Tuesday, August 21, 2012

“Pussy Galore”

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Pussy Galore”
August 21, 2012

The ability to protest and to peacefully dissent is a hallmark of liberalism. While the United States has never been a paragon – lynchings in the Deep South during the ninety years following the Civil War, McCarthyism in the 1950s, and the inexplicable refusal by too many liberal arts colleges to entertain opposing views – it remains the most envied country on the planet. The Reverend Jeremiah Wright is allowed to rant unmolested about the “God damn United States”. The Tea Party is free to express their concerns about debt, deficits and moral turpitude. Occupy Wall Streeters can defecate on doorsteps, when not railing against one percenters, and still receive favorable press in the New York Times.

But in Russia three young women, dressed in short skirts, tights and balaclavas are not free to express dissent against the decision by the leader of the [theoretically] non-political Orthodox Church to strongly endorse Vladimir Putin in last March’s presidential race. For the crime of “hooliganism” they were sentenced last week to two years in a labor camp. The three girls are part of the ten-member band Pussy Riot, a punk-rock band that spent forty seconds lip-syncing to a rendition of “Mother of God, cast Putin out” in the early morning last February 21st, before they were hauled off by guards and arrested. They performed before the altar – a place where women are not allowed – in the mostly empty Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Russian Patriarch, Kirill I of Moscow had called Putin a “miracle from God” who had “rectified the crooked path of history.” The three women claimed their protest was a political statement, but the prosecutors (Putin’s boys) said the band was “trying to incite religious hatred.” At sentencing, the judge said, “[You] have deeply hurt and insulted the faithful. As The Atlantic noted, the women were found guilty of “religious hatred,” a euphemism, I guess, for hooliganism.”

Pussy Riot was formed a year ago, in response to what the members claimed were government policies that discriminate against women. In December they performed atop a garage beside a prison playing, “Death to Prison, Freedom to Protest,” and in early February they played a song in Red Square, mocking then Prime Minister Putin. They recently released a new song entitled, “Putin is Lighting the Fires of the Revolution.” There is no question that the three women knew they would be arrested; though they probably had little idea as to the depth their controversy would provoke.

Support for the group has come from Western pop culture mavens: Madonna, Paul McCartney, Bjork and Sting, according to The Atlantic. Forbes notes that Alexei Navalny, a popular Russian anti-corruption blogger, described the court proceedings as “reminiscent of the dark ages” and that it sends the signal, “we can arrest anyone and everyone.” In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Gerry Kasparov, former chess master and leader of the Russian pro-democracy group United Civil Front, was arrested as he stood in a doorway answering questions from journalists. He writes: “Mr. Putin could not care less about winning public-relations battles in the Western press, or fighting them at all. He and his cronies care only about money and power. Friday’s events make it clear that they will fight for those things until Russia’s jails are full.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Putin appears to have been reasonably successful in deflecting the arrest and sentencing from being an attack on political liberties and dissension to being an attack on Russian cultural values and the Orthodox Church. The Financial Times argued on Sunday that the Russian public is divided between those who feel the right to dissent is inherent and those who feel the young women violated a holy place. In fact, the FT reported that the majority believes “it [the two years hard labor] was a just punishment for desecrating a holy place.” This episode is unlikely to go quietly into the night. There is little question that Russia is marching backwards. Despite that, President Obama’s meek response seemed to synthesize the ambivalence of the West: “While we understand the group’s behavior was offensive to some,” the punishment was “disproportionate.”

Russia is the country to which the Obama Administration famously provided a red re-set button in 2009 to symbolize a new “era of good feelings.” There is no question that President Bush made an awful misjudgment when he spoke, in 2001, of looking into Putin’s eyes and claiming he was able “to get a sense of his soul.” That observation spoke poorly of President Bush’s intuitive sense. But in later years, Mr. Bush became decidedly tougher, as he unequivocally supported global democracy movements and promised a missile defense along Europe’s eastern border in Poland. By 2008, relations with Russia were decidedly strained. In Russia, individual liberties, since the commencement of Vladimir Putin’s second term as President, have been restrained. Mr. Putin has allowed parliament to toughen criminal libel suits against journalists, while seizing and enacting laws against street protests.

That the mild rebuke from Mr. Obama over the weekend followed the earlier caving to Putin on missile defense is a telling reminder of the diminished influence of the United States in foreign affairs, during the past three and a half years. In the cover story of the current issue of Newsweek, Niall Ferguson writes in a piece entitled Hit The Road Barack: “America under this president is a superpower in retreat, if not retirement.” More darkly, it may be indicative of Mr. Obama’s grab for power at home with his nearly three dozen czars – super aides who work across agency lines to push the President’s agenda and who have no need for Senate confirmation. As Senator, Barack Obama criticized President Bush’s use of signing statements – a questionable process by which duly enacted laws can be modified. But as President, Mr. Obama has increased their use.

Last evening the President implied he might use force to rid the world of Syria’s President Assad should there be proof that he has used chemical weapons on his people. The man is a cold-blooded killer who consistently allies himself with the civilized world’s enemies. He is a man who has killed between 15,000 and 20,000 of his subjects. However, what is the difference between using chemical weapons and shooting them? Either way they are dead. The only civilized response is to get rid of Assad. But, one cannot help thinking that Mr. Obama is playing the race card, as in the Presidential race. His numbers are falling and he is losing support. A show of strength, as he heads toward the convention, may be just what the good doctor, David Axelrod, has ordered. As an aside, keep in mind that Mr. Obama was against ousting Saddam Hussein from Iraq, despite his having killed about 1,000,000 of his own people, and somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 with chemical weapons. But, then a Republican was in the White House.

We may feel we live in an enlightened age, but so did those in Western Europe in the waning days of the 19th Century, yet the world never experienced a more brutal Century than the 100 years that followed. The fact is that no matter how advanced we become technologically, despite the great strides we have made artistically, or how civilized we may feel, we are all subject to the emotions of fear and greed, vulnerable to charismatic but inept or evil leaders. Dictators survive in two ways: Their constituents either love them or fear them. The people of any nation should always remember that in democracies government exists to serve the people; the people don’t live to serve the government. When that happens, freedom is lost and the ominous path that follows leads to men like Putin and a resurrection of either Tsars or dictatorial Communist commissars. The United States is the only country that routinely supports those struggling to be free. To allow that beacon to be extinguished would be dispiriting to struggling people everywhere.

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As for the title, for a group that has only ten members, “galore” may seem an exaggerated modifier; however, since the episode and its consequences have universal interest, the word seemed fitting.

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