In 2000, Edward Said – the man behind Orientalism and the driving force of postcolonialism – did something that most public intellectuals wouldn’t do: he threw a rock in the immediate direction of Israeli Army personnel deployed at the Lebanese border. Not that Said hurt anyone, but the act of throwing a rock was symbolic: defiance towards his opponents, strength for his beliefs, and solidarity with his people. More than that, though, I think Said threw the rock not because he could, but because he should. It was him acting on the strength of his convictions.
This was 14 years ago, way before Twitter and blogs and all pretenses of being “intellectual” (more on that when I feel like it). Tumult and the disruption of public order are the order of the day in a critical society. Although most of us prefer it done in the “proper forum,” where the tumult and disruption don’t get in the way of our traffic lanes, our coffee breaks, or the speeches of the President, for that matter.
The facts: Pio Mijares heckled President Aquino from 40 meters away. He faced two criminal charges: “one for tumults and other disturbances of public order, and another for assault upon an agent of a person in authority.”
I have no problems with Pio Mijares being arrested if incited violence or what, but what exactly is he being arrested for? Disrupting the solemnity of the President’s speech?
We all know that all protest actions come with a price, so we invented things like the “proper forum:” that magical and perfect place where we can all disagree on things with “civility” and “decorum.” Yet (again), the problem with the proper forum is that it’s only proper for those invited into the forum. He isn’t (and probably never will), and so do thousands of people who make the political choice to fight political battles in a perfectly legal periphery, protected by free speech.
In a perfect world, nothing stops you, me, or Pio Mijares from heckling the President from 40 feet away while he’s giving his Independence Day speech. Whether it’s something like Pio Mijares’s analysis of political issues that frame the context of the President’s speech, or calling attention to the President’s pattern baldness.
Nothing, but the consequences that apparently now, we should be aware of. Apparently, escorting Pio Mijares out of the venue – a perfectly reasonable thing to do in a reasonable society – wasn’t enough. So he was arrested, charged, and went to jail for that: define pettiness.
Again, we all know that the things we do have a consequence. That’s all right by me, but I also believe that the consequences that we get for doing the things we do should be commensurate to our actions.
Pio Mijares dissented with the freest of speech the Philippines will allow him to have, and he gets arrested for it. And we rationalize it on the basis of so many things: hiring a good lawyer, that going to a protest now apparently comes with the caveat that you should “expect to be arrested,” among other things. I reiterate: define pettiness.
Oh yes, Pio Mijares shouldn’t have been bastos about it. He should have done what we “ordinary folk” would do: write the President, go to some event, catch him at his favorite burger joint and maybe discuss politics with him. but what’s the guarantee of him being heard? What’s the assurance that his message is delivered?
What Pio Mijares did is still a political act, a political expression, and it speaks volumes about the kind of political action you can expect from those who share his beliefs. Yet the treatment of him speaks something about the kind of politics that this administration subscribes to. The latter is far more damning than the former.
But that’s for another time.
Anyway, going back to the prologue: when Said threw the rock, he did endure the ramifications of what he did. Lectures were cancelled; he became an even more polarizing figure especially for an Austrian university that withdrew its invitation to avoid “internal clashes of opinion.”
Not that Said hurt anyone: the rock chinked the wall.