The Foul Beast: After Pittsburgh, A Reminder From Brecht

To act, let's start by not looking away.

A vigil in New York after the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh last Saturday
A vigil in New York after the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh last Saturday
Roger-Pol Droit


PARIS — "The belly is still fertile from which the foul beast sprang." We know these words, which close Bertolt Brecht's tragic farce The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. The play was written in 1941, but became famous much later, featuring Hitler as a mafioso, partly inspired by Al Capone. Though the last line is often cited, the words that precede it are typically forgotten: "Therefore, learn how to see and not to gape." Yes, indeed: seeing is something that must be learned. So let's try.

We should begin by noting that we're no longer in the post-War era in which these types of plays garnered attention, celebrating the crushing of anti-Semitism and warning for continued vigilance. They told of risks that the worst atrocities — assassinations, persecutions, insults, humiliations of Jews — could some day return. Today, we are now face-to-face with just such a return, forced to understand that the beast is never dead. It was only weakened, bridled. Now it's awake and virulent — and transformed.

For the "foul beast" now no longer simply embodies the anti-Jewish hatred of the Third Reich, which was a racial, biological-spouting version of it. Of course, this form of anti-Semitism is still very much alive, we even see it being reborn in Germany, just like we saw it parading last year in Charlottesville, in the United States. But now, other forms are being added and combined to it. In Pittsburgh, the man who last Saturday murdered Jews in a synagogue held them responsible for organizing the invasion of migrants. On another, separate but parallel category, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban accuses Hungarian-born Jewish-American George Soros of wanting to "flood Hungary with Muslims." In the United Kingdom, Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party keeps accusing Jews of all that's wrong with the world.

What feeds it? Always simplification, even more than hate.

So what is it that we need to learn to see? That anti-Semitic attacks have increased by 57% in the United States since the beginning of 2018. That the Jewish population in France, less than 1% of the entire population, suffers alone more than half of the discriminatory attacks and insults recorded in the entire country. In the land of Emile Zola, today, Jewish children go to school under police protection. Graffiti insults are commonplace, not to mention assault and battery. Murders that not long ago would have made the entire nation take to the streets are now being committed amid almost general indifference. In short, the dams are broken. The beast is here.

What feeds it? Always simplification, even more than hate. It's so simple to imagine that all the problems of the world have only one root cause. It's reassuring to believe that all of the ills endured have identifiable responsible parties, that it would be enough to exterminate them for the misfortunes to stop. This scapegoating feeds all forms of anti-Semitism — its ancient form as well as its Christian form, its leftist form, its Muslim form, and its anti-Zionist form. The more complex our world becomes, the more simple a way out the foul beast offers.

"Act instead of talking all day long," says Brecht's epilogue. But how? Do we not, inevitably, wind up feeling helpless? To act, let's start by not looking away. Don't deny the facts. Don't pretend like everything's fine. Above all, don't believe that these ignominies should only concern Jews. They're everyone's business. Since when should each community be moved only by its own deaths? Without concern for others, without indignation regardless of origins, no humanity itself is gone.

The only weapon against the foul beast is solidarity — immediate, unfailing, unconditional, total. But it must be said, it is a rare commodity.

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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