My next door neighbour and I had one of our occasional chats yesterday.The air was balmy and we sat in the garden, listening to the music from the local Streetfest, four blocks away. We talked of books. That is, I offered her copies of Vargas Llosas THE DREAM OF THE CELT, which I reviewed, recently, on my book blog,Rich Texts and Edna O’Brien’s COUNTRY GIRL, which I am about to review. I told her Llosa’s book is fictionalized account of the life of Roger Casement’s an Irishman who documented human rights abuses in the Congo and in Peru, in the early Twentieth century. He was knighted for his work, but when he dared to compare the behavior of the British in Ireland to that of the Belgian oppressors of Congolese rubber workers, all hell broke loose. The British government acted swiftly to discredit him. It hired perfidious Norwegian, Adler Christensen to seduce him and it leaked the Casement’s private diary, which detailed homosexual encounters, to the press. Vilified for his sexual preferences, stripped of his knighthood, Casement was jailed and eventually hanged, ostensibly for bringing weapons from Germany to be used in the Easter Uprising of 1916.
I told my neighbor, who is a great reader, that COUNTRY GIRL ties in with DREAM OF THE CELT in that Casement’s brother is one of the people O’Brien mentions in her memoirs. Her chapter on The Troubles echoes with the dream Casement had for a free and peaceful Ireland. Brazilian readers such as I am, I added, both books, I added, are particularly relevant at a time when a protest takes place every hour in 375 Brazilian cities. Were he alive today, Casement, who was once the British Council at Sao Paulo, would probably be interested in investigating human rights abuses in Brazil. He would probably question government-sanctioned actions of the Brazilian Military Police against protesters and the press. He would want to bring to light the reasons the police attacked so many journalists–a total of 54 in two weeks. Many of these journalists were wounded in the eye by troops with a propensity to aim for eye when they shoot rubber bullets. Besides shooting reporters, during the Fortaleza protests, this past week, police used helicopters to bombard the press with tear gas.2MNYHBU6NFRY
Such violence usually outrages well-educated middle class Americans who have the leisure to reflect on civil liberties around the globe.Why did she think, I asked my neighbor, that events of vital importance to Brazilian elicited so little interest from most Americans? She grew thoughtful and said, “Maybe because Brazil seems so remote.” My question about the best way to reach Americans hung in the air. My neighbor is a very kind, thoughtful person, but she has little free time. She has job and two children she and her husband parent commendably. It was almost dinner when we talked. The kids were hungry and she had to leave.I thought of her counterpart in Brazil and asked myself how she would respond if the protests were taking place in Washington, DC, Boonsboro, Maryland, Aurora Maine? How would she respond when her own time is equally taken up by her work and parental responsibilities?
How does each of respond to social movements in far away places? What do we do when our government sends troops to Iraq and Afghanistan? How do we respond to abuses from local officials, for that matter? What do we know about our police force and how it acts? Maybe we close our eyes and ears to bad news its onslaught is so intense that to watch television, listen to the radio and read the newspapers can be a form of torture. I don’t mean, by this comparison, to trivialize the kind of suffering endured by those who undergo, say, waterboarding. But clearly, reading the news about Syria, Egypt, Turkey can be very painful. It can also induce such a feeling of helplessness we try to disconnect, to push the bad news away, to distance ourselves from madness over which we have no control. Or do we? If we have no control of the madness that leads Brazilian police to exhaust its tear gas supply in less than two weeks, as they did in Rio, recently, why is the press a target in every Brazilian protest? Is that not an indication that whoever yanks the chain of the Military Police–state governor, in this case–does not want bad publicity to mar events such as World Cup games, the Pope’s visit and the Olympics?
Given that a real effort is being made to suppress news of police brutality–futile effort, judging from the massive documentation in available in print and digital media–it seems to me that remote as Brazil seems, Americans, Asians, Europeans, Middle Easterners, citizens everywhere have the ability to influence events taking place in 375 Brazilian cities. Exactly how that is done, I am not sure. This past week, Amnesty International Brazil mounted an e-mail campaign to let elected officials know that the whole world is watching and that police brutality is unacceptable. Writing an e-mail may seem too simple a gesture to make. But millions of e-mail messages can influence events. What do you say, can you e-mail the governor of Rio, for example? His name is Sergio Cabral and his e-mail address is email@example.com