January 11, 2015
Je suis Charlie
“He who laughs last, laughs longest”
(in)Tolerance X Tolerance
The very LAST thing I need in this world is a lesson in human rights! During years I worked as a volunteer at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London, in the 1970s. Yes, it was a 24-hour deal, working on behalf of prisoners of conscience (in my case, mostly Brazilians political prisoners, either in exile, tortured or disappeared.) After Amnesty, I worked for the “International League of People”, chaired by the Italian Senator, Lelio Basso. And, finally, I worked on behalf of the Russell Tribunal. I know what the hell I’m talking about!
And it wasn’t only on behalf of high profile political figures as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Fernando Gabeira, Vladimir Herzog, Miguel Arraes or Stuart Edgar Angel. I actually paid an unannounced visit to the Brazilian prisons in 1978. I was 24 years of age at the time, and entry to Brazil was difficult. Yet I did manage to go around the country, talking to families of prisoners, visiting their living quarters, listening to the testimony of how they’d been tortured, beaten and held incommunicado. The (then) illegally military and paramilitary organizations set up purely in order to torture and kill people (i.e. Doi-Codi, Oban (Operação Bandeirantes) and DOPS) were acting shamelessly and in full strength. After all, the “Institutional Act # 5” , implemented by General Costa e Silva in 1968, gave those dungeons full authority. I worked madly and swiftly to pass along information and urging heads of European States to act on behalf of illegally arrested students.
It was a huge cause, possibly more visible today – after our 9/11 horror or the Paris attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, last Wednesday.
About one month ago, I was marching in the streets of New York (where I live), protesting the horrible outcome of the horrendous verdicts of the Grand Juries proving their impotence and indifference in indicting anyone after the terrible deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island (NY) and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. I also marched two or so years ago, after the brutal murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida. But I refuse violence of any kind. And that is why I also laid flowers at the makeshift memorial in Brooklyn where two NYPD cops had been killed in the most cowardly of manners, weeks ago. They were Wenjian Liu (Chinese, 12 years in the USA) and officer Rafael Ramos. I’m quite eclectic in my homages.
I would love to be at the one million march of solidarity in Paris today, pledging again and again my ideological support for a free society and freedom of speech. That is what I stand for. But, unfortunately I’m not in Paris. Yet, I’m relieved to learn that 40 heads of state will be there, side by side next to President Hollande of France, the country / birth nation of “Freedom, Equality and Fraternity”. Ironically, Netanyahu and Mahmud Abbas will also be there, shoulder to shoulder.
My last “large march” was in London in early 2003 – to try and prevent Tony Blair from joining Bush in the useless, banal and stupid ‘invasion’ of Iraq.
Yes, I am for freedom of expression, whatever the media, whatever the means. Even more so, after this tragic event which left the cartoonists of “Charlie Hebdo” and Jewish shoppers at a Kosher supermarket dead.
I know what racism is. I know its face. As a kid, I spent a year in Erwin, Tennessee and, arguably, I saw horrendous segregation, busing, disgusting outbursts against blacks or African Americans. I was 12 and I was stunned then as I am now, at 60.
I know what xenophobia is. I know its face. More than half of my family died in the gas chambers of the Nazi regime. Yet, that does not prevent me from being a fan (and even the stage director) for most Richard Wagner operas.
I know what it’s like to ‘have to have an enemy’. I’ve looked many in the eye. I grew up with the holocaust in my head and a Lutheran father who taught me the ample, ephemeral vision of the world. He fought the Nazis from inside his own Germany, passing info to the Resistance. And I knew Samuel Beckett, my master and mentor, who sat by the window and “watched the world go by “– in this same Paris we see today – from his flat in Boulevard St Jacques, having fought the Nazis – just as my father had.
Although half of my family was exterminated at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, I AM FOR any form of cartoon, satire, joke (be it in whatever format) about this Jewish culture I’m a part of and which, I must confess, I know little about. I’m not good at remembering dates, lighting candles or holding dear to me the sacred cows of religion.
Religion to me, as a whole, has become a bipolar disorder.
I don’t actually believe many people ‘celebrate’ Ramadan, Yon Kippur or Christmas. I think that people ‘follow their rituals’. Celebration is something different. Yet, this ‘following’ has become somewhat of an Olympic competition between credos and what ends up being commemorated are the DIFFERENCES!!!! It’s almost an abominable war of egos and gang war between ghettos.
I HATE Golden Calves and Holy Cows! Hate them. It’s all but a silly joke and disingenuous disrespect to our origins and sheer blindness. Not a blink more, none less. Blindness !!! One ghetto confirming its superiority over another and holding its stoic and heroic fasting over the other ! Please!
But, even so, I don’t mind any satire or caricature of my culture or the caricature of the cadavers of my dead family members (and there have been many!) when I see a German depiction of a ash tray – full to the rim – with the sardonic saying “Gerald Thomas and his family have arrived in full clothing”. Yes, ash trays! Imagine that! I’m a child of the 1960’s – I did step into the marvelous mud of Woodstock and still firmly believe in the values of “Freedom, Freedom….is a motherless child” and / or Hendrix’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, its distortion of the meaning of a proud anthem, its electrifying truth of the sounds of bombs falling over Vietnam.
“We live in such FREE times” said Wolinski (the 80 year old cartoonist, killed last Wednesday), during a trip to a Rio favela in 1993, “that it has become a challenge to provoke”. Little did Wolinski know!
FUCK !!!! I HATE any form of racism! I’m a public figure and have put my face and signature on the map. I am in the theater and “from” the theater. From farce to realism, from satire to tears, I put myself in every one of my plays “pretending to stage myself and my anguishes”, using actors or singers to do it for me in an attempt to invent and reinvent the human (Bloom) and, yes, the desperation to try and write about MY time on earth is enormous, enormously difficult, enormously complex but I know I will leave behind a testimony of my era.
And my era is as divided and divisive as it has ever been. And that is amazing. We’re HUMANS, Goddamn it! HUMANS and nothing else.
I could not care less if people pray or don’t pray, whether or not they attend their mosques, synagogues, churches , evangelical palaces or Bhuddist shrines. It’s all BullShit to me!!! I am, however, intransigently rigid to my principles. And those, unmistakably, can be summed simply by my HATRED for those who are intolerant to humor, humor of any kind and go on killing fields or sprees in the name of Mohammed, of Christ, of Communism, or Fascism, of Nazism, or any other “ism”. To HELL with all this.
I protested in the streets of Nashville and New York in the 60’s and 70’s against the Vietnam War. Right there with us, visible as only a cartoon character could be, was Jules Feiffer – the muse of cartoonists during the counterculture movement and there was Ziraldo, Jaguar and Paulo Francis from the Brazilian Hebdo, O Pasquim. And there was The Private Eye in London and there was Monty Python – this latter, the greatest of them all, no “literal respect’ for anything and any holy cow. In their more than brilliant “Life of Bryan”, the “stoning” and the crucifixion scene could’ve offended billions. Yet it didn’t. And their more than hysterical depiction of the many dissidences of the Palestinian Liberation fronts was…..well…..liberating!!!
Caricaturing is NEVER a crime. Never! Pen or pencil don’t kill. They might even exaggerate, humiliate and tickle our nerves but THEY DON’T KILL !!!!
Yes, I might feel provoked or diminished when I see a cartoon depicting an ash tray full of burned everything – with the balloon saying “our prayers to some ex-Jews”. AND I am profoundly bothered (yes, sure I am), when the audience shouts at me at the end of my staging Tristan und Isolde “Little Jew boy, go back to the camp”. But instead of holding up a machine gun and shooting, I merely moon them. I show them my naked bare white ugly ass!!!!
A caricature can, in principle, erase another, with the same rubber eraser at the opposite end of a pencil. That’s how easy it is, physically and metaphorically.
I was taken away in handcuffs but, after a year of paying hefty lawyers, I was eventually acquitted by Brasilia’s Supreme Court (http://www.geraldthomas.com/press/0311-nytimes.htm) (http://www.geraldthomas.com/images/pdf/0311-londontimes.pdf)
AND I would do it all over again. I’d do it in the name of freedom of speech, democracy and freedom of civility!
I would do the ENTIRE thing again, even the work at Amnesty International when, in London, I was notified via an article in the Guardian, that all of the cartoonists and journalists of Pasquim had been arrested.
Traditions generate prejudice. FUCK them!
But “He who laughs last, laughs longest”. Or vice versa. Whichever way.
The march in Paris has just ended or….reached its destination (from Republique to La Nacion) and I am in tears, of course !!!!