The nomenclature of a protest

Fox News on the Egyptian uprising.
Fox News on the Egyptian uprising.

There’s now a lot of coverage (too much, too late) on the protests in Cairo and the subsequent ‘pretexts’ by state lackeys dressed up as pro-Mubarak supporters. Despite the general sentiment towards the protesters, however, there’s a problem of language that disguises the actual mechanisms of what’s happening on the ground.

Submitted by Ed on February 3, 2011

Particularly in the symmetrical usage of the term ‘violence’ to describe actions by both protesters and thugs. Doing this seems to level the playing field in a false and dangerous way, giving the impression of trading blows between pitched armies or perhaps even two groups equally culpable for their actions. Even the presumption that the same actions, throwing stones for instance, bear the same meaning when done by thugs as protesters seems intolerable in the face of the aggression, hostility and aura of death that the pro-Mubarak lackeys brought onto the camp on Wednesday.

The word ‘clashes’ is similarly abhorrent in the face of the siege raised against protestors and their attempts to barricade the very space they have peacefully occupied. This brings up another point about symmetry of rights, as one particularly apathetic army officer was overheard to say “why should i stop [the pro-Mubarak crowd], what gives you any greater right to be in this square than them?”. To describe the attacks on protesters as clashes presumes some sort of ineffable, sectarian sort of sporadic violence, skirmishes on an already named front. What we saw today was a peaceful protest being borne down on by horses and camels, then later thousands of thugs armed with white weapons, rocks, Molotov cocktails and guns.

Moreover the thugs had a plan, they came at the square like it was a castle or hilltop to be besieged and overtaken, amassing at all sides of the square and waging simultaneous assaults on people who had been, this whole time, checking their own to ensure there were no weapons in the camp.

To describe these military tactics (and paramilitary weaponry) with the same words as the protesters’ attempts to resist the state’s violence shows either ignorance or callousness, or both. As this continues, one is heartened by the sympathies of the international media towards the Egyptian people standing against the mess that government tactics have thrown them into. Nonetheless, it should be considered imperative that we be watchful of the languages used to describe these events, and ensure that our vocabulary suits our politics.

From Occupied London.


Red Marriott

13 years 2 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Red Marriott on February 3, 2011

"In terms of historical function, there is a difference between revolutionary and reactionary violence, between violence practised by the oppressed and the oppressors. In terms of ethics, both forms of violence are inhuman and evil - but since when is history made in accordance with ethical standards? To start applying them at the point where the oppressed rebel against the oppressors, the have-nots against the haves, is serving the cause of actual violence by weakening the protest against it." - Marcuse, "A Critique of Pure Tolerance",1966.