Friday, June 17, 2016

Reflections on the Pulse nightclub shooting

A makeshift memorial to remember the victims of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City. | Reuters
America is engaged in a war on terror, it is said. Under such circumstances, terrorists are designated as rogue actors who carry out an act of violence against a foreign entity, usually associated with Western societies. But what is absent in this denotation, one that has been reproduced and legitimated in the mainstream, is how the United States has appropriated discourses on terrorism toward exercising its power and influence over everyday life. “Terror,” as situated in the neoliberal era, cannot be defined and articulated in individualistic or atomistic terms. It must be understood for what it is: a manifestation of state violence against the backdrop of a long-standing history of colonialism and imperialism.

The Pulse nightclub massacre illustrates how the past can be rewritten and whitewashed, so as to normalize practices of state terrorism against marginalized and oppressed groups in the present. It was decried as the “worst mass shooting in United States history,”[1] at odds with a colonial legacy of genocide and slavery directed toward indigenous and black peoples over generations.[2] It was then distilled as an episode of terrorism motivated by religious extremism and mental illness, in isolation from the volatilities of global capitalism and its attendant ideology of market fundamentalism. Politicians of various stripes, including the self-avowed socialist Bernie Sanders, have exploited the incident to generate support for increased military action vis-a-vis the Islamic State,[3] in spite of the fact that the assailant was an American citizen, not known to have any connections to the organization.[4] Accordingly, Islam is implicated as the cause of the carnage that took place during the Latin-themed night, as part of a strategy to divide and pit communities of color against one another. The penchant for binary modes of thinking, “the West versus the Rest,” is indulged by constructing a dehumanized image of the “other,” solidifying a racial caste system that encourages infighting at the expense of finite resources.

Meanwhile, liberal pundits such as Rachel Maddow exclaim how the gay community has been “forged in fire,”[5] when the attack is more accurately a product of a hierarchical order that has for centuries abused, harassed and stigmatized queer people of color. Restricting the lexicon to words such as “terrorism” is convenient, in part because it obviates the need to reflect on the state’s domestic and foreign policies that, in their attempt to build consensus, criminalize difference and dissent. It masks how cultural and educational apparatuses like the media, in addition to state institutions such as the courts and the police, are complicit in the oppression and subjugation of queer and colored bodies in private and public spaces. More crucially, it is dismissive of the aggressive and hypermasculinized practices of policing, surveillance and torture, alongside the gendered and racialized norms imposed by white patriarchy.

The priests and prophets of the neoliberal clergy, largely responsible for misery and suffering on a planetary scale, profess that such injustices are self-deserved. The puritan motives of the messianic right become all too apparent when it is asserted that the targets of mass murder had in fact “reaped what they sowed.”[6] In this manner, the Pulse shooting massacre can be viewed as another incidence of violence inflicted by the state, which deflects and denies accountability for its destructive actions. Faithful to the shock doctrine is an instrumentalist politics that had produced the man-made disaster of Hurricane Katrina, the criminalization of poverty in Ferguson and the uranium contamination of Navajo lands, primarily at the risk of communities that have been dispossessed of their rights and are considered disposable.[7]

At the other end of the spectrum, moral superiority when it comes to defending minorities is proclaimed under a banner of progressivism. In neoliberal America, historical memory is erased as the notion of time is lost in a stream of fragmented knowledge. The welfare state is retrenched, urban areas are gentrified and public spheres are privatized, developments of which are most devastating to socially and economically marginalized populations. The language of identity politics is misappropriated, as the constructs of race, gender and sexuality are essentialized, depoliticized and commercialized.[8] The shibboleths of the left are increasingly absorbed by market values, limited to an elite class that thrives on the wealth accrued through capitalist and imperialist modes of domination. Across Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Northern Africa, black and brown bodies are bombed, displaced and relegated to 
“collateral damage,” subject to a certain necropolitics that remains unapologetic to the cynical calculus of state-sponsored assassination and drone warfare.

s war on terror gradually transforms into one that makes a mockery of civil liberties and the democratic process, mimicking the activities it purports to deter. The Pulse nightclub massacre must be framed in this larger context of homophobia, misogyny and imperialism, in which people of invisible caste are categorized as both victims and perpetrators in order to reinforce the status quo. Such tragedies are symptomatic of a capitalist society engulfed in bigotry, fear and racism that foments anti-black and anti-gay attitudes, mobilizes ressentiment into militancy and assents to state-sanctioned cults of violence. It propels the militarization of every facet of life, allowing those in power to obscure the real dangers of empire by reducing them to constituent matters of gun control, hate crime and police brutality.[9] The internal logics of the judicial system then operate as a mechanism to persecute and incarcerate dissidents and politically inconvenient figures, disproportionately people of color and non-normative gender and sexual expressions, tightening the nexus between state terrorism and the prison-industrial complex.[10]

In the broadest view, the discourse of war and terrorism informs a self-conception that manifests in the realms of international and interpersonal relations. State violence undertakes a normalizing and depoliticizing role, as it obfuscates the oppressive forces that incapacitate human agency, engendering the conditions under which atrocities like the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub come into existence. One cannot be deceived by the neoliberal state grounded in the ritual speech of mantra, that it is not possible to connect individual problems with systemic issues. Unless the triplets of racism, capitalism and militarism are confronted, and the linkages between individual and collective struggles are made, it is difficult to imagine how the submerged identities within colored and queer communities can be liberated from the structures aimed at silencing and rendering them invisible.

[1] Lizette Alvarez and Richard Pérez-Peña, Orlando Gunman Attacks Gay Nightclub, Leaving 50 Dead (The New York Times, June 12, 2016), Access:
[2] Carla Blank,
Purging History: Was Orlando Really the Worst Massacre in US History? (CounterPunch, June 17, 2016), Access:
[3] Sanders: “ISIS must be destroyed” (Reuters, June 12, 2016), Access:
[4] Spencer Ackerman,
CIA has not found any link between Orlando killer and Isis, says agency chief (The Guardian, June 16, 2016), Access:
[5] Maddow: Gay community in US ‘forged in fire’ (MSNBC, June 13, 2016), Access:
[6] Patrick Svitek, 
Dan Patrick Takes Heat for Posts After Orlando Shooting (The Texas Tribune, June 12, 2016), Access:
[7] Leslie Thatcher, Henry Giroux on State Terrorism and the Ideological Weapons of Neoliberalism (Truthout, February 28, 2016), Access:
[8] Aviva Chomsky, Tomgram: Will the Millenial Movement Rebuild the Ivory Tower or Be Crushed by It? (TomDispatch, May 22, 2016), Access:
[9] Yasmin Nair, A Look at How Liberals Led America Into Having the Highest Prison Rate in The World (AlterNet, October 4, 2014), Access:
[10] Mark Karlin, Michelle Alexander on the Irrational Race Bias of the Criminal Justice and Prison Systems (Truthout, August 1, 2012), Access:

Further reading
Nico Lang, Call the Orlando massacre a hate crime: This was an attack on the LGBT community—and that matters (Salon, June 13, 2016), Access:
FBI Told Orlando Shooter’s Wife Not to Tell US Media He Was Gay (TeleSUR, June 16, 2016), Access:
Michelle Chen, Targeting Queer People of Color in the Name of ‘National Security’ (The Nation, June 16, 2016), Access:
FBI Tried to Lure Orlando Shooter into a Terror Plot in 2013 (TeleSUR, June 19, 2016), Access:

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Kakuteru Pātī 「カクテル・パーティー」


The Cocktail Party by Tatsuhiro Oshiro explores a myriad of issues spanning wartime experience, public memory and civic responsibility as situated during the American occupation of Okinawa and following the Okinawa reversion to Japan. This essay examines a set of national attitudes peddled by the United States (defined here as “America’s Okinawa”) in relation to the unfolding alternative hegemony that seeks to challenge the injustices of American extraterritoriality and the oppressive power structures that have been present in Okinawan society. It also makes an attempt to identify the factors involved in the construction of Okinawan identity in relation to the presence of American military bases and their impact on everyday and institutional life.

Language parity

Unlike the Japanese fictions American School and American Hijiki, the Okinawan drama The Cocktail Party does not place the focus on power relations that revolve around linguistic hierarchies. The protagonist, Mr. Uehara, appears to have no difficulty speaking multiple languages, and articulateness does not seem to confer dominance over others within the multiethnic Chinese-speaking circle. Instead, the Chinese language is primarily used as an instrument to create an illusion of parity while concealing the inequities inherent in the distribution of power. It is not a particular language that reflects and informs Okinawan identity, but rather a renewed acceptance of human agency that makes self-actualization feasible in a colonial setting.

America’s Okinawa

“America’s Okinawa” is a (post)-colonial narrative employed by the characters of Robert Harris and Mr. Miller, two archetypes of American exceptionalism when it comes to addressing power imbalances in an occupied society, as well as the attendant issues of marginalization, exploitation and cultural hegemony that have fueled mutual animosity and distrust between Americans and Okinawans.

The coherence to the occupier narrative is reliant on the subordination of dissent and antagonism to a generalized doctrine of “American-Ryukyuan friendship,” (Morgan, 220) which seeks to foster a sense of camaraderie that transcends national borders. This narrative encourages forgetting and forgiveness over remembrance and reflection while representing the Okinawan people as a lowly “peace-loving people” (Lincoln, 228) that is dismissive of their broad-based struggles for justice. It generates an image of the “occupied” that reinforces a mode of colonial mentality predicated on the acceptance of the dogma of the “occupier” as morally superior, while normalizing extant power imbalances as another instance of “peaceful life” (Uehara, 214).

“America’s Okinawa” also rests on a particular logic that distorts and deflects in order to portray the desired picture. This end is achieved by consolidating matters that concern individuals into those which concerns nationals, and vice-versa. Harris utilizes this strategy of reducing individuals from complex beings to mere spokespersons of their respective nations:

“What an underhanded trick! You can’t fool me. It is an undeniable fact that she injured me. And I know I don’t have to testify in any Okinawan court. I know that much about the law… I’ve heard Uehara here was an officer in the Japanese army and fought in China. [To Uehara.] Didn’t you kill Chinese? Do you think you have the right to judge me?... How about Mr. Lawyer there. You’re Chinese. How could you work for a former Japanese officer?” (Harris, 238)
Miller later employs this same tactic of deception, but in reverse:
“We should talk to each other as individuals. If I knew this Robert Harris, my involvement would make sense. But, like you, I’m a complete stranger to him… I really hate to say this, but quite honestly, I have no evidence that Robert Harris actually did something shameful, and I’m in no position to investigate the case myself. That’s why Mr. Yang would be much better. He’s not an American and he is a lawyer, which makes him a logical intermediary.” (Miller, 232)
What is striking is the omission of power relations that belies the presumption held by Miller that it is the very absence of conflict that builds the trust and belief needed to sustain friendships between individuals:
“I would like you to remember that I’ve worked hard to build goodwill between America and Okinawa. It’s for a good reason I can’t help you: we need to avoid unnecessary conflicts if we are to preserve our friendship with Okinawans. Please understand this.” (Miller, 232)
By contrast, Uehara’s conception of reconciliation is based on the understanding that they are dependent on asserting difference and challenging the oppressive structures and functions in society that impose consensus — a practice known as radical democracy.

Uehara’s epiphany

There is good reason to delineate why Uehara has not been portrayed uniformly as a victim to be empathized with. Rather than romanticizing the plight of the Okinawans by depicting them as mere subjects of American imperialism, Oshiro makes an effort to implicate Okinawans as former colonizers who have stood to benefit from Japan’s imperial war machine. On the one hand, Uehara had once served as an army officer stationed in China, complicit in Japan’s destructive course of military expansionism across Asia. On the other hand, Uehara had also suffered greatly from the battles fought on the Ryukyu Islands that devastated his homeland and its people. Each of these considerations serve to probe the complicated relationship between Japan’s wartime atrocities and Okinawa’s prolonged sufferings. Alongside the issues of victimhood and reconciliation, Mr. Yang discusses the contours of ethics that governs how such decisions are made:

“But that’s where we must start—from life as it is. Speaking from my own limited experiences, there are things that can be solved by “legal rights and obligations.” Others, as if fated, may transcend the boundaries of such legalities. We survive by trying, in our own small ways, to hold on to our humanity while torn between the moral and the legal, the individual and the nation.” (Yang, 240-241)
This approach raises questions of whether accusations based narrowly on ethnic or national identity can be justified. How should private individuals be held accountable for the wrongdoings of their nation or their people? How could those affiliations be defined? It is from this context that Uehara makes the connection between his former and present positions and acknowledges his participation in Japanese imperialism as a form of assent (Uehara, 241). He then proposes a brand of ethics predicated on shared human values that he views as essential to restoring friendly relations:
“What is required most now is to be absolutely unforgiving of our sins. Let me repeat this: what I’m seeking is our mutual understanding of the ethics that are fundamental and unconditional for all humanity. What I want to indict is not just one crime by one young American, but the cocktail parties that would conceal fundamental ethics under the pretext of reconciliation… U.S. law establishes one kind of justice for the occupier and another for the occupied. As long as such injustice exists, your hopes will be illusory.” (Uehara, 246)
Uehara’s appeal to universal principles following his awakening may seem somewhat ineffectual, if not inimical, to solving the Okinawan predicament; but this epiphany is crucial in evoking the sense of civic agency needed to articulate the problem and confront the status quo. It is subsequently argued by Uehara that there are real power relations in society that are unequivocally oppressive and therefore should be made visible and contested.

Beyond legal realism

Oshiro also underscores the limits of a dispassionate analytic framework when it comes to the principles of justice and equality. What is central to this story is how the absence of mutual regard precludes efforts to build meaningful human connections and advance dialogue on historical issues. Under the narrative of “America’s Okinawa,” there is a certain tendency toward equivocation and ambiguity disguised under the cloak of legal-rational neutrality (Ben, 216-217). In response to Ben’s claim as a third-party observer, Uehara cautions him against making the “same mistake” (Uehara, 250) as his father did in Okinawa:

“By forcing yourself to forget something, you end up postponing a real solution… As countries and as individuals we are each victims and victimizers. Only by recognizing this fact, can a new millennium of reconciliation begin. We need to punish ourselves, and we need to be absolutely unforgiving of what we have done. Only by looking first at ourselves do we obtain the right to judge the other side. Choosing this path will cause us to suffer, but this is the only path that is humane.” (Uehara, 251-252)
The cocktail party, in essence, exists as a metaphor for cross-cultural encounters and conflicts between individuals. It involves a cascade of empty platitudes about friendship and equality against the backdrop of deep-seated anger and resentment over unresolved problems. It demonstrates how gestures of “international friendships” present new obstacles in a society that relies entirely on asymmetries in relative power. Uehara has been resolute in exposing the lopsided relationship in which Okinawans are placed in an unequal position that necessitates an appeal to basic morals subject to the harsh logic of the military courts. Uehara seeks to challenge these injustices by exposing those very imbalances in power, and at the same time, explain what it means to be Okinawan:
“It’s a matter of Okinawan dignity. No, it’s even more than that. It’s a matter of basic human dignity… I fought for fundamental human rights. For democracy. For a truthful understanding of ethics and justice.” (Uehara, 246-247)
Ultimately, Oshiro elucidates how the mutual recognition of wrongdoing can be pursued not only on the basis of naked self-interest, but more crucially on the understanding that the suppression of emotionally charged memories serves only to widen the rifts between the interlocutors who seek camaraderie and fraternity through dialogue and exchange.


Yet the remnants of Japanese imperialism in its totality become far less obvious than the U.S. military presence. Okinawan indignation toward mainland Japanese is largely diluted, especially when considering the scope of interactions between Uehara and Ogawa. Uehara is unavailable when Ogawa provides a revisionist argument in his debate with Morgan on whether Okinawans are Japanese nationals (Ogawa, 218). What is more, Ogawa absolves himself from any moral obligation to help defend Uehara’s case (Ogawa, 235) or assume wartime responsibility for the Japanese treatment of the Chinese (Ogawa, 236-237). As such, it is uncertain whether a distinction can be made safely between Uehara’s identification as an Okinawan who resists American occupation and as one who seeks full independence.

Furthermore, the role of women in The Cocktail Party appears to be confined to reluctant negotiators between the “occupiers” and the “occupied,” (Yoko, 247) or an immediate gateway to reconciliation through marriage (Yoko, 215). Compared to their male counterparts, Okinawan women are portrayed as lacking the agency needed for organizing the localities to eliminate extraterritoriality rights and privileges afforded to U.S. military personnel, and to reject the status of forces agreement that validates the American military presence in Okinawa.

The construction of Okinawan identity through the lens of social justice may also suffer from the bias of overlooking the trends of cultural mimesis and appropriation that extend beyond the racialized and imperialist dimensions of American hegemony, as articulated by James E. Roberson. Further investigation that considers the aforementioned details and includes diasporic experiences, however, is required to fully appreciate how historical and cultural relations between Okinawans and Americans have mediated the development of Okinawan social identities.