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Remember Hind Rajab: From Gaza to Columbia, the Spirit of Vietnam Lives On

Remember Hind Rajab: From Gaza to Columbia, the Spirit of Vietnam Lives On

  • From Sorbonne to Chapel Hill, the collective chorus of “Say no to Genocide, Ceasefire Now, Free Free Palestine” is echoing across American and European campuses.

“Give Flowers to the Rebels who Failed!”
(Graffiti, Sorbonne. France. May 1968, students’ uprising.)

It’s just that, now, the rebels have not failed! Instead, they are flying on the wings of justice, painting the walls with the watermelon colors of the Palestine flag. And they are all doing the ‘Dabke’ dance to the liberating song from Palestine, hands holding hands, wearing the black and white keffiyeh, going round and round in circles, their young faces flush with all the luminescent colors of youthful rebellion and freedom.

Perhaps, they know. Perhaps, they don’t. April 30, 2024, marked the ‘Liberation Day’ in Vietnam. A tiny country with no military power defeated the world’s mightiest military and financial empire. The war started in 1955. After 19 years of mass murder of innocents, relentless bombing, burnt-out villages, the guerrilla forces of Vietnam, using the dense forests, defeated the Americans. Legendary communist revolutionary, Ho Chi Minh, led the guerrillas, and, finally, became victorious in 1975. Most American soldiers who came back alive suffered all their lives – with guilt, remorse, nightmares of what they did and what they saw, and ‘mass psychological trauma.’

Remember “Apocalypse Now,” the movie by Francis Ford Coppola, with Marlon Brando in an iconic role as a brilliant American soldier turned rebel leader in Cambodia. The film begins with a famous song by Jim Morrison of ‘The Doors’:

This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end…

The My Lai massacre shocked the world. More than 500 unarmed people of a South Vietnam village were killed by what was called a ‘search and destroy’ mission, on March 16, 1968. And who can ever forget that stunningly horrific picture – naked Vietnamese children running, screaming, scared out of their minds, as they were ‘napalmed’ – genocide by bombs which spread like a raging fire burning all that is around, including human flesh.

In Satyajit Ray’s “Pratidwandi” (1970), an educated young man looking for a job is asked by an interview board, as to what was the most significant event in the 20th century. He says it was the victory of the Vietnamese people against the U.S. They said, why not the landing on the moon? He said, cryptically, that with the progress of science, this was waiting to happen – hence, it was predictable. However, who could have ever imagined that a little country would defeat the mightiest military empire in the world? They ask, cynically: Are you a communist? He says that one does not have to be a communist to accept this truth.

A performance on campus by the Columbia Palestinian Dabke Brigade (Courtesy of Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine).

Now, the spirit of Vietnam has resurrected yet again, as yet another dead-end called Gaza, with the mass protests of the 1960s stalking the American campuses and conscience. A thousand flowers are now blooming in almost every campus. This magical ‘flower-power’ has spread across to other countries: Switzerland, Canada, Germany, Britain, France, and the Netherlands. In Amsterdam, where the cops are almost always invisible, have suddenly turned brutal. Hundreds have been arrested in the U.S., including faculty members. At UCLA, the cops allowed right-wing Zionists to enter the campus and attack the students with rods and chemical spray. At Columbia, where it all started, police have broken the ‘Free Palestine’ encampments, while the students have resurrected them again and again.

The faculty wrote in a letter on May 3, 2024: “We, faculty members of the History Department of Columbia University, condemn the use of police force against students, as well as the ongoing presence of the NYPD on our campus. We insist upon the rights of students and scholars to engage in non-violent protest or public speech, and we deplore the arbitrary disciplining of students, faculty, or staff for doing so. We are also dismayed that the use of public force resulted from a decision-making process, from which faculty were excluded. We disagree about many of the issues being debated on campus this year, but we agree that history shows how deeply damaging it is for a university to meet students’ protests with violence and criminalization. Since the last time the police were called on this campus in large numbers, in 1968, Columbia has worked hard to restore community, build shared governance, deal peacefully with protest, and maintain a culture of respectful debate. We must hold on to this legacy.”

Who is Hind Rajab?

She was a six-year-old beautiful girl in Gaza who was murdered by the Israeli army. So the students in Columbia captured Hamilton Hall, with its etched memories of the 1960s, and renamed it ‘Hind’s Hall’!

Since her murder, Hind’s mother had withdrawn into a silence of infinite suffering. On hearing this news, she said: “I started crying because I wanted all these movements and support to come while Hind was still alive. Wake up now. Why are others like Hind still going through this?”

Writes Keenga Yamahtta Taylor in The New Yorker, (May 8, 2024): “Students who engage in civil disobedience do so with the expectation of some reprisal. That is, after all, the moral imperative at the heart of this particular form of activism: self-sacrifice in the name of a higher political goal. But many of the student activists had not anticipated being arrested; they were shocked when set upon by police aggressively seeking to clear an area or simply to forbid public demonstration… Whatever the cause of arrests, the punishments pursued by school administrations have been excessive and cruel. Students and faculty members who have participated in the protests have been suspended and banned from campuses, and evicted from university housing before disciplinary proceedings have begun. Some have been expelled; others have been banned from graduation ceremonies, have faced uncertainty about their legal records, and have generally been treated as pariahs. The level of repression has been shocking.” (Taylor is the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University and the author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, among other acclaimed books.)

Despite the State repression, with a shaky, discredited, Joe Biden at the helm, the ‘counter-narrative’ as ‘counter-culture’ is now etched on the walls. In Canadian campuses, streets are being renamed with Gaza landmarks. In Naples, Italian artist Eduardo Castaldo turned his photographs into street murals as a form of ‘creative resistance.’  He has visually documented life under Israeli occupation as a photojournalist. ‘Bella Ciao’ is being sung, with the sublime strings of guitars. Frida Kahlo is now a Palestinian. And so is Jesus Christ on the cross.

See Also

The ‘Caitlin Newsletter’ quoted Secretary of State Anthony Blinken: “Now, of course, we are on an intravenous feed of information with new impulses, inputs every millisecond. And, of course, the way this has played out on social media has dominated the narrative. And you have a social media ecosystem environment in which context, history, facts get lost, and the emotion, the impact of images dominate. And we can’t –  we can’t discount that, but I think it also has a very, very, very challenging effect on the narrative.”

The newsletter says: “Notice how he said the word “narrative” three times? That’s how empire managers talk to each other because that’s how they think about everything. This is because empire managers are always acutely aware of something that normal human beings are not: that real power comes from manipulating the stories –  narratives –  that people tell themselves about their reality. They understand that humans are storytelling animals whose inner lives are typically dominated by mental narratives about what’s happening. If you can control those narratives, you can control the humans. They understand that power is controlling what happens, but true power is controlling what people ‘think’ about what happens.… That’s what’s going on with all the mass media propaganda, Silicon Valley algorithm manipulation, plutocrat-funded think tanks, and mainstream culture manufacturing in New York and Hollywood. A few clever manipulators understand that you can control a society by controlling its dominant narratives…”

It’s just that the counter-narrative has come to stay. And it is spreading far and wide. This time, even in Sorbonne, the rebels have not failed! They are, instead, winning an impossible war in solidarity with the trapped people of Gaza and Rafah. While the slogan resounds in the collective chorus – Say no to Genocide! Ceasefire Now! Free Free Palestine!

(Top photo by Sydney Lee, courtesy of Columbia Spectator, Inset, Hind Rajab).

(This  story was first published in Lok Marg and republished here with permission.)

Amit Sengupta is a journalist and teacher based in Delhi.

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