Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Fanhokkayan #2: Transforming the Progressive to the Decolonial

My first forays into the world of public discourse and engagement came on the pages of the Pacific Daily News through letters to the editor. For years I conducted research in the Micronesian Area Research Center library and through interviews with politicians, activists and manåmko', but the thoughts and ideas that were spawning in my head didn't have many outlets save for discussions in classes or with trusted elders or friends. In 2004 I gave my first public presentation on the issue of decolonization or critical Chamorro Studies, when I shared a section of my research at a forum titled "World War II is it Over?" organized by the Guam Humanities Council at the Agana Shopping Center. I spoke alongside Dr. Patricia Taimanglo, the late historian Tony Palomo and Guam military historian Jennings Bunn. After that, I spent several years in graduate school presenting at conference around the US, often times to empty rooms, as Guam papers tended to be very low on the priority list of most academic association conferences. But I didn't really speak out locally, except in terms of website I created or helped created, or letters to the editor of the Pacific Daily News. 

I have the text for most of these letters, and others were saved by my grandmother and grandfather, who even though they thought for a long time that I was probably too radical and outspoken, were still proud of me and the things I was advocating. While scouring the archives of Minagahet Zine, which I ran for close to seven years, I came across one of my early letters to the editor. It reflects my thinking at the time, where I was trying to find critical ways of interpreting Chamorro history and the Chamorro present, which I was immediately finding in my readings of conversations. It is here where scholars such as Slavoj Zizek, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Edward Said and Frantz Fanon were immeasurably helpful, in giving me some critical options in terms of forging my own Guam/Chamorro based critiques. The work of progressive and radicals in the United States, such as Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn were also very useful in helping me see that the plight of the Chamorros shared features with other, more famous movements, but that there were still key differences that needed to be attended to, to keep the Chamorro struggle from being subsumed within larger brown power movements. As such, some of these letters to the editor weren't very Guam focused, but were rather about critiquing the United States and its role in the world, and therefore its role in Guam. Unmasking American imperialism, showing that there is a significant cost to its alleged benevolent global domination, and that just as other places have suffered because of this, Guam too suffers in its own bloodless and invisible way, as a key asset in securing American security interests in the Asia-Pacific.

There were important gestures for me in terms of taking the critiques that I was reading and integrating which accepted for the most part the limits of the United States and were built upon the idea that it had a good moral core and that what it was doing in terms of toppling the government of others was simply an aberration, the abnormal exception to the democracy and freedom spreading normal. When living in the colonies, it is easy to accept the United State and its spectrum of political possibility as the extent of what is progressive or conservative, but when you live in the colonies, that colonial difference cannot be considered to be errant or supplementary. It is constitutive of the entire structure. The colonial difference helps gives structure to what its center, left or right in the colonizer's domain, but no matter how normal it seems to accept that arrangement in the colonies, it simply isn't true. That which is progressive or liberating to the subjects living within the colonizer's realm, maybe conservative or restrictive to those in the colonies.

Take for instance this quote, which I have used in several articles from the late Gore Vidal, who was a huge liberal and progressive force in the United States. This quote comes from a 2004 interview with Democracy Now!
I remember years ago, Time magazine, in one of its numerous attacks on me, on my first book of essays, which was heaven knows when, 30, 40 years ago, I refer to the American empire and things that we were doing that were not very good across the world, and I referred to the empire. And Time magazine dismissed me. It was an awful review. He's the sort of person that says that the United States has an empire. Well, we’ve got Guam, that's true. That's all we have got. I pointed out that we had troops and so on in over 1,000 other places around the world. That seems imperial to me, but there we are.  
This quote and several others helped give me the theoretical and genealogical ability to write my dissertation in Ethnic Studies. Where we can see how, a place like Guam, as a formal colony of the United States can easily fall between the vision of those fighting for the soul, whether gi agapa' na bånda pat gi akague na bånda, as it is invisible and not bloody or not larger enough to gain any critical traction. 

This  letter to the editor represents one such transitional moment for me as I digested various critical possibilities. On the surface it is meant to challenge the idea of the US as a benevolent sower of democratic seeds around the world, but in truth it was meant to be an intervention into how people on Guam, in their particular colonial way see the US as a liberator and the defender of democracy, and how a certain critique that was common in progressive circles in the Era of Bush the Second, would have lots of value in terms of helping Chamorros understand their status as the natives of a strategically important possession of the United States. 

This letter to the editor was written in response to statements about the problems with the Middle East by long-time Pacific Daily News columnist Gaffar Peang-Meth. I thought I'd share it here, quickly before the nostalgia dripping from my fingertips at finding this, threaten to short circuit my computer!


by Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Letter to the Editor
Pacific Daily News

In the January 21st issue of PDN Professor Gaffar Peang-Meth makes several historically irresponsible claims as to the democratization of Middle Eastern nations, by placing the blame for the region’s unrest and stagnant development on cultural clashes and religious fundamentalism. Blaming the victim in this instance is not only unfair, but it is misleading and omits the huge responsibility that the US has for the problems in the Middle East, through its reckless and often brutal foreign policy.

President Eisenhower would refer to the Middle East as “the most strategically important area in the world” because of its oil. And like other economically and strategically vital regions (such as the Pacific) the US would directly and indirectly decide the fate of the Arab world, through diplomacy, the Marines, the CIA and through thugs such as Saddam Hussein. Their first act of terrorism came in Iran, 1953 with the overthrow of their democratically elected leader and the installation of the brutal Shah, which allowed the US to control Iran’s oil.

Following 9/11 Americans constantly asked: Why do the Arabs hate us? “They hate our way of life,” was the White House’s official response. The truth however, is much harsher. President Eisenhower asked that same question to his national security advisors more than 40 years ago. His advisors responded simply: that the US supports corrupt and oppressive governments and is "opposing political or economic progress"

This continues til the present day. An article in the Wall Street Journal a few days after 9/11 describing Arab attitudes to the US reiterated the same point: America supports authoritarian and brutal states and blocks independent political, economic and democratic development by propping up these oppressive regimes.

Peang-Meth poses the future of the Middle East in terms of the inevitable conflict between Arab culture and American political and economic values, and whichever survives will determine the region’s fate. But in reality the true showdown will be between American realities that are violent and oppressive, and the proposed principles of freedom and democracy that America is proclaiming to uphold, while actually sweeping them aside to push their military and economic agendas.
It is the same struggle which Guam and other territories face. Will their existence continue to prove that the United States’ principles are little more than words used to justify and authorize human rights abuses, militarism and colonialism? Or will at last America finally embrace the ideas that they claim their culture is based on and realize that justice and freedom for all cannot be negotiable, and should not be denied anyone based on history, geography, money, ethnicity or lies pawned off as national security.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said that, the war on terrorism is actually an effort to convince the world that Americans must be allowed to protect their way of life. The wisdom of every culture including America dictates that everyone else must be afforded the same right. But colonialism in the Pacific, wars in Iraq and the Middle East, economic imperialism in Latin America and Asia all prove that America and its leaders are not interested in affording anyone else that basic human right if it conflicts with American interests.

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