘order’ or ‘peace’, politico-speak for suppressing dissent. Language, too, can be a form of terrorism.
The raised fist, incidentally, was a symbol that was adopted by the IRA as a motif of their campaign, the fist the unifying symbol of socialist resistance. There were interesting connections between Irish nationalism and the Black Panthers that transcended mere symbolism. In a famous incident in 1970, the civil rights activist Bernadette Devlin McAliskey was given the key to New York on a trip to the US. Devlin notoriously caused a furore when she handed the key over to the Panthers as “as a gesture of solidarity with the black liberation and revolutionary socialist movements in America.”
They were revolutionaries who excite me. MsAliskey was somewhat of a force of nature, which is why the British government attempted to assassinate her in 1981. So were the Panthers, and that’s why the American state slaughtered Fred Hampton. They had real backbone. And I’ll go out on a limb here and say that, were they active today on the world stage, neither would be taking the knee.
You’ve all heard the saying, ‘Die on your feet or live on your knees’. Well, there is no revolution waged, now or in future times, that will succeed by a collective ‘taking the knee’. Resistance is made on one’s feet, ready to fight. Or run, as the case may be. Because tanks are fucking heavy.
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‘The State of Modern Resistance’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.